Dora B. Montefiore, New Age January 1903
Source: New Age, p.42-3, 15 January 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Once more a note of warning to those likely to be caught by the latest Government bait for getting cheap white woman’s labour for South Africa. A pink leaflet has been sent me, issued by the South African Expansion Committee, 47, Victoria Street, which claims to be in connection with a Government Immigration Department at Johannesburg. This Committee undertakes to advance the passage money of domestic servants, “only £12 of which his to be re-paid by the emigrant, and this in monthly instalments.” I fail to understand the use of the word “only,” as £12 seems a rather stiff sum for emigrant passage money for a twenty days’ voyage; and taking into consideration that “cultured ladies” were to be shipped out at the beginning of the South African Expansion racket at £5 a head! “Generals,” nurses, and housemaids are tempted in this leaflet by a £36 a year wage; and cooks and parlourmaids by a £48 wage. Let them remember, however, that the price of all the necessaries of life in Johannesburg is more than double what it is in England, and the purchasing power of their wage is therefore reduced by half. In other words as the pay, whilst in South Africa, of officials, bank clerks, engineers, etc., is just double what it would be in England, because of the expense of living in that colony, therefore the domestic servant may calculate that a £36 wage would mean out there what £18 would mean in England, and a £48 wage would mean what £24 would in England. This, with £12 deducted during the first twelve months, would reduce the poor servant to pretty much the same state of slavery as that of the native, who is first lured into, and then kept at, forced labour in the mines. As I have shown before, cheap labour is what the South African speculators will have at any cost, for is it not that for which they went to war? and black labour and woman’s labour is the cheapest in the market, therefore it must be obtained, and obtained in abundance. South Africa and the South African millionaire must continue to expand, but liberty and the rights of the weak, whether they be blacks or women, must shrink and shrivel.
I may mention, in passing, that in a private letter I was shown last month, from the wife of an orange planter in Florida, one of the most glorious and healthy climates in the world, the writer, who was giving, in answer to enquiries, details as to the cost of living, etc., concluded with the statement: “Domestic servants command from 20 to 30 dollars a month (that is from £48 to £72 a year), and are bad at that,” If therefore the “good plain cook” or the artless “tweenie” are yearning to emigrate with a view of bettering their condition, it might be as well for them to weigh in the balance the advantages of Les Angelos and the orange groves of Florida, against those of Johannesburg and an assisted passage to be repaid in monthly instalments during the first year!
The Belgian Socialist women fail apparently to grasp the situation of those women who stand for equal rights, political, economic, and social, for their own sex. At a recent meeting in Brussels they seem to have voted against equal pay for equal work, adding, “we cannot admit the principle of women earning salaries equal to those of our brothers or our husbands.” “Let us,” they continued, “fight against the bourgeois but not against men.” If these words have been correctly reported, the Belgian Socialist women have a long journey to travel along the evolutionary path before they are in touch with the aspirations and work of their fellow women in America and Europe. It cannot be too often. repeated that government by might, without the conscious enlightened consent of the governed, is as demoralising for those who govern as it is for those who are governed. It is women’s subservient position and want of education which at present stops the way of most of the great economic and social reforms with which European civilisation is travailling. Sex consciousness is just as necessary for the woman in the carrying out of these reforms as class-consciousness is for the workman in his struggle. It is not the capitalist who is being fought by the latter, but the system of capitalism. It is not “Man” who is being fought by the sex-conscious woman, but the principle which allows one evolved human being to keep another evolved human being in a state of permanent inferiority and incapacity. This system, which belongs to medieval times, is at the present day doing as much injury to men as it is to women, for their interests as a whole ever have been, and ever will be, identical. It is more sex consciousness we need, not less, if real progress in social questions is to be made during this generation. I read in one of the newspaper accounts of the recent Newmarket election, that one reason given by the Tory agent for the success of the Liberal candidate was the immense amount of electioneering work done by the Women’s Liberal Association. It would be interesting to know what pledges, if any, the Women’s Liberal Association obtained from their candidate as to his future work in the House for Woman’s Suffrage, and for placing women on borough and county councils, so that they may once more be enabled to take their share in the management of National Education. As long as women will give unlimited time and money to a political party, in whose principles they believe, without asking from the men of that party a due return in work for the woman’s cause, which is after all man’s also, so long will men rake in the guineas, and make ever increasing calls upon women’s time and influence, but find they have pressing engagements elsewhere whenever an organised demand is made for a legal enlargement of women’s rights and duties.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.
Sirs – I am sorry that Mrs. Montefiore puts the question of the origin of moral sanctions first, in her reply to Miss Beeby. Miss Beeby herself put first the fact that the expedient suggested would result in the degradation of the victim and of all concerned. And this I take to be the all-sufficient reason for rejecting such a proposal. Of course the whole question of the right of society to punish is involved – a right which I maintain can only be justified when that society has taken care that none of its members shall grow up in conditions which render common decency impossible. I do not wish to prolong a correspondence which can have little good result, except in so far as regards the general question. But, as Mrs. Montefiore rests her case on heredity, I will ask whether the laws of heredity are sufficiently understood for us to dare pronounce judgment beforehand in any particular case? Has no wicked father ever had a good child? Has no good father ever had a bad one? Mrs. Montefiore refers to horse-breeding. Horse-breeders know that “breeding-back” often confounds their best calculations. We have more parents than our father and mother. Our grand-parents count for something. But I rest my dissent chiefly on the moral injury that would be done to the whole community by such an expedient resorted to to prevent something happening which perhaps might not happen – a mere “may-be.” Only as punishment for some particular action of the deepest infamy would the conscience of mankind consent to such a means. It is curious that it was proposed early in the eighteenth century to apply this punishment to Catholic priests proved to have said mass in Ireland. And in the nineteenth century Mr. Froude mentioned the proposal with approval. But it was too much even for one of the cruellest and strongest prejudices in the world – the hatred of a Protestant for an Irish Papist, in the eighteenth century.
MARY A.M. MARKS.
(This subject need not be pursued further. – Ed.)