Dora B. Montefiore, New Age August 1903
Source: New Age, p. 507, 6 August 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
We are so often told that women, especially middle class women, would, if entrusted with the franchise, cast a reactionary vote, and possibly retard the evolution of a true democracy, that it is worth while studying rather closely those countries where women have been entrusted with political power. In a recent number of The Woman’s Sphere, edited and written by women (presumably of the middle class), I read, anent the recent strike amongst railwaymen: “We wish to make it perfectly clear to our readers that there are at least two words in the English language with which this paper will have nothing whatever to do, even though it should lose every one of its subscribers. Those words are ‘policy’ and ‘expediency.’ Those are the words that we have had hurled at our heads in time past when we have asked for the vote. ‘Oh, yes, it is just that women should have the vote, but then it isn’t expedient.’ If we heard more of ‘Justice,’ and less of ‘Expediency,’ this world would be a better place to live in. This paper will never stoop to maintaining a policy of silence when there is a matter of principle at stake.... As for the railwaymen, we believe, and still believe, that they were defending the right of civic and individual liberty, and that instead of being hounded down by the public, they should have been upheld in their fight for freedom, We further believe that the day is not far distant when those who shouted loudest in support of unspeakable injustice and tyranny against a section of the community on whom the smooth working of commercial and State affairs depends, and who, for that very reason, should be treated with the highest justice, will regret their action.... Those who professed to hold the Golden Rule as the highest rule in life, joined with those who don’t care two straws about it in the most hysterical), the most vindictive attempt that has even been made in Victoria to crush the independence of a section of its people.”
The German “Centralblatt” of the Woman’s movement in that country gives an account of the demonstration made by leading men and women in honour of the sixtieth birthday of the Baroness Bertha von Suttner, the distinguished author of Die Waffen nieder! (Lay down your arms!) It would appear from the numerous pamphlets and booklets published on the occasion, that though Bertha von Suttner’s special life work has been devoted to the cause of Peace, yet like the best everywhere among social workers, her sympathies have extended to all humanitarian causes. The German women who are working for the elevation and enfranchisement of their sisters, claim her as one of themselves, and quote stirring passages from, her well known book, Die Frauen, in which she reminds women of their duties to themselves as human beings – duties which should count before those of sex, or in other words before those they owe to men or to their children. She has never failed clearly to recognise that the cause of Peace must be served first and foremost by women; for their interests (and therefore the best interests of the race) are bound up absolutely in Peace, and trampled on and destroyed in times of war. The English woman does not suffer so keenly as do her continental sisters from the evil influences of militarism, but let her look to it that while she is enjoying the fruits of an unjust war, over which she lost her head as completely as did the majority of men in England, conscription does not slip in by a back door, and before she realises what is being done, her formerly free-born English sons may be subjected to the same military despotism as that of which we read from time to time such enticing accounts from Germany. Imitation is the sincerest flattery, and the way in which our English officers are already disguised as German officers must be a most delicate form of flattery to the Imperial head of the German Army. How long will it be, one is forced to speculate, after we have conscription in England, before we can boast of a sergeant to equal a German disciplinarian who was this week convicted at a court-martial of 366 acts of gross cruelty to subordinates but who evidently was found so “efficient” in the scheme of militarism, that he was only sentenced to three weeks’ medium arrest?
At a time when we hear so much about the physical degeneration of our race it was pleasing to spend last Saturday at a co-educational school, where physical health conditions are scientifically studied, and the results made apparent in the bearing, the movements, and the voices of the pupils. Situated on the side of a hill, overlooking one of the lovely Kent valleys, Miss Clark’s school for girls and younger boys, where some of us were bidden to an entertainment at the end of the summer term is an ideal spot for the rational training of young minds and bodies. The school uniform consists of a most picturesque cinnamon brown costume of knickers and tunic, reaching to the knee, leaving free every movement and muscle of the body. One’s first impression and one’s last, as one watched the children, whether in the little play, performed in the gymnasium, or when singing their dainty part songs, or moving amongst the guests offering refreshments, or finally in their display on the lawn of Swedish drill – was that the girls moved like Greek goddesses, and that in some subtle way absolute, physical freedom seemed to connote intellectual and moral freedom. It is almost impossible to give any idea in words of the thrilling feeling of elation caused by watching the rhythm of those beautiful young bodies as they marched with springing steps on to the lawn, moving, leaping, and flexing each muscle to the word of command. The Swedish system of exercises is intended as an antidote to mental work; in other words to repair the injury done to the body in the training of the mind. Consequently, the breathing organs receive more attention than do the biceps; and it is not the strength of the athlete that is so much sought after, but “that symmetry of proportion and harmony of development, which shall best fit the pupil for the work of life.” This seems exactly to express what the training, both physical, mental, and moral, at Miss Clark’s school at Westerham aims at imparting to its pupils.
Dora B. Montefiore.