Dora B. Montefiore, New Age August 1903
Source: New Age, p. 539, 20 August 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
It appears the Home Secretary has informed Sir Charles Dilke that the appointment of a special woman district inspector for the Potteries involves questions of considerable difficulty. He has promised, however, to give the matter careful consideration, and in the meantime, arrangements have been made to secure for the Pottery district the largest share of the attention of the woman inspector which is possible, without interfering with the efficiency of the staff in its present organisation. It is to be hoped that the women inspectors will keep firmly before their eyes the principle that what is unhealthy and injurious work for women, is unhealthy and injurious work for men; and will remember that the use of white lead is not a necessity in the manufacture of earthenware and china. Those of the public who wish to avoid the responsibility of causing indirectly the maiming and death of many of their fellow beings, should buy the leadless glaze pottery at the New Commerce in Holborn, and should always make a point of asking for it at any china shop at which they deal. The number of women inspectors under the Home Office, the Local Government Board, and the County and London Borough Councils is yearly increasing; and according to the estimate of a writer in the Women’s Employment Magazine for August, their total number in the United Kingdom is, “roughly speaking, about 140 ‘publicly’ employed in one kind of sanitary work or another.” Besides these there are seven women factory inspectors, four inspectors in connection with Boarded out Children, and five under the infants’ Life Protection and Shop Hours and Seats Acts. The inspectors employed under the Home Office receive from £200 to £400 a year; those under the Local Government Board from £300 to 400; those under the London Borough Councils from £90 to £150; whilst the salaries paid by the various Town Councils throughout the Kingdom average from £70 to £90. In many cases travelling expenses and uniform allowances are given in addition.
A waitress, aged twenty-two, employed at the Earl’s Court Exhibition by Messrs. Spiers and Pond, was charged last week on remand at the West London Police Court with defrauding her employers to the extent of 4s. 6d. It came out in evidence that she was a married woman with one child, and bore an extremely good, character. The waitresses employed at Earl’s Court Exhibition only receive 3s. 6d. in wages, from which a shilling is deducted for breakages. Things seem worse in the waitress line than they were in the days of Mrs. Warren, on whose profession Mr. Shaw descants so ably. “Then I was waitress,” she says; “and I went to a bar at Waterloo Station, fourteen hours a day, serving drinks and washing glasses for four shillings a week, and my board.” But a sister, who had seen right through the threadbare social fictions of our day, and who had no belief in white lead factories, sweated service behind a bar, or married respectability on eighteen shillings a week, showed her that she should cease “to be such a fool as to let other people trade on her good looks, by employing her as a shop-girl, barmaid, or waitress, when she could trade on them herself, and get all the profits instead of starvation wages.” Surely, amongst the recommendations of the inspectors of women’s work should be found that of a minimum wage for women workers. Do either employers or the public realise what this ghastly exploitation of women means; or that to thousands of young women the daily and urgent temptation must be either to defraud their employer, who, because of their unprotected position, shows them no mercy, or “to get all the profits themselves out of their own good looks, instead of starvation wages"?
The London County Council has adopted for the eighth time a Resolution, laid before it by its Parliamentary Committee, to petition Parliament to pass a Bill enabling women to become Members of County Councils. This looks as if the London County Council still considered that their work was lacking in completeness for want of the element which women members would supply. As a practical expression of that lack, Lord Meath, in the Upper House, and various progressive Members in the Commons, have introduced measures this Session, which have for their object the re-instatement of women as elected members of the County Councils. Women who realise the injury that is being done to the cause of popular education throughout the land by the exclusion of women from the educational authorities should communicate with the Members of Parliament in their constituencies, asking them to vote for the Bill when it comes on for the second reading. It may be as well to remind those interested that the London School Board passed a Resolution recently to the effect: “That the experience of the School Board shows that educational work cannot be properly carried on unless women be eligible for the Local Educational authorities.” Women teachers in the Board Schools are twice as numerous as are the men; and there are four girls to every one boy pupil-teacher.
I welcome Clara Hendin’s letter on the subject of the formation of a Woman’s Labour Party in last week’s NEW AGE, as the forerunner, I hope, of many others, and as a sign that working women are awakening to the necessity of solidarity among themselves for sex emancipation, as well as for solidarity with the workers in all nations for class emancipation. Mrs. Hendin says: “I believe there are women on public bodies, well-educated politically and economically, who have not, for reasons best known to themselves, joined a Socialist organisation.” This is perfectly true, and if Mrs. Hendin wishes to know the exact reason for such a state of things, let her read Christabel Pankhurst’s article in the August number of the I.L.P. News, headed “Women and the Independent Labour Party.” Miss Pankhurst, whose able pamphlet on Woman Suffrage I had the pleasure some time ago, of noticing in this column, is a clear and lucid thinker, and a fearless writer when it becomes necessary to tell the truth to the Party to which she belongs. She writes “As a party the I.L.P. does not show any interest in the franchise for women. Although its members are continually impressing on working-men the importance of their votes, yet they frequently require advocates of the political enfranchisement of women to prove that the vote will be of practical utility. It seems as though, in making plans for the future, they had forgotten the foundation on which their work must rest, when one is required to repeat to them the A B C of politics, and to prove at length that it is a serious disadvantage, under a representative system of government, to belong to an unrepresented class. It would seem that most Socialists quite fail to recognise the mischievous and far-reaching effects of sex inequality. Is the I.L.P. attitude due to the fact that its members are conservative where women are concerned, and unfavourable to their emancipation, or do they fear, by making a firm stand on the question, to offend the prejudices of the British working-man?” The same remarks and the same query may be applied to the S.D.F., and it is not until a clear and unmistakable lead has been given by Executive and adherents, in both Socialist parties, which shall show that the principle enunciated in their programmes dealing with the enfranchisement of women is something more than a mere form of words, that the women of whom Mrs. Hendin writes will join a Socialist organisation. A Woman’s Labour Party must, as Mrs. Hendin says, be class conscious, but it must also be sex conscious, and must only be prepared to give its influence, its work, and its funds towards the furtherance of Labour representation when it finds that Labour members, and the party they represent, are working honestly and energetically for the political rights of women. “Working women,” says Christabel Pankhurst, “are asking for political rights. Is the Independent Labour Party prepared to join in this agitation? It must do so, it must face the whole question of the rights of women if it is to be a society to which self-respecting women can belong, and if it is to have any claim to the title of the party of progress.”
Dora B. Montefiore.