Dora B. Montefiore, New Age July 1903

Women’s Interests

National efficiency and the drink traffic.

Source: New Age, p. 443, 9 July 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

A very useful pamphlet for workers in the Temperance cause is one recently published by Truslove and Hanson, National Efficiency and the Drink Traffic. At a time when we are all, more or less, deploring national inefficiency it is useful to have collected for us facts and statistics concerning our habits and customs as a nation, and to take stock on broad lines of the causes producing certain effects. Temperance agitators have been working now for seventy years, more or less on emotional, and very little on scientific lines. The writer of the pamphlet, who signs only “A Ratepayer,” informs us that in 1840, when the population of the United Kingdom numbered 26,000,000, the drink bill was 77,000,000; whilst in 1899, when the population numbered 40,000,000 the drink bill mounted to 162,000,000 – a sum equal to all the rents of all the houses and farms in the United Kingdom. No social reformer can look at these figures as representing a satisfactory state of things, when the fact is considered that alcohol is a poison, and like any other poisonous drug in use in the pharmacopeia, may be of great value when taken in small doses, but causes extreme mischief to health when taken in excessive doses. The question at once arises, how is it that the drink bill has increased so enormously in a comparatively short period, when there are known to be in the country 3,000,000 total abstainers, and the drinking habits of the upper classes have been greatly improved since 1840? As a result of Mr. Mundella’s investigations, when, as vice-president of the Council on Education in 1883, he compiled some statistics concerning certain School Board districts in East London, he wrote then: “Here is a block containing 1,082 families, and 2,153 children of school age (5 to 13). In this block are three schools, two churches, three chapels, three mission rooms, and forty-one public houses. What does it mean? 1,082 families wretched, miserable, and poverty-stricken, maintaining 41 public houses: one to every 25 families, and supported by them. One of my inspectors states: “In a certain square mile of East London the cost of education is a penny each family per week, and four and threepence each family for drink.”

Who is to blame?

In publishing this indictment I make no special accusation of intemperance against the working man and woman, for it is not they who demand the public houses, but it is the Trade which forces the public houses on them. The 1,082 families in the block alluded to by Mr. Mundella are suffering under precisely the same conditions as are the native inhabitants of South Africa, Mexico, the South Sea Islands, etc. The capitalist having invested his capital in manufacturing alcoholic drinks on an enormously large scale, must according to the uncompromising laws of commerce find a market for his commodities. As a consequence, not only our own towns and villages, but our distant colonies and dependencies are flooded with the “fire-water” which is to undermine and destroy the health, the reason and the morals of our fellow-beings. Under the title “The Alcohol Question in West Africa,” in the Sunday Sun of July 5, I read that a great and indignant meeting of all the Chiefs of Lagos has just been held at Abeokuta to discuss the question of the abolition of tolls on alcohol and the substitution of a subsidy. The merchants desire to pay a single duty at Lagos, and to have liberty to flood the Yoruba country with spirits. The chiefs, realising no doubt from sad experience that would be the ultimate demoralising result of such a policy, are forwarding a strong protest to the Governor against its adoption. Would that our own people, who are at present bound hand and foot and delivered over to the power of the Trade, could be made to rise in similar protest, and free themselves from the deadly perils of the ever-increasing drink traffic! A short quotation from the pamphlet will perhaps put the matter in a new and striking light to women who are working as social reformers: “Two veritable rivers of gold are always flowing in this country, one from the pockets of the poorer classes into the pockets of the publican, and the other from the pockets of the charitable towards the disabled ones of the poorer classes, too many of them the victims of the drink traffic. It is like a bad dream, a paralysis of the nation’s will. Infinite energy and goodwill are shown by women of the highest position to get funds for hospitals, homes, and refuges of every description, but it never seems to occur to these busy workers that the root of the misery they are trying to alleviate flourishes unchecked, and that many of the unhappy creatures that they are trying to help might be happy, healthy, useful members of society, if the snares placed in their path were removed, and they were, protected, instead of preyed upon.”

What is the remedy proposed?

The pith of the proposals contained in this pamphlet lies in the quotation given on the title page from a speech of Monsieur de Witte’s, the Russian Minister of Finance: “It shall be no man’s interest to excite another to drink.” In other words the power of the publican must be limited by the legally enforced will of the people. That this is not an Utopian idea is proved by the recently promulgated Liquor Licensing Ordnance for the Transvaal, which provides, amongst other items: “That no greater number of licenses are to be granted in any town, village, or municipality beyond one to every 250 white male inhabitants above sixteen years of age. Strict and heavy penalties are to be enforced, for selling drink to coloured persons, or persons under the age of sixteen. The majority of voters in any village, town, or ward of a municipality may prohibit the sale of liquor in their locality, or they may demand that all licenses in any such locality be handed over to some local authority, or company, or association of persons formed for the purpose of devoting any profits made from the sale of liquor to some public purpose.” This last clause gives power to place the drink traffic on what is known as the Gothenburg system, in which the municipality or community control the drink traffic; where plenty of bright and suitable accommodation is provided for the working-man for social meeting and recreation; and where non-alcoholic drinks are sold in preference, and at cheaper rates, than are the alcoholic. These are the outlines of the temperance legislation for which women social workers should stand, in solid opposition to “the body of capitalists, composed of brewers and, distillers, eager for the preservation of their own interests, and who are opposing any and every real reform of the licensing laws.” It is generally believed that this autumn, or next spring, at the latest, the general elections will take place, let all earliest women workers concentrate on helping only those candidates who will stand for Woman Suffrage and for the destruction of the monopoly of the publican.

Dora B. Montefiore.