Dora B. Montefiore, New Age January 1903
Source: New Age, p.58-9, 22 January 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
In the January number of the Central Blatt, the official organ of the German Women’s Association, Frau Stitt, their President, has a stirring article indicting Imperialism and the “Strong Man Policy.” She takes, in one place, England as her text – England, which in former days was the ideal home for the Continental Progressive, of all that made for better social and economic conditions for the upsurging masses of the people. “When we see,” she writes, “how in England triumphant Imperialism, or in other words the spirit of Brute Force, militates against the higher and nobler stirrings of all that makes for education and culture; when we note how in that country, the woman’s movement, instead of making the natural progress of steady evolution is suffering, in common with every other forward movement, a marked reaction, it is not difficult to prophesy that a similar hardening of our own National Policy will have a similar effect in our own country on the Woman movement and on allied Causes. The Woman movement can only be safely built up on the sound platform of equal rights for all. The principle of Brute Force, under whatever specious guise it presents itself, will always prove the ultimate opponent of the real development of women.” As is well known his Imperial Majesty of Germany has already pronounced the dictum that Woman’s sphere lies amongst the three K’s, “— Kirche, Kuche, and Kinder – (the Church, the Kitchen, and Children); therein showing himself to be a lineal spiritual descendant of Luther, who in his writings has left us a record of his opinions of the functions and sphere of women which goes far to explain why women’s position is still what it is in countries where the Reformation obtained its strongest hold. If some day the true and tragic history of the late Empress Frederick comes to be published, the world will know something of the struggle which even an Imperial woman, who dared to think for herself, had to wage against the domination of a too Imperialistically inclined son.
Young Oxford, the Ruskin Hall Magazine for January, contains an article by a Working Woman (Priscilla E. Moulder) on Protective Legislation for Women, some of the statements in which call for remark and others for criticism. The writer makes a strong appeal for the extension of what she calls “Protective,” but which is generally known as “Restrictive,” Legislation to different branches of woman’s work, but she does not mention to what particular section of Industries she wishes to see Protection next applied. If, as by a remark in the early part of the article, she means Home Industries, it must not be forgotten that the placing of these Industries under the Factory Acts would entail the Restriction of men workers as well as of women workers, for there are more men than women employed in Home Industries. This is exactly the point that most intelligent women stand for. They are in favour of the Factory Acts being applied all round, for the improvement in hygiene, sanitation, and ventilation of any room or workshop in which work is carried on. They are in favour of restrictions on hours which apply to all workers working at the same trade. What they are opposed to are arbitrary restrictions as to hours imposed on workers of one sex, which, by reducing their value to the employer, tend to drive these workers, out of that trade. In the case of the Textile workers of the North, to whom the writer of the article alludes as examples of “Protected” women workers, it must be remembered that not only are these Textile workers highly skilled operatives, who pass on their dexterity front mother to daughter, but theirs is also a skilled trade, at which men cannot excel, as their hands are not so well fitted for the work. Besides this advantage, the number of women in the Textile Industries at the time the Factory Act came into force largely exceeded the number of men workers. The hours of the Mills had therefore to be adjusted to suit the Restricted women; and the men’s hours were in consequence shortened, as there would have been, no point in keeping Mills open for a few men to continue work when the mass of women workers had returned home. The opposite applies to all those Industries where there are more male workers than female, and when the hours are arranged for the non-restricted male workers, whilst the women have either to accept a diminished wage or find work elsewhere.
This question of placing Home Industries under the Factory Acts is a much more difficult and complex one than is generally supposed to be the case. There is no doubt that such industries as fur-pulling and similar insanitary trades should be at once relegated to Factories, and strictly inspected; but there are many other trades, such as artificial flower-making, brush-making, cabinet-making, and some branches of tailoring, etc. at which, when carried on at home, the elderly member of the family, or possibly the cripple, can assist, and at the same time feel they are assuring their own independence, and keeping themselves off the rates. It would be very difficult to inspect homes in the same way that Factories are inspected; it would mean that the very poor could never assure privacy for eighteen hours out of the twenty-four. Fraulein A. Salomons has an article in the same German paper, to which I have already referred, advocating the same inspection of Home Industries in Berlin, and other large German towns, and giving a terrible array of figures in support of her argument that sweating is carried on to an enormous extent amongst the German home workers. She holds up as a model New Zealand Industrial Legislation, which treats every room in which two of more people work as a workshop, and inspects it accordingly. But she omits to tell her readers, or perhaps she does not realise it herself, that there are only 53,000 factory workers in the colony of New Zealand, even when counting, every tiny workshop as a Factory. The conditions over there in a slow-growing young community are so different from those prevailing in the overgrown, over-crowded old towns of Europe, that similar methods of Industrial Legislation cannot be employed with success. One step in the right direction we might make over here, and that at once. We women might discourage sweating by doing our best to avoid buying sweated goods; that is to say the cheapest and flimsiest goods with which our shops are flooded. If the bargain hunter would pause in her hunt, and ask herself how the worker who stitched or nailed together the bargain was paid, and would then refuse to buy the article which could not have been produced at the price if the worker had been paid a living wage, we should have begun to attack the sweating problem at least at one end, and that perhaps the most important one.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.