Dora B. Montefiore, New Age June 1903
Source: New Age, p.363, 4 June 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I was glad to hear from eye-witnesses, and to learn from accounts in the Press, that women took their due share in the splendid Hyde Park demonstration against the Education Bill. According to a leader writer in the Standard, who fixes the number present as 100,000, women are scarcely to be reckoned in an agitation of this sort as “demonstrators,” for he remarks that “in that total must be included many women, a crowd of children, and a vast body of more or less interested spectators.” He does not give his reasons for the suggestion that the women, and even many of the children, were not there as demonstrators; but as education, and the lack of it, are questions which interest English men, women, and children, I cannot for the life of me see why the women present should be this summarily excluded from the total of demonstrators, and lumped with the “more or less interested spectators.” Will women, who feel the full iniquity of this Bill, go a step further, and join the ranks of the “Passive Resisters"? Let them remember that by these two successive Education Acts, not only do they lose direct control by losing their direct vote for candidates for the Educational Boards, but they also lose direct touch with public education by only being allowed to sit on the newly-formed Councils through co-option. The proportion also of women is likely to be so small on these Councils that their influence will be reduced to a minimum. In a speech last week at the annual conference of the Women’s National Liberal Association, Miss Margaret Ashton said “she felt it was a great pity that the education schemes, which would be very difficult to alter later on, had all been drawn up by men elected for a quite different purpose. Women, of course, had not been allowed any part in the work. She herself was the only woman in England who had had any hand in drawing up an education scheme.” This duty, it appears, involved upon her as a member of the Withinton Urban District Council. This insult to English women, at a time when they were never better educated or prepared for the task of advising on and administering a reformed educational scheme, can only be interpreted as intentional on the part of a Government re-established in its mischievous power by a. war vote, and which means to make use of that power by striking as deadly a blow as it possibly can at enlightenment and at progress.
It is cheering to turn from our own daily chronicle of re-action and inefficiency to the more encouraging news from our sisters in America. According to the Woman’s journal (Boston). “The vote on the Woman Suffrage Amendment in New Hampshire is most encouraging to the friends of equal rights for women. It is the largest proportional vote ever given for this reform in a New England State. In Rhode Island the Woman Suffrage Amendment received only about one vote in five. In Massachusetts, on the so-called referendum eight years ago, less than one male voter in three favoured giving women even the municipal ballot. In New Hampshire more than one voter in three favoured giving them full suffrage.” These figures show clearly the growth of public opinion, and go far to discredit the general tendency of the book lately published by Mrs. Wolsey, Republics versus Women, in which she sets out to prove that the cause of womanhood makes slower headway in Republics than it does under Monarchies. I shall hope to notice the book at greater length next week.
The American Socialist publication, The Comrade, has this month a sympathetic account of the Southern States American poet, Sidney Lanier, to whom I feel sure the hearts of my women readers will go out in gratitude for having written of the painful evolution of womanhood with such force, intuition, and understanding.
For O my God! and O, my God!
What shameful ways have women trod
At the beckoning of Trade’s golden rod!
Alas, when sighs are Trader’s lies,
And heart’s-ease eyes, and violet eyes
O, purchased lips, that kiss with pain!
O, cheeks, coin-spotted with smirch and stain !
O, trafficked hearts that break in twain!
Shall woman scorch for a single sin,
That her betrayer may revel in,
And she be burnt, and he but grin
When the flames begin?
Lanier was a great democrat, but not a professed socialist; and the spirit of his democratic faith breathes through all he wrote. The writer in the Comrade (a most excellent illustrated publication by the bye), claims him, therefore as a fellow-worker and a comrade, since “Socialism is the union of the. Spirit of Beauty with Spirit of Justice,” and he finds these elements in all that Lanier writes. The whole tone of the Comrade is instinct with this spirit, and it seems to me worth recommending to English democrats on account of the very human and very comradely spirit, to women as well as to men, that breathes through it. Unfortunately, the tone, adopted towards women in most professedly democratic publications in England is in very doubtful taste; they are either written of by men in a tone of half humorous contempt or vulgar banter; or else a woman is engaged to write down to them on dress, cookery, and chiffons; or else, coupled with children, they are trotted out as needing philanthropic legislation which workmen refuse to have applied to themselves. Scarcely ever are they written of, or treated as fellow-workers with men, as an integral adult portion of the democracy which is to inspire that new order, to which the old order is daily giving way more and more.