Dora B. Montefiore

Excerpts from Clarion

Source: Party People, Communist Lives, 2001
Transcription: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: Brian Reid.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The following short excerpts from Clarion are taken from the note references of Karen Hunt in a short biography of Dora Montefiore by her in Party People, Communist Lives, 2001, edited by John McIlroy. There may well be other references to her in Clarion but I have not gone through the whole file. The references to George Belt are relevant since D.B.M had an affair with him. For that see Christine Collette, Socialism and Scandal: the Sexual Politics of the Early Labour Movement, History Workshop, 23 (1987:Spring) p.102-111. Belt, who was married, was 15 years younger than her while she would have been 47 or so when joining the Clarion van.—Notes and transcription by Ted Crawford.

Clarion, 20 February 1897, in “The Postbag”
Dora B. Montefiore writes from the Pioneer Club thanking us for our last week’s leader, but protesting against our conception of the Suffrage Bill as an anti-democratic proposal. Our correspondent appealed to Mrs Wolstenholme Elmy of the Women’s Emancipation League, who declared that in the village of Congleton, where she lives “fifteen working women would, under the provision of the Bill, be enfranchised” Our correspondent continues:—

We women who believe with you that “our emancipation is not a joke but a serious and needful thing; a thing that means much for progress and freedom—more perhaps than any programme of any political party in our great national chamber of cackle” know that this Bill is only the thin end of the wedge, the first crack in the great wall of “privilege” which has to come down before either workers or women are freed. We feel that half a loaf is better than no bread, and we beg you not to stigmatise this Bill as merely one which “propose to confer votes on a few propertied women and spinsters” but to trust the few women of various classes who will be enfranchised under this Bill to use their vote in the cause of freedom and progress.

Clarion, 2 October 1897, in “Our Woman’s Letter” by Julia Dawson
Mrs Montefiore, in sending me 10s for the engineers fund, begs me to ask the men to remember when they win (as they surely will) the words of Bebel, which she holds are the key to their struggle and to ours: “Women have as little to hope from men as workers from the middle classes.”

The references to George Belt

Clarion, 4 June 1898, in “Our Woman’s Letter” “I hope Nunquam will allude, this week or next, to a very interesting letter sent him by Mrs Dora B. Montefiore. You will then be all the more pleased to know that Mrs Montefiore will become a Clarion Vanner on June 24th”.
[Note by transcriber. I cannot find this letter in Nunquam’s column in the following weeks.]

Clarion, 25 June 1898, in “Our Woman’s Letter” In the course of congratulating the women of New Zealand for gaining the vote the writer says “But women will very soon grow wide awake, if the rousing shake in the form of the suffrage is only applied. If you doubt my words, ask Mrs Dora Montefiore, who is now with the Clarion Van.”

Clarion, 9 July 1898, in “Bacon’s Report” on the Clarion van.
Tuesday June 28th
“…. George Belt, Councillor etc of Hull (writ large) arrived at Kirby in advance of the Van. He had been looking for the Van—so he said; but one never knows. He might have done so but—.”


Wednesday “…. Belt put the case for Socialism in plain and concise manner and, Mrs Montefiore followed with some pithy remarks on the necessity of local government”


Mrs Montefiore concluded her visit to the van and left us praying for our future success. She rendered a good service by distributing literature and speaking while her knowledge of the world and books made her a very entertaining Vanner. Councillor Belt also left for Hull to attend some important meeting, so I was left to my on reflections ….

Clarion, 8 October 1898, in “Our Woman’s Letter”
Julia Dawson has given me leave to wedge in a word in her Woman’s Column, on a question in which I want women to be interested. I will call it “Women’s share of the things of this world”. I may as well begin by saying it’s rather against my principles to write for a Woman’s Column just because I don’t think it’s a woman’s fair share of the paper. Independently of women being in the majority, which is a material way of looking at the matter, their interests are so much the interests of humanity, that instead of being poked away in a corner, they should at least have a fair half share in every paper that is working for the cause of humanity, in which they can say their say. Otherwise the work done will be lop-sided. When we have a real woman’s paper of our own, as we shall have some day, we will be generous and let the men have a corner all to themselves, just to let them know what it is like, and we will get them a man who knows all about it to write on the latest thing in cravats, and how to “do up” offices and smoking rooms in “liberty muslin”, and giving the latest recipe for baldness &c, &c, but until then—.

Now about this “Women’s share of the things of this world”. I want to say a word for women tramps. I have been going in and out of workhouses lately in different parts of the country, and have particular inspection of that not-too-savoury part, the casual ward. I should like to explain that if the men casuals are not treated luxuriously, the women and the casuals and the children (who, at least, are deserving of all our woman’s sympathy in the matter) are treated brutally, ignorantly and scandalously. I will take two typical instances: one of a fairly large union in the Midlands, and the other a small union in the West Country. In the first, there was evidently no lack of money, because they were building an extensive and elaborate infirmary, fitted up, as it should be, with every new improvement and accommodation. The men’s casual cells were also newly built, partly with separate cells, with hammocks or plank beds. When extra numbers had to be accommodated there was a large general room, well warmed, well ventilated and with hammock beds stretched in two rows from end to end. Then I asked to see the women and children’s quarters. The workhouse master hesitated. “That is the one part of the union I am ashamed of” he said. “It is the oldest part and totally unfit for the use to which it is put”. I still expressed a desire to see it, and was shown a room about 18 foot square, with one small window, a stone floor and two sloping wooden rows of bunks with wooden pillows. There was a stove which could be lit and at which they could dry their clothes in the cold weather, and a blanket for the night was given to each inmate.

All women casuals and children under seven sleep in this “kennel”, and all are locked in from the time of admission until six in the morning. No classification is made, so that children coming in with their mothers frequently herd (the master admitted it) with drunken women and prostitutes. Boys over seven are put in the men’s general ward. The same story was told in the West Country Union, only things were rather worse there than better, as hop gardens were in the vicinity, and in the summer months the poor families, tramping to their work, came at times in shoals, and the resources of this small Union (being on the main road) were tried to the utmost. Twenty women and children often had to sleep in a room which should never have held more than eight.

On the men’s side of the casual ward I found elaborate arrangements for cleansing the clothes of the inmates by steam and ample bathing accommodation was provided, a compulsory bath being part of the programme. One bath (admitted to be totally insufficient) was provided for the women’s side, and their appeared to be no organised attempt to cleanse either them or their clothes. The brutality and scandal of these arrangements are evident. The ignorance lies in the fact that we are corrupting thousands of young lives when we have a chance to do differently, and that we are hanging more weight on the already overweighted souls of women by unfairness in our treatment of the sexes. The same feeling I noticed runs through every part of the workhouse. The old men have a sitting room with benches running round the sides, on which they can lie down; the old women have a stone floored basement room, with wooden upright seats where no rest for old bones can be obtained. The women, as the matron admitted, do much more work than the men in the Union, and should have at least as many little comforts for their old age as it is possible to give them.

There is a remedy for these injustices if women will go in greater numbers on to the Boards of Guardians, and will there represent their sex. Remember, there is no ratepaying or other qualification for a seat on the Board, except a twelve months’ residence in the place. I hope every Clarion woman who reads this will go and visit the nearest Union, and assure herself that there is good ready organised work waiting to be done there for her less fortunate fellow women; then the next time there is a vacancy on that Board of Guardians, let her get elected and start doing the work.