Dora B. Montefiore, New Age June 1903
Source: New Age, p.411, 25 June 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The Edinburgh National Society for Woman Suffrage have published their thirty-second annual Report, in which an extract from a letter read to the meeting from Mrs. R.A. Watson (Deas Cromarty) contains the following terse summing up of the present situation: “I have intended for some time to write and thank you for the Report of the Edinburgh National Society, and express my concurrence in the demand that women and men shall stand on an equal footing in the matter of the Franchise. Taxation without Representation is tyranny. We are being forced back every day on that old protest; and the woman taxpayer is being driven back upon it, finding, as she does, that her services in canvassing, etc., are willingly accepted by Members of Parliament, who, nevertheless, remain opposed to the principle that taxation and representation go together — opposed, at any rate, to the woman’s share in this great principle. But the woman’s share must no longer be ignored!” The Report also emphasises the fact that for Mr. Shackleton’s Parliamentary expenses at Clitheroe funds were levied from the Textile Trade Unions, the majority of whose members are women. These women feel it is a decided hardship that they have no legal claim on their member of Parliament to represent their interests, as he does those of the men.
It is pleasant to read in the Sydney Bulletin, the Radical, Socialist, and Labour seriocomic paper of that colony, that though rumours were in circulation before the recent passing of the Woman’s Franchise Bill that “Australian women, having been given the Franchise, would never use the privilege, the actual compiling of the electoral roll had just put another face on the matter, proving the women to be most eager to enjoy their political rights.” In this connection I may quote some words of John Morley’s, spoken by him lately at one of his political meetings: “There is nothing that so stamps a man in my judgment, ay, and I am inclined to say, though I do not go so far as all the people I see around me, there is nothing that so stamps a woman as indifference to the affairs of the country in which they live. No, depend upon it, the care for politics is the greatest interest that a rational being can have.”
A brilliant and instructive summing up of women’s actual political and social position in the United Kingdom appears in this month’s Westminister Review, over the signature “Ignota” Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy). She takes as her text Mrs. Wolsey’s book, Republics versus Women, and proves by chapter and verse that not only have American women been betrayed by the framers of their so-called Democratic Constitution, but “English women, under a monarchy have been equally betrayed by the High Court of Parliament in 1832, when the word ‘male’ was inserted in the famous Reform Act of that year, the first instance in this country of any statutory sex restriction on the right of voting for Members of Parliament.” The whole article is full of value as an historical resumé, up to date, of our position, and as such is worth keeping for reference by those who are working in the woman’s cause. Another most interesting article in the same number is on the Irish University question, as affecting women. It is encouraging to learn that, according to Dr. McGrath, secretary to the Royal University of Ireland, “women constitute roughly one-fourth of the students in the University for the year.” The writer of the article (who signs with the initials F.S.) is thoroughly well-informed, and an enthusiastic advocate for all-round equality, of opportunity between male and female students. His closing words are: “Let the Irish Association of Women Graduates look to it; in their hands it lies to maintain the struggle for that absolute equality in every respect between men and women which alone can secure for the new University system the much desired, and oft discussed, element of finality.”
It would simplify matters for the public, though of course it might not be so good for the pockets of the lawyers, if the brilliant legal minds who advise on the framing of the various Acts of Parliament could decide once and for all what the status of a woman really is. We know that one judge has decided she is not a person, and we bow before the decision. The question now as to whether a woman seamstress is a “workman” or not, within the meaning of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, is at present evidently a subject on which openness of mind and of pocket is to be allowed to the legal fraternity. The plaintiff (according to the Labour Gazette) “is a skirt assistant; she used both treadle machine, and needle and thread to sew seams, and she ironed seams with an iron heated at a stove. The County Court judge held that the seamstress was not a workman within the meaning of the Employers’ Liability Act; but on appeal, the King’s Bench Division held that she was, and ordered a new trial, leave to appeal being granted.” As a further specimen of the simplicities of man-made law it is interesting to note the complications that may arise, whenever the one-sided, and therefore uninteresting Deceased Wife’s Sisters’ Bill becomes law, which it will do some day no doubt, as great and privileged persons are interested in its fate. Let us suppose that two brothers, John and William, marry two sisters, Kate and Jane; John, marries Kate, and William marries Jane; John and Jane are dead. William will be legally able to marry Kate, his deceased wife’s sister; but Kate will not be able to marry William, her deceased husband’s brother. Such is the logic of Acts of Parliament!
In my last week’s article, when writing of the price of milk in the country, a printer’s error makes me say that milk is “brought up from country creameries at twopence halfpenny a gallon.” What I wrote was that “milk is bought up for country creameries at sixpenny halfpenny a gallon.”