Dora B. Montefiore, New Age September 1903
Source: New Age, p. 619, 24 September 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
At the first meeting since the holidays of the Committee of the Central Suffrage Societies it was decided to hold the Convention, of which I wrote a preliminary notice some weeks ago, on the 16th and 17th of October at the Holborn Town Hall. Friday morning, the first day of the meeting, will be devoted to questions relating to women in Local Government, and on Education Boards; whilst during the afternoon these questions and others will be discussed in their direct relation to the franchise. A large Public Meeting also at the Town Hall will be held the same evening; and the second session of the Convention will be continued on Saturday, to gather up the threads of the work done on Friday, and to decide on a vigorous plan of campaign – educational and propagandist – in favour of the extension of suffrage to women, with special reference to the ever nearer and nearer approach of a General Election. Much devotion and work will be needed in order to make this Convention a living success. It has been conceived, planned and financed by enthusiasts in the cause of humanity, who realise that no true progress on the best lines will be made till all adults in the community have full and equal rights in the making of the laws under which they have to live. The official Suffrage Organisations have been asked to carry out the work of the Convention in order to avoid wasting of energies, and the overlapping of work. Their Secretary, Miss Pallisser, is an experienced and capable organiser, thoroughly in touch with the great Women’s organisations throughout the country. A sub-committee will attend to the work of hospitality – specially needful on this occasion, as we want working women in great numbers to take part in the Convention and the demonstration; whilst our desire is that they shall be put to as little expense as possible. Enquiries about the date and details of the Convention reach me from all sides, and the interest in the subject, especially in the North of England, seems increasing. I hope therefore that correspondents will cut out this paragraph, and keep it for reference, as I find it impossible to reply privately to all enquirers; but I promise during the next few weeks to keep my readers well posted up with information on the subject.
I observe that a Mr. J.W. Greenwood has a letter in last week’s NEW AGE, headed Woman’s Emancipation, but which is really a plea for the taxation of land values. With that plea and with the object it advocates I have the greatest sympathy, though I look upon it as only one among the many changes that must come about, before the whole community, instead of a fraction of it, can benefit by the soil, which should be the heritage of all. The rest of the letter, and the random statements it contains, I propose to criticise in the remaining space at my disposal; for it is full of the cheap inaccuracies which pass muster for argument in most discussions dealing with the position of women. Mr. Greenwood begins with a statement that “the sole object of Government is to create a just and true relationship of mankind to the land.” I would rather say that the sole object of Government should be to administer decentralised and autonomous institutions, whether industrial or agricultural, so as to ensure the largest amount of production, and the fairest distribution and division of the things produced. Mr. Greenwood’s second assertion is that “the first thing women would advocate for when they were put in Parliament would be that the rights of property be conferred on them, and they would get it easily.” Unfortunately, Mr. Greenwood’s facts and his fanciful English are equally faulty. It is surely news that women do not now possess the rights of property. Under the present economic regime a woman’s money is as good as a man’s if she have a desire to possess acres or house property, instead of diamonds or shares. Again women at the present moment in England are asking for the right to vote for members of Parliament, not for the right of sitting in Parliament, as Mr. Greenwood seem to imagine. They are also asking for that right on the same terms “as it is or may be granter to men”; that is to say, if the suffrage were granted to-morrow to women on the same term as men now exercise it, a very large proportion of the new voters would be working women whose last desire on earth, one would imagine would be to produce “a woman landlord class, whose eagerness against reform would make them ten times worse.” Working women have lived so near to the grim realities of life that they have a very keen idea of the reforms needed in order to improve the future conditions of their children; and where women, as in our Colonies, are exercising the Parliamentary franchise, there is no tendency in legislation to strengthen the hands of landlords or of any other monopolists.
Surely Mr. Greenwood gives his case away when he writes: “To me it is surprising why the Tories have not taken up Woman Suffrage; it would certainly increase their chances of getting in.” It is sad to have to remind Mr. Greenwood that the Tories are in; but perhaps he meant to have said “their chances of returning to power.” May it not be however just because the Tories realise that women are not the reactionary nincompoops Mr. Greenwood (who is surely born out of time) believes them to be that they do not hasten to enfranchise our sex? The Tories are shrewd enough, if Democrats are not equally so, to know that women’s direct influence, whether as Parliamentary voters in the Colonies, or as administrators at home, has ever been on the progressive and democratic side. Several acts restricting the size and conditions of land tenure have been passed in New Zealand since women have been enfranchised; and a progressive majority has been preserved on the London County Council, and on the, till recently, existing School Board, where women voted on the same register as men. Mr. Greenwood suggests that “what women reformers should go in for is the taxation of land values, which makes directly for the higher life.” Will Mr. Greenwood explain how members of the community without the vote can “go in for any reform?” Such persons have no more possibility of enforcing their demands than have children, lunatics and criminals. If, therefore, Mr. Greenwood wishes to see land values taxed he should work his hardest to give women in this country the Parliamentary vote on the same terms as men now possess it; and at the same time he should keep up a constant educational propaganda amongst working men and women against what he terms “Government existing in the interests of the monied classes.” I can assure him that the working woman will respond to his appeal just as keenly as does the working man; whilst by doubling the workers’ vote the pushing power for active economic and social reform will be doubled, and Mr. Greenwood, before he knows where he is will have given up exclaiming in print: “How petty and small Woman’s Suffrage appears!” Let me further remind Mr. Greenwood that neither the Reform Bill nor the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourer could be qualified as “petty and small”; and yet their underlying principle was the same as that involved in extending the franchise to women. Women are no more of one class or of one set of interests than are men; but the “Have nots” among women are a far larger class than are the “Haves”; it is only therefore reasonable to suppose that the enfranchisement of women will increase here (as it has done in our colonies) the power and the weight of democracy.
Dora B. Montefiore.