Dora B. Montefiore, New Age November 1905
Source: New Age, p. 762 & 764, 30 November 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I have received by this mail a copy of the October number of the White Ribbon, the woman’s organ in New Zealand, in which they do me the honour of quoting my criticism in THE NEW AGE of the Lancet’s strictures on Professor Korösy’s published statistics of the relative mental capacities of boy and girl scholars. The same number contains an account of an anniversary meeting at Christchurch to celebrate the granting of the franchise to women; at which meeting Mrs. Sheppard, who last year was with us in England, recalled the many beneficent Acts for women, children, and the aged, and the workers that had been passed since women had possessed the vote. Later on a resolution was passed asking for the removal of the disability which prevents women from occupying seats in Parliament, and pointing out the “absurdity of calling New Zealand a democracy whilst refusing to extend to all citizens equality of opportunity.” At a meeting of the Executive of the Women’s National Council of New Zealand a resolution was passed, “That this Council disapproves of the State teaching of religion in public schools, and upholds the present free, secular, and compulsory system of education.” At the same meeting of the Executive Mrs. Sheppard proposed: “That a conscientious and capable administration of the laws of the Colony is of the highest importance; and the Executive of the National Council of the Women of New Zealand considers that this could be best obtained by means of an elective executive.” This resolution was evidently in support of a Bill of Sir W.J. Steward’s, which had been before the House for some years, and which has for its object to remove from the Premier the power of appointment to the heads of the great departments of State; and provides that the Minister of each department should be balloted for by the members of both Houses sitting together. After discussion the resolution was carried unanimously. Later on an interesting discussion took place on the land question, with the object of bringing pressure on the Government to induce them to accord further facilities for settlement on the land. Most of the members present were in full sympathy with the question. “The terrible conditions in the Old Country through the land getting into the hands of a wealthy few were cited as examples of warning to new countries like New Zealand.”
Arbor Day was observed this year at the pretty, old-world village of Eynsford, near Sevenoaks, and a number of the women students from Swanley Horticultural College walked over in short skirts and leggings to help in the planting of the young trees, which in years to come will help to beautify the neighbourhood. Arbor Day, as celebrated in Australia, is a general holiday for the schoolchildren, who are taken out into the country to assist in the planting of the trees, which are to take the place of the native forests that are being so rapidly destroyed. I commend the idea to County Council Educational Authorities, who might, by setting aside a day in the autumn, give a practical object lesson in afforestation to tens of thousands of schoolchildren in the elementary schools of Great Britain. Germany, though her “Black Country” is of much more recent date than ours, has already begun to plant her mountainous heaps of slag and cinders with trees, and thus gradually hide their scarring ugliness, besides providing useful timber for the future. We have thousands of idle hands in the autumn, and miles of withered “Black Country”; but we have also a Premier who remarks: “What can I do?” And so the waste hands are not set to work on the waste lands!
This little quarterly record of the work done by some of the Women Suffrage Societies of Great Britain, when commenting on the recent National Convention held at Hull, remarks that there was “too great a tendency shown by some of the speakers at the Convention to exalt the latest recruits to the Women’s Suffrage movement, namely, the working women, at the expense of the middle-class women”; and adds “that this tendency was also marked in Sir John Rolleston’s speech at the public meeting.” I should like to put it on record that working women should not be described as “the latest recruits to the Women’s Suffrage movement.” Many of them have been working, and denying themselves, and helping to get up petitions and assist agitation for years; but it is only recently that any official recognition and help has been extended to them by one branch – the Manchester one of the National Union of Suffrage Societies. Of the millions of working women in and round London, what attempt is being made to organise and use them in the demand for suffrage? In the Hammersmith district, in which I live, we had open-air meetings last year in Ravenscourt Park, and did our best to bring the question before those who could never possibly attend the usual rounds of drawing-room or afternoon meetings. This open-air propaganda is being hampered and discouraged, and while the working women round London are starving for the spiritual message which should tell them that their motherhood, their contribution of work for the community, should entitle them to the same citizenship as is possessed by their sisters in other parts of the Empire, middle-class women hold drawing-room and tea-meetings for the already converted, and Parliament, session after session, flouts and cold-shoulders a movement which it feels has no democratic demand behind it. It is because Sir John Rolleston has met and talked to leaders (themselves working women) among the working women of the North that he realises how vital and compelling is the demand, coming from those whose earnings, whose daily bread, can only be protected when they possess the direct power as citizens to protect themselves. The working woman is close, very close, to the realities, to the uncertainties of industrial life in a way in which her middle-class sister can never be. She is beginning to grasp the meaning of what full citizenship would be to her, and she is working for it in ways that may seem unorthodox and strange to officialdom; but which, like the means used by the rest of the Labour Movement, will have in the end to supersede the ineffectual agitation of middle-class mediocrity. The writer in the Record further remarks that “leaders of all women’s associations, be they trades unions, co-operative guilds, or other women’s societies, are middle-class women.” Some working-class women leaders might have something to reply to this statement.
A correspondent has sent me the enclosed quotation from Bart Kennedy’s novel, The Green Sphinx, and I pass it on to my readers as bearing on some of the women questions we from time to time discuss. “I sat down and talked to the old woman. I found that I more quickly got on to common ground with her than I had done with the old peasant at the outset. Women are quicker than men in the grasping of the real attitude of people towards them. They receive a hard and a sad training from life. Theirs is to watch and wait, and to scan, and to adapt themselves. Poor women! One hears a great deal of the freeing of races and classes, and nations. But who ever hears much of the freeing of women? Come forth ye great thinkers and say a word for women. Say something for those who are the slaves even of slaves.”
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.