Dora B. Montefiore, New Age July 1905
Source: New Age, p. 474, 27 July 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Being in the country this month, I could not attend the meeting at the Caxton Hall of Working Women, who came to Westminster to voice to the Premier and the leader of the Opposition the appalling misery being caused by want of employment amongst those who, in the greatest and richest empire of the day, are denied both work and food. But I have just been hearing a graphic account of the proceedings from a friend, Mrs. Stanbury, who was on the platform at Caxton Hall, and spoke; reminding her audience most opportunely that though men could be from time to time touched emotionally by the spectacle of starving women with babes in their arms, yet they could not be roused to do justice to women, and lift them out of their present state of helplessness and dependence, by giving them the weapon they need for defending their industrial and social interests – the Parliamentary vote. All honour to George Lansbury and A.A. Watts, the two moving spirits on the Poplar Board of Guardians, for so successfully piloting Mrs. Spinks, Mrs. Tayler, and the other representatives of the thousands of starving women with babies in their arms, into the very presence of our dilettante Prime Minister, and for bringing him once in his life face to face with the realities in the lives of the real workers. “I know,” said Mr. Balfour to Mrs. Tayler, the spokeswoman, a typical English working woman, in black skirt, print blouse, and shabby black bonnet, “how much suffering – undeserved suffering – there is.” “I do not think you do, sir,” bravely interrupted Mrs. Tayler. “No,” he was obliged to admit. “Perhaps none of us have enough
imagination to know all. But I do know something of it.” When Marie Antoinette was told the people had no bread she remarked: “Why do not they eat cake?” And Marie Antoinette suffered even to the bitter end for her lack of imagination. Let Mr. Balfour and the other “well-fed beasts” who are chafing for their freedom from legislative duties on August 12th, look to it that “the suffering, the undeserved suffering,” which their tenure of office has so largely increased, does not some day rise in red fury and sweep away those who have not enough imagination to know all.
Madame Maria Martin, in Le Journal des Femmes, suggests that as they have in France a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, they should now start one for the prevention of cruelty to wives, who, as she remarks, “are surely not less interesting, or deserving of justice?” She reminds her readers how in the marriage ceremony the husband promises to protect the wife; and in exchange for this protection the law gives him a large amount of power over the person and the possessions of the wife. Now, any agreement between two persons, even though it may be only marriage, demands reciprocal obligations, which each party has to carry out under penalty of forfeiting the contract. The husband, therefore, who does not protect his wife, who either abandons her to her own resources, ill-treats her, or who does not give her for housekeeping a fair share of his wages, should be liable to prosecution by such a Society. In a paper called The Motor, I read the other day the account of two cases – one of a husband who, annoyed with his wife for attending a tea-party at the vicarage, struck her, knocked her down, kicked her, and rendered her insensible. The magistrate, because of the man’s previous good character, fined him 20s., and gave him a week in which to pay the money. A motorist who had exceeded the speed limit towards the bottom of a hill on a clear road, where there was no risk of hurting anyone, was fined £10; and the writer who records the two sentences remarks: “If you must break the law, trample on your wife, it is much cheaper, and the magistrate gives you time to pay the fine.” Surely if there were a society for the protection of wives, their lives might he protected, say, to the same extent as are those of the general public.
Amongst the latest debutantes as a woman platform speaker is Queen Alexandra; and she, in her speech the other day at Buckingham Palace, appealed “to all the women of the Empire to assist her in carrying out the great scheme for the reorganisation of the Red Cross Society on a more practical and sound basis. This is essentially woman’s work, and is the one and only way in which we can assist our brave and gallant army and navy to perform their arduous duties in time of war.” It is very wonderful sometimes to note how many conventional lies and platitudes can be squeezed into a short speech when it is necessary to make an appeal to women. Men are not so easily gulled, and they take good care if they play the hypocrite and outwardly conform, that, as a quid pro quo, their pockets are well lined. Women are constantly being told that it is essentially woman’s work for them to tend the sick and the wounded, but men take good care that all the lucrative posts in connection with that tending remain in their hands. Queen Alexander now tells the women of the Empire that this tending skilfully and scientifically the men who have been skilfully and scientifically maimed and wounded is “the only way to assist them.” It may not be inappropriate to remind her Majesty that women are before all things the givers of life, and that their place therefore should be never amongst the ghastly scenes of destruction provided by modern warfare. Women are secondarily the preservers of life, but that function should be understood much more in a preventive and protective sense (as regards hygiene, housing, purity of food, etc.) than as the scullions of war, clearing up the horrid débris and carnage made by the mingled ferocity and stupidity of men. It is a thousand pities that Queen Alexandra cannot confer the “inestimable advantage of her Presidency” on a Society formed of all the Women of the Empire for the encouragement of Arbitration and Peace amongst nations. This would indeed be “essentially a woman’s work,” and would do more for the happiness and prosperity of the millions of subjects of King Edward than would the founding of any Society for the alleviation of sickness and suffering which ought never to have been called into existence.
I want to recommend to women the novel under this title by Elizabeth Robins. It is a brave story, bravely written, of a woman who dares to follow the promptings of her heart and of her blood; and who justifies herself and her unconventional action by becoming the true and trusty comrade of her husband. They had their difficult hours, for there was much in the character of Garth Vincent, the husband, that to most women would be repellant; but the inner loyalty and honesty of Katherine’s nature helped her to understand and to forgive, and in the end we realise that the pair are mated, as well as married. “Those who truly love us,” writes Miss Robins, “must help us to bear our own unworthiness, for this is the thing we cannot bear alone.” And in another passage she remarks with keen insight: “Any man may give a woman a child, but only one can give her what, even more than that blessing, her soul and her body hunger for .... We are each in the prison of our sex, we women. The tragic thing – the glad thing, too – is that to each prison is a single key. And the man who holds it may never even see the outer walls behind which we wait.”
It looks as if the late autumn might see us in the midst of a General Election, and we women must look to it that we give help to no candidate who is opposed to or who is insincere in the cause of the political emancipation of women. I hear rumours of a garden party given lately by Mrs. Lennard and “The Liberal Ladies’ Social Union” near Bristol, at which several Liberal men of light and leading made speeches; but not one word about Woman Suffrage was said from beginning to end of any of the speeches. The Bristol Women’s Liberal Association, ,which had much to do with the getting up of the garden party, and members of which were there in large numbers, are naturally asking themselves what this “frost” on the subject of Women Suffrage portends. The avowed objects of their Association, as set forth in their rules, is “to promote Liberal principles, to secure the Parliamentary franchise for women,” etc.; and they would like to feel that when they spend time, energy, and money in promoting the first part of their programme, those who hope to benefit by the propaganda in being returned to the next Parliament will at least do their best to promote the second part of the programme. Do not let us forget that the Australian women joined no political parties until they were enfranchised; and they did not have to wait long for their enfranchisement!
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.