Dora B. Montefiore, New Age October 1905
Source: New Age, p. 634-5, 5 October 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I rejoice to see that women are more and more turning their attention to the problem of housing reform, because, not only is that problem in itself one, that needs their help for its successful solution, but any thorough study of the subject must lead on to the study of the land question and its varied and complex manifestations. A conference of women was held lately at Letchworth Garden City, when a resolution was passed urging women workers to give increased attention to the vital question of providing healthy and comfortable homes for the people. In Indianapolis, U.S., a corporation of women has been formed to build small artistic houses for people of moderate means. All of the directors of this corporation are business women, and their intention is to start at once and build six specimen houses in different parts of the city. When talking the other day to a land agent, who is at present developing a very beautiful estate in Surrey, he told me that the cottage exhibition at Letchworth was already teaching both builders and the public what could be done in the way of choosing the most suitable and economical building materials in every detail of structure; and that the builder of concrete-block houses had already thousands of pounds’ worth of orders all over England. The reconquest of England by the people and for the people is to be the English man and woman’s twentieth century crusade; the weapons used in the conflict will not be those of sword and shot, but those of applied knowledge and of modern science; there will be, let us hope, no burning and pillage but force applied by constitutional methods, till the “haves” are obliged to share with the “have nots” that soil of England which is now owned by a few privileged thousands.
By the death of Miss Flora Stevenson the causes of education and of Humanity have suffered loss. She was a daughter of the late Mr, James Stevenson, of Glasgow, and after working for many years in social causes was elected a member of the first School Board. There she had the unique experience of being appointed a member of the eleven boards elected triennially from that time to the present – a period of thirty-three years. In 1900 she was elected to the position of chairman. The most recent of her public honours was the presentation of the freedom of Edinburgh in May last, along with Lord Reay and Lord Young. Among many offices held by her was that of vice-president of the Women’s Free Trade Union, and also of the National Union of Women Workers; while two years ago she received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Edinburgh University.
I referred last week to Miss K. Bathurst’s recent article in the Nineteenth Century on what should be the ideal for infant schools throughout the country. Since then the publication of the reports submitted to the Board of Education by five women inspectors upon the instruction of children under five years of age have given those of the public who are interested in the subject further light on the question. “It will be seen,” writes the Chief Inspector of Public Elementary Schools, “that there is complete unanimity (i.e., among the five women inspectors) that the children between the ages of three and five get practically no intellectual advantage from school instruction .... The children admitted later can, in six months or a year, reach the same standard of attainment as those who have been in the school for two years previously.... It has always been claimed that the children admitted later are less easy to discipline; even this seems doubtful, for these children very soon fall into the order of the school.” In this summing-up by a man of the Women Inspectors’ Reports, I would call attention to two phrases, “standard of attainment” and “less easy to discipline, as being unsuitable where infant management is concerned. What Miss Bathurst pleads for, and what conscious motherhood knows is necessary for children between the ages of three and six, is the mothering, feeding, putting tenderly to sleep, and amusing when awake of the little ones; – not, emphatically not, urging them to “reach a standard of attainment,” or subjecting them to the “discipline” described by Miss Bathurst of sitting on forms, folding arms over chest, and shouting in unison the names of letters and of figures. This report of the Women Inspectors is being used to shut out, by local option, children under six years of age from elementary schools; it should be used for the establishment by elementary school authorities of nurseries and kindergartens, as suggested by Miss Bathurst, where “attainments” and “discipline” might be superseded by mothering and training.
In this connection it would be interesting to have further explanation of what a writer, in the Morning Post of September 29th, commenting on the Women Inspectors’ Report, means by the following cryptic saying. He is recommending district visitors and parish nurses as women’ attendance officers, and remarks: “Some day, if the champions of women’s rights and women’s wrongs will hold their peace, there will be attached to each school a woman whose duty it will be to visit the homes of the children and report to the managers in every case where the child attends irregularly, or comes to school improperly fed or clothed, or where the parents wish the younger children in a poor or large family to attend school before their sixth year because they cannot be so well looked after at home.” These are all most excellent subjects for the future women attendance officers to report on; but how, I would most humbly enquire of the male critic who writes in the Morning Post, are those of us who point out what are the wrongs under which women suffer, and what are the rights and duties which should be hers in the State – how, I enquire, are we hindering the immediate appointment of persons of “the female persuasion” to carry out these humble, but most useful duties? I may also remind him that it would be as well to appoint them as soon as possible, regardless of the possibility of making such unpleasant persons as myself “hold our peace”; for the cause we champion does not consist entirely in placing women in all the inferior administrative positions, where they will laboriously observe, chronicle, and report, then humbly step on one side for men to act; but we desire to place women where they shall receive from the people themselves the same mandate to administer and take action as men now receive.
With the same masculine lack of imagination, the Boston Courier, discussing the pay of women teachers, remarks: “Why women teachers are not better paid for their work is a question that for the past forty years has agitated every American community – and it has done but little beside that. The hard-working and poorly paid teachers will probably always be, even in the wealthiest communities. It is incomprehensible why this is so.” The Boston Women’s Journal, commenting on these nerveless pronouncements, replies: “The reason why women teachers are underpaid is that they are not voters. This is evidenced by the fact that male teachers in Massachusetts receive three times the compensation paid to women teachers. When it is remembered that the salaries of teachers are decided by a School committee elected in every town and city by the votes of them alone, it is apparent at a glance that the discrepancy grows directly out the fact that a disfranchised class has no political pull. No such discrepancy in salaries exists in the four free States where universal suffrage prevails. One of the first laws enacted by the Legislature of Wyoming, when women were enfranchised in 1869, was one equalising the salaries of all office-holders doing similar work, irrespective of sex.” I recommend this quotation to all women in our own country who are working and writing for the Woman Suffrage cause.
DORA. B. MONTEFIORE.