Dora B. Montefiore, New Age May 1903

Women’s Interests

Women’s position in the present and in the future.

Source: New Age, p.316, 14 May 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Friday, May 8, should be a red letter day in the calendar of women who are working for justice to their sisters and for equality between the sexes. On that day one of the pioneer workers in our cause, Elizabeth Wolstenhoirne Elmy, addressed as many men and women as could be packed into the two front rooms of Mowbray House (where Mr. Stead edits the Review of Reviews, and carries on so many other good works), on “The Present, and Future Position of Women.” The scene, as the brave little woman of close on seventy stood, raised on a chair beneath the archway separating the two rooms, and spoke with all her soul in her bright flashing eyes, of the disabilities and degradations under which women in England have suffered in the past, and are still suffering, is not one that will easily be effaced from the memory. Let us hope that neither her words nor her example will be forgotten, but that the seed sown at that May meeting will fell on fertile ground, and spring up in a harvest of genuine earnest workers, ready to carry on the arduous struggle still before us. Mrs. Elmy has been in the thick of that struggle for five-and-thirty years. In legislation relating to education and to marriage, laws affecting women’s persons and property, and their relations to their children, in Local Government Acts, her influence and her worth can be traced; but how much still remains to be done! Is there not that supreme work to be accomplished, that work which will be the charter of our liberties, the seal of our enfranchisement, the obtaining of the Parliamentary vote?

The Suffrage the one thing needful.

It cannot be too often repeated that until this step of the suffrage is gained, all that we have till now so painfully obtained may yet be lost. This present Government would almost seem to be trying to give us a series of object lessons on the point, in the successive filching away, Session after Session, of women’s rights and functions on local government bodies. The loss to London government by the removal of women from its councils was serious enough, but the loss to the race in the future by the removal of women from our educational boards, where they were doing such far-reaching and specialised work, is a loss that the country will pay for unto the third and fourth generation, and is a note of warning that should arouse even the most unthinking. Mrs. Mallet, writing in the Spectator of May 9, says; “Let me remind your readers of the extent and of the serious character of the ‘purely woman’s work’ which is being done under the Board, and which by the Board’s extinction will be almost entirely withdrawn from the influence and control of women.” She then goes on to speak of the facts that the girls and infants in the schools largely outnumber the boys; that there are in London sixty centres for mentally defective children, eight centres for crippled and physically defective children; homes where deaf and blind children are boarded; industrial schools for boys and girls, and pupil teachers’ centres, where the young girls outnumber the boys; besides cooking, laundry, and house-keeping centres, sanitary arrangements to be supervised, and the health of the female teachers to be looked after. “All such matters as the above are dependent for their efficiency and proper management upon the knowledge and capacity of experienced women; at present they fully absorb the time of the nine women members of the Board. How will they fare when they are left to be carried on by three or four women? Yet by the terms of the Bill four is quite the outside number which may be looked for.” Mrs. Mallet also shows that the average attendance of the women on the Board is higher than the average attendance of the members as a whole, exclusive of the President and vice-President, all of which goes to prove that the work of women on our educational boards instead of being discouraged, set back, and destroyed, is a work to be fostered increased, and in every way helped forward.

The position of women in our Federated Colonies.

The most hopeful and inspiring note struck at Mrs. Elmy’s memorable meeting was that given by Dr. Cockburn, of South Australia, and his voice and delivery of the few but stirring words he contributed to the discussion seemed to breathe through the meeting like a fresh breath of young triumphant life. Australian Governments, he said, had not: been afraid to trust women, and women had not betrayed the trust that had been placed in them. The young growing countries had benefitted by women’s work, for they were born administrators, and their influence made for efficiency and stability. If women had had a voice in legislation in England, he did not believe that a measure so stupid in its want of continuity could have been sanctioned as that of putting on a corn tax one year and taking it off the next. Dr. Cockburn and his colleagues in Australia, who worked for giving women in those colonies the Parliamentary vote, have won the eternal gratitude of thinking women throughout the world, for the object lesson there given will be of more practical value to our cause than can be all the painful propaganda carried on year after year by a few devoted men and women, who feel and understand that the want of recognition of the woman’s influence in public life is the cause of the lack of real progress made by the race. As judge Davis, of America, writes of the result of women having the suffrage in Wyoming: “The Census and Statistical Bureaus show that there are, in proportion to the population, fewer divorces, fewer insane, fewer drunkards, a larger birth-rate, fewer outcast women, and less illiteracy than in any other State in the Republic. Women have used the ballot with an intelligence and self-helpfulness far in excess of their use by men anywhere in America.”