Dora B. Montefiore June 1903
Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. VII No. 6 June, 1903, pp. 354-358;
Transcription: Ted Crawford.
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As a woman subject of a monarchy, I do not feel I can honestly accept Mrs. Kate Trimble Wolsey’s effusive congratulations, offered to me solely on that account. As to the women who are citizens of Republics, they must do what they think best with the sympathy which she equally effusively offers to them. I may, perhaps, be allowed to mention in passing that I have not yet, as a woman, discovered the advantages or privileges of being a subject of either Victoria or Edward, unless the paying of taxes is looked upon by Mrs. Wolsey as being a privilege! The taxgatherer has called upon me with singular regularity, but no official reminder has ever reached me that my opinion was desired on the subject of how those taxes were to be spent. No doubt the policeman would call with equal regularity if I transgressed the laws of the country in which I live; but no one has as yet asked for my opinion on any changes or modifications in those laws, though I could not honestly say that the interests of my sex were duly considered by the legislators who framed them. I may, perhaps, be allowed to mention also, in passing, that at an International Woman’s Congress I attended some years ago in Brussels, and to which I paid my own expenses, I met there a French woman delegate who told me she had applied to her Republican Government for a grant towards her expenses; and that, taking into consideration the public character of the work she was undertaking, and the benefits which it might be hoped would accrue to the community from the discussion of the subjects on the agenda paper, the Government granted her request and paid her expenses. I should like to hear the answer to a similar request a woman delegate would receive from our Imperial Government—a monarchy tempered by Chamberlainism!
I will, however, do my best to offer a quid pro quo to Mrs. Wolsey in return for her “returned with thanks” congratulations, though it will have to take the form of advice, which it is quite possible she may also return to me with thanks, “having no use for it.” My advice would be that next time she makes a speech (and I know she can make an excellent one, for I heard her do so quite lately in Mr. Stead’s office at Mowbray House) she should treat it as a speech, and a speech only, leaving it in that form to live or die in the hearts of her hearers. While next time she writes a book, let it be strictly in book form, so that readers and students may be able to refer to it as a serious contribution towards the subject in hand. The reporting of a speech delivered, no one knows exactly where or when, and the offering of this report in book form, punctuated with cheers, interjections and questions, is not the way to prejudice readers in favour of the subject; and for this amongst other reasons, “Republics versus Women” fails to be a serious contribution towards literature bearing on the condition of women under Republics. Besides this salient error, random statements are made which are not verified by chapter and verse; scarcely any references or footnotes are given, and in a part of the book headed “Quotations and Summaries,” Mrs. Wolsey remarks: “The following are quotations and summaries from the writings and speeches of noted Americans and others. A few of them being quoted from memory, may deviate slightly verbally from the original, but in no case is the sense altered or modified.” This, again, may do for speech making, but not for the making of books. I feel bound, under this heading, to signalise one or two flagrant mistakes, which would surely not have been allowed to pass if Mrs. Wolsey had been at the pains of verifying her quotations and summaries. Mrs. Fenwick-Miller is quoted as having said that “women have the municipal suffrage in England upon the same qualifications as men.” Either Mrs. Fenwick-Miller is misquoted, or she has forgotten the fact that marriage removes the right of voting in the municipal suffrage from many English women. Again, on page 155 of the appendix I read: “When Mrs. Stanton called her first Women’s Convention in the Republic, the men had misrepresented (not represented) its women for nearly three-quarters of a century. The following shows woman’s exact status therein.” No date is given for this convention, and amongst other details of the exact status I read: “It” (the American Government) “has closed against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction. In theology, medicine and law she is not known.” This certainly cannot be true at the present time, as the Rev. Anna Shaw, and various other women have distinguished themselves in theology, while in law “women are admitted in America to practise law in every State, and according to the last census there were no fewer than 1,009 lady lawyers in the country. In quite a number of cases, husband and wife are together in the legal profession. One of the leading professional papers, the Legal News, was founded and conducted for thirty years by a lady lawyer, Mrs. Bradwell, whose husband was a judge.”  Mrs. Wolsey, as a shrewd American woman, should know that overstating a case does not tend to strengthen it but to weaken it; and it is because I want to strengthen our case on every hand, whether in actual monarchies and republics or in future democratic commonwealths, that I feel bound to point out these inaccuracies in her statements.
The supreme weakness of her position seems, however, to be, from my point of view as a Social-Democrat, that she has been dazzled and led astray from the path of womanhood and her wrongs, by the tinsel glitter of royalty, as expressed through the two or three exceptionally placed European queens. Because she has witnessed “Victoria crowned and seated upon Britain’s throne,” and Princess Beatrice by special favour, and, not on account of merit, made Governor of the Isle of Wight, she has forgotten entirely to enquire into the condition of the millions of women workers who are born, and toil, and die under the rule of these female monarchs, without even a say in the making of the laws that affect their own destinies, or a chance of influencing the training and education of the children whom they have brought into the world.
“An aristocracy is nature’s realm, nature’s arena for womankind, and her highest destiny can only be reached therein,” says Mrs. Wolsey, with a rhetorical flourish. I would ask her to define “womankind” in the sense in which she there uses it, for “womankind,” as I understand it, and as I believe it is usually understood, includes the factory worker, the charlady, the widow burning the midnight oil whilst she toils to support her children, the unfortunate, forced to sell her body, that she and others may be fed, the sweated female Post Office clerk, and all the army of women earners who are being exploited more and more, day by day, by men capitalists. How Mrs. Wolsey intends to include all these in the aristocracy before which she bows down, so as to make them reach therein “their highest destiny,” is a problem I must leave her to solve unaided.
Another point which Mrs. Wolsey would have done well to have cleared up before leaving flights of oratory for hard, matter-of-fact print is the difference between Anarchism and Socialism. She tells us in her introduction that while travelling in Europe several years ago, she made an extemporaneous address to some women Anarchists, the result of which, “she was proud to relate, changed their views, and disbanded their organisation.” I always understood that the essence of Anarchism consisted in having no organisation, but I have also heard somewhere that exceptions prove the rule, and these ladies who “hissed” and “moaned” at Mrs. Wolsey “several years ago” may have belonged to a genus Anarchist that I have not had the opportunity of studying. When, however, she goes on to relate that “when she began her attack she was not entirely sure whether they were Socialists or Anarchists,” and further on assures us “that she detected at a glance that several of them were aristocrats,” I begin to have my doubts as to the composition of that audience! It is possible that Mrs. Wolsey may have gone to the same pure fountain-head for her information on social questions as did the writer of an article in the Schoolmistress of April 30, quoted in Justice of May 16. “There are two sections of Socialists” says the writer in the Schoolmistress, “(1) Anarchists, (2) State Socialists”; and Mrs. Wolsey quotes in her appendix, in order, no doubt to throw light on the trend of her studies on the Social question, two theologians, an ex-Secretary of the Navy, the “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” and G. Langtoft! One theologian tells us that “there is nothing beyond Republicanism but Anarchism,” the other one, an Archbishop, remarks that “Socialism promises great results without an adequate cause,” and the “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” in a weird and mysterious whisper, informs us “that the tendency of Socialism is more and more to ally itself with democracy; in fact it claims to be the economic complement of democracy.” These screeds, coupled with G. Langtoft’s diagnosis that “Anarchy is a symptom of disease, which disease is democracy,” were quite enough, no doubt, to upset poor Mrs. Wolsey, fresh from the contact of Courts and Aristocracies, and to drive her into a state of hysterical revolt against democratic institutions. She can see scarcely anything but good in Monarchies; in Republics she can see nought but evil. She seems completely to have over-looked the fact that though in Russia a woman’s property may be protected by law against the husband, her person (a far more important matter, it would seem to me) is so much at his mercy, that if she dares to leave the town or the province where her husband is living, without his permission, the law allows him to send a police officer after her, and fetch her back. Mrs. Wolsey’s memory is also defective when she speaks of Republican governments being less inclined to grant political and administrative power to women than are governments founded on aristocracies. I would ask her, who removed English women from the Borough Councils; and would then remind her that it was the House of Lords, and the House of Lords alone for the Commons had passed the Bill without excluding women. Who decided against women on the County Councils, after the public opinion of the country, as expressed through Parliament, had placed them there? The law-lords and judge-made law alone. The fact is that neither under Monarchies nor Republics, do women possess the rights and the functions that should be theirs, as the mothers and as the educators of the race. Their present position is largely due to their own inertia in the past; and the future and normal progress of the race will greatly depend upon the way women act now. Social-Democracy is the next evolutionary step that has to be taken by civilised nations; everything is working towards this final casting-off by society of the rags of feudalism and the fetters of superstition, and its emerging renewed and strengthened by new spiritual and economic conditions. How will women bear themselves during the ordeal? Will they prove themselves by their actions and their lives that they have thrown off slave morality, slave standards, and slave habits as the workman is doing? Will they be ready to suffer actively for what they profess to believe are their rights? Will they begin now in England by refusing, as men are doing, to pay educational rates if they, as a sex, are to lose their position on Educational Councils? Women in Scandinavia are steadily gaining rights, whilst women in England are steadily losing them. But the Scandinavian woman is a strenuous, independent creature, unspoiled by luxury, untainted by the spurious glories of “empire.” Character will have to count for much in the social upheaval and ordeal that is before us; character, not in the narrow sense of the sex-slave, who takes her code of morals as she takes her pocket-money from her master; but character in the wider sense, of an economically independent, morally enfranchised, and self-respecting human being, whose existence has a reason, a force, and an object of its own. Perhaps, if American women had not fluttered, butterfly-like, so much round the old decaying aristocracies of Europe, but had used their undoubted abilities in fighting step by step in their new Republic, for justice to all without distinctions of sex or class, even “Republics versus Women,” with its large amount of fallacy to its small amount of facts, need never have been written.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE
1. Illustrated London News, May 13, 1903.