Dora B. Montefiore, New Age April 1903

Women’s Interests

Women and Education.

Source: New Age, p.219, 2 April 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I mentioned in a former article the magnificent (!) representation that women were obtaining on the new Educational Authorities throughout the country, where co-option of one or two of them on each Education Committee seemed to be grudgingly granted, as a matter of form. I am glad therefore to be able to report that the Manchester and Salford Trades’ and Labour Council has nominated as its representative Mrs. Pankhurst (a former member of the Manchester School Board). If the City Council accept the nominee of the Trades’ Council a fourth woman will be added to the Manchester Educational Committee, and, most cheering sign of all that woman will represent directly working class interests. As regards the new Educational Authorities soon to be created in London, the Woman’s Local Government Society waited this week on Sir William Anson, to impress upon him the importance of “creating in London an Educational Authority on which women, shall be fully qualified to serve.” In other words, on which women shall serve by the direct mandate of the people, and not by the uncertain and irresponsible process of co-option. It does not appear from the report of the proceedings that Sir William Anson was encouraging in his reply to the deputation. After the usual dose of inane wordy promises about women being given “a full and honoured place as parties to the administration of education in London,” he went on to remark: “That he should be sorry if he had led anyone to hope that London would be so far revolutionised that women, would be given a place on a municipality, if a municipality were chosen as the Educational Authority.” According therefore to Sir William Anson, the allowing of women to serve on a London municipal body now-a-days would be a revolution, although four years ago they were giving excellent and efficient service on those same municipal bodies, which were then known as vestries, instead of as now-a-days, borough councils.

“The Disgrace and Crime of Being Born a Woman.”

In the Times of December 1, 1890, Miss Cons, who had then been serving for some time on the London County Council (where her work, in consequence of her life-long experience of working-class conditions, was welcomed and valued) wrote: “My feelings on the subject of women councillors are as strong as ever, and I shall neglect no means in my power to assure a perfect freedom of choice in the ratepayers, and equal municipal rights for women as for men. It is a bitter experience, when one for the first time fully realises that even a long life spent in the service of one’s fellow citizens is powerless to blot out the disgrace and crime (in the eyes of the law) of being born a woman.” Yes, the one real and efficient way of making use of the mother heart and head in organised administrative work for the community is still denied us, though we are daily being called upon, in some form or other, to strive to put right unofficially, and therefore more or less futilely, what men have, through maladministration, put wrong. In the Guardian of this week, the Bishop of Stepney appeals to “educated ladies, possessed of means sufficient for their own maintenance in a very modest standard of living, and willing to devote their time to the service of God and of the poor, who will come to our aid.... They would have the joy of knowing that their help was given where God had most need of it, and of forming the deepest and truest friendships with the poor. He earnestly hoped that some who read this appeal may hear in it a call to themselves.” I have an equally earnest hope that the Bishop may come to see before very long that prevention of social evils is better than cure, and that sound legislation, and really representative municipal work, might do so much to cure the evils of poverty and neglect which he and we so much deplore, that educated women instead of sacrificing their lives in the overwhelmingly sad duties of a daily struggle against wrong and unnatural conditions, and growing daily more depressed by sights and sounds which they have no effectual means of altering, may through organised administrative work be so able to alter social and economic conditions in London, that their work for others may become a double joy, one glad full song of light triumphing over darkness, right reigning in the place of wrong. Will the Bishop of Stepney and his fellow Bishops, who recognise and make use of the ministry of women, from henceforth work their utmost to give the “full and honourable share in education,” in local administration and in legislative influence which the law now allows to men? It is almost invariably the case that when intelligent women come face to face with the real problems of poverty, degradation, and crime, the truth is daily more and more strenuously borne in upon them, that their work of palliation, of rescue, of Charity is like attempting to fill a bucket of water full of holes; in fact, that they are powerless until they possess the full rights of citizens, to work effectually with their heads, as well as with their hearts, for the amelioration of the social and economic conditions of the poor. Let the Church throw its influence into the scale to make of women, not easily blunted tools, but intelligent and politically strong fellow-workers in the cause of Demos as he painfully struggles upwards: Then the call need no longer go forth to educated women to stultify every aspiration implanted in them by education, by sharing the life of those who live in slums, and in degrading poverty; for the slums will have been swept away, never to return; and degrading poverty, which the present competitive system forces on the weak and the maimed in the battle of life, will have ceased to exist; for the Mother spirit, the preserving, the healing, the cherishing spirit of life will at last be allowed effectually to speak “the pass-word primeval, the sign of democracy, and will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.”

Dora Montefiore