Dora B. Montefiore, New Age December 1905

Women’s Interests

News from Florence.


Source: New Age, p. 809-10, 21 December 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


From the Italian city so long the home of the woman poet who wrote Aurora Leigh, a message to free aspiring womanhood; from that city beloved of Shelley, who wrote, “Can man be free when woman is a slave?” comes to English women a further message of hope. Mr. Labouchere, M.P., who for years has never spared an opportunity of insulting womanhood in the House of Commons, has written to the Liberal electors of Northampton announcing his retirement from Parliamentary life. I would suggest that all women whose self-respect has been wounded by the gibes of the member for Northampton should subscribe for and present him on his retirement with a copy of volume iv of the works of Mazzini, wherein the following passage should be underlined with red ink. “Respect Woman! Seek in her not merely a comfort, but a force, an inspiration, the redoubling of your intellectual and moral faculties. Cancel from your mind every idea of superiority over woman.” In acting thus we women should be fulfilling, a precept of ancient wisdom, enshrined in the Dhamma-pada, which bids us “Conquer the stingy by a gift, the liar by truth.”

The fate of a Russian woman.

The Tribune Russe for December republishes from the Temps an account given by an eye-witness of the martyrdom of the girl school-teacher Prascovie Dongentzova. As it is illustrative of the clash of factions which are just now rending asunder distracted Russia, and as it further shows up luridly the fact that in Russia’s long struggle for freedom, just as in the similar struggles of every other nation, women, no less than men, offer themselves as conscious victims in the cause of the uplifting of humanity, and run the same terrible risks as do men, I translate for the benefit of my women readers the main points in the pitiful story. The eye-witness was a young student from St. Petersburg, who, the day before the publication of the manifesto of Nicholas II, granting a Constitution to the Russian nation, arrived at Staveopol, a small provincial town, where his father was lying ill. The only “intellectuals,” or advanced thinkers, in the town were the men and women teachers in the primary school, and the reactionaries in the district, with the “popes” at their head, marched on the schools determined to make one or other of the teachers expiate this victory of the “intellectuals.” “They are the cause of all the evil; it is they who have taught the people to read and write!” This was the war-cry of the “bande noire” that dragged Prascovie Dongentzova out from among her young scholars and struck and insulted her in the street. The student Nikolef, who witnessed this outrage, tried to defend the girl, and was threatened with the same fate; then, in his struggle and despair, he called on the Cossacks, who began to arrive on the scene, to protect the woman from the insults of the crowd. “Give the teacher up to us!” cried the Ataman or commander of the detachment of Cossacks. “We will put her through a political examination.” The Ataman seized the girl’s hands and forced her to her knees. “What is your religion?” The girl did not reply at once, and the Ataman struck her a violent blow on the head with his naga´ka. “Let me go! Let me go!” cried the unfortunate girl, “you know very well I belong to the orthodox religion ..... the Pope can tell you ...” “Oh, yes; we know you go to church; but you are like the Jews against the Czar....” “It is not true; I am not against the Czar; but I desire freedom for my country!” “Ah! you desire freedom! We thought as much! That is why you were so rejoiced when you read this false manifesto, which the Jews have invented, and which they attribute to the Czar!” Once again the brutal Ataman, struck the girl over the shoulders, and when, faint and bleeding, she still protested: “But you are wrong, you are wrong! It is the Czar himself who has granted freedom to his unhappy people,” the Cossack leader replied with a shout: “Ah! you want to make your revolutionary propaganda here? .... Get to work, my brothers!”

An orgie of blood.

Then took place a scene too terrible to reproduce in detail. But above the yells of a blood-drunk crowd and the dull thuds of kicks and blows, the girl’s voice once more bore witness: “God! they are killing me! May my blood serve the cause of my people!” .... The naked dead body was tossed and ripped and trampled on by a band of demons, who shouted: “Death to the students! Death to the Jews!” And the young stranger, who had vainly tried to save the girl, rushed half-demented from the blood-stained spot, striking in his horror to right and left, until, reaching home, he sank sick and senseless to the ground. The young girl martyr was a follower of Tolstoy, and Tolstoy wrote: “In the general vocation of serving God and man, man and woman are entirely equal.”

Distress from unemployment among women and girls.

I am glad to note that the Women’s Industrial Council has addressed a memorandum to the Central Committee (Unemployed) pointing out that as it has evidence of special distress from unemployment among women and girls, in London, it asks the Distress Committees to give special consideration to the problem of meeting the needs of such women and girls, and would make the following suggestions towards practical help. Briefly stated, the suggestions are: (i) That all notices to the unemployed should specifically state that women who are dependent on their own earnings may apply as well as men, and that their cases will receive careful attention; (2) That wherever it is possible for the local authorities to undertake extra work which women can do, e.g., cleaning, upholstery, needlework, etc., this should be provided; (3) That where the local authorities are unable to provide employment for women applicants, either through the Labour Bureaux or by special work, these should be referred to the Central Committee to be dealt with; (4) That on the land colonies in connection with the Distress Committees, a portion of the colony should be set apart for women, who might be employed in the necessary laundry work, mending or making of clothes, and cooking for the workers; in doing the lighter work on the land, in dairy-work or poultry farming; (5) That for women and girls whose home circumstances prevent their moving to a labour colony outside London, one or more centres should be opened where they may obtain continuous employment for wages at making clothes – such clothes not to be sold, but given away to those in need; (6) That where remunerative work cannot be provided, a small maintenance grant might be given on condition that those receiving it should attend domestic economy or other suitable classes at some polytechnic or technical institute. The possibility might also be considered of teaching trades at present not largely followed in England. With the first part of the recommendations, which deal with the removal of girls and women to labour colonies in the country, I am in entire agreement, but am opposed to paying women wages for making clothes which are to be given away; as any form of dole or charity undermines self-respect and increases, instead of diminishing, the causes of unemployment. I would advocate a labour colony in connection with the Distress Committee of each Borough Council, where might be sent the most genuine cases of unemployment and distress, and where the men might be accompanied by their wives and children. The present scheme of separating men from their families, and sending them to Hollesley Bay for indefinite periods of time, I consider unsatisfactory and most unpractical. It is opening the door to a train of other evils, as demoralising in their way as is unemployment, and it is missing an excellent opportunity of bringing children up in an atmosphere of scientifically organised agricultural industry, as opposed to the haphazard, unscientific methods of ordinary English agriculture. If the wives and families were removed to the land with the men, there would then be more work for the women and girls left behind, and their life problem would be more easily solved. The suggestion of teaching trades not generally followed in England is an excellent one. The making of coarse papier-mache wrappers for bottles out of chopped straw is one of the industries carried on co-operatively by the farmers in Holland with considerable financial success. Co-operative dairying, as carried on in Denmark, might also be studied and profitably applied.

A resolution of protest.

The sale of my goods distrained for non-payment of income-tax took place last Friday in presence of a gathering of friends and sympathisers, among whom were several members of the newly-formed Hammersmith Society for Woman Suffrage. After the goods were sold, I was allowed by the courtesy of the auctioneer to speak; and after explaining my reasons for passively resisting taxation, I put to the meeting the following resolution, which was seconded by Mrs. Drew, and carried unanimously by those present: “That in the opinion of this meeting of protest no measure of franchise or registration reform will be satisfactory or complete which does not abolish the disqualification of sex, and secures to women equal voting rights on the same terms as men.” A copy of this resolution will be forwarded to the Prime Minister.

DORA B. MONTEFIORE.