Dora B. Montefiore, New Age February 1903

Women’s Interests

An Imperialist in the Best Sense.

Source: New Age, p.107-8, 12 February 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The late Sir George Grey was one of those who, by reason of his large minded comprehension of real democratic principles, and his foresight into the results of the application of those principles, was a worthy exponent of true imperialistic aims. Mr. George Meredith in his recent political utterance, and in an interview accorded to a representative of the Manchester Guardian, is treading in the footsteps of the late illustrious statesman; for he would have Empire, if it must exist, a living vigorous organism, healthy and virile in all its parts, not a partly corrupt body, sucking in through its repleted veins gold and treasure and human lives to stimulate its already congested and feebly beating central heart. He also believes in a unity of policy throughout the Empire; and, as he so often does in his enthralling works of fiction, he speaks a true and just word for women and their claims and functions as citizens. “We call ourselves Imperial,” he says, “and we believe that we are allied to the Australians and the Canadians, but apparently there is no Parliamentary notion, or even any public recognition, of what forces and principles animate and move these colonial democracies. They are moving ahead of us in certain directions, and, can we, if we are to maintain a close relation with them, remain as we are? In Australia, for instance, they have given the suffrage to women. Are we going to do the same here? I cannot see how we are to keep united in a great Imperial system unless there is a very close agreement between our separate political systems. And this question of the position of women is one of those matters that ought to awaken the country, if people are really as patriotic as they say.” Further on he says, when speaking of the disenfranchised: “It is better, I think, to have precipitated them into their privileges than to have faced the consequences of keeping them without them.” We all remember Mr. Meredith’s “mot” in Diana of the Crossways, that “Englishrnen may have rounded Geraglio Point, they have not yet doubled Cape Turk.” Mr. Meredith plainly sees the complications that may arise in the future as a result of the superior seamanship displayed by the men of the Australian Commonwealth!

Universal Female Suffrage in Australia.

It may be of interest in this connection to summarise some of the details in the new electoral experiment, which will be put to the test at the next Australian Federal election, as the result of the adoption of Universal Female Suffrage in the Commonwealth. It may be remarked, in passing, that the Australian Constitution is, with a few exceptions, modelled on our English system, and about ninety per cent. of the population are of English descent. Taking the Commonwealth as a whole, there will be a majority of male voters, as the subjoined table shows:-

New South Wales340,000280,000
South Australia95,00090,2000
Western Australia70,00037,000

But in the capitals of Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide the female vote will predominate. In Sydney there will be 112,729 female voters to 102,424 male voters; in Melbourne there will be 14,828 women electors, and 12,198 male electors. An interesting fact regarding the new female electorate is that in Melbourne quite nine out of ten women who will exercise the franchise will be women who are earning their own living. They will naturally vote for that Government which gave them the franchise, and which secured to every Federal Government employee a minimum wage of 110. In Sydney it is probable that the Free Traders with Liberal and Socialistic tendencies will capture the bulk of the female vote.

Rowton Houses for Women.

It is good news that the first move has been made towards erecting lodging houses for women on the same lines as those provided for men in London by the “Rowton Houses.” A few months ago two Manchester gentlemen each offered to provide 500 towards such an object in their own town, but Lord Rowton has, up till now, not moved in the matter, because it is stated) “he thinks women have not the capacity for living in amity together that men have.” That does not seem to have been the belief of those who built the Female Casual Wards in our Workhouses in the old days. I have a vivid recollection of two that I visited a few years ago in different parts of the country. The men’s casual ward had been lately rebuilt, and was shown with great pride; when I asked to see the women’s, I met with hesitation, and the Master of the Workhouse eventually explained that it was a very old building, and was not generally shown. I, however, gently insisted, pleading that I was specially interested in anything that concerned women; and finally the door of a sort of old stone shed, standing in the grounds, was unlocked. The floor was stone, and ranged on this stone floor were sloping wooden bunks with wooden pillows. There was a stove in the middle of the room, which was lit on cold nights, and a blanket was provided for the occupant of each bunk. Into this hospitable apartment were huddled at night tramps, drunken women, and any women with children who were seeking a night’s lodging; the door was locked at ten o'clock, and not opened again till six the next morning. No washing accommodation or baths were provided, and the inmates evidently had either “to live in amity together,” or risk scenes which one does not like to contemplate.

Surely, with the excellent arrangement and discipline which “Rowton Houses” ensure, working women might be given the chance of having their “Hotel,” where rest, quiet, and some degree of comfort could be ensured. Anyhow, the London County Council have come forward with a pioneer scheme in this direction, and in Southwark will shortly be erected a four-storeyed building, where fifty-seven women will be accommodated on the cubicle system. The rent will be sixpence a night for a single cubicle, and ninepence for a double one. Let us hope the example of Southwark will soon be followed in all the working-class centres of London.