Dora B. Montefiore, New Age October 1903
Source: New Age, p. 699-4, 29 October 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Women’s interests are crowding in so rapidly upon me that I hardly know about which to write first. Before the story of the Convention, and of the work which it is to inaugurate is well told, there is the immediate and pressing interest of the Borough Council Elections, each will take place on November 2nd, and there is the very pleasant announcement to make of the formation of a Women’s Labour Representation Committee, which is to be the turning point in a new departure in our methods of working for the suffrage. But I must try and speak by the book, for after all, the recent convention of political and municipal women workers was the focussing to a point of these various activities, and the heartening and cheering of these who had been perhaps inclined to grow faint and weary in the strife. That Convention would never have been held but for Mrs Wolstenholme Elmy and Mr. W.T. Stead. It is not much more than three months ago since seven or eight of us met, at Mr Stead’s invitation, round a table at his office, and after guaranteeing the expenses of the Convention requested the National United Societies for Women Suffrage to carry it out. Two sympathisers in the north, old friends of Mrs. Elmy’s, sent their cheque to cover the guarantee, and the Suffrage Societies, having undertaken the work, responded gallantly to the impulse, and through the able organising of their Secretary, Miss Palliser, carried the Convention to a successful issue. Many of us would have liked to have had it in the north, where working women are more organised, for material difficulties, such as expense and lack of leisure, prevented many earnest working women from attending the gathering in London. But we hope that one outcome of the recent effort will be a series of meetings in various parts of England, besides a much more vigorous and organised campaign inside Parliament than has ever been before attempted.
At the private meeting, held on October 17th, over £500 was subscribed in the room and numerous yearly subscriptions were promised. Much more in this direction will have to be done, but when the fact is forced upon the attention of the public that the cause is once more a live one, the sinews of war we feel convinced will not be wanting. One interesting fact came out at a private dinner which brought together some of the prominent workers. Dr. Steinthal, who presided at the afternoon session on the 16th, was brought up at a co-educational school, and has been a lifelong worker for women suffrage and for equality of opportunity between the sexes. He reminded us that the first real agitation as regards our cause grew out of an injustice, when at a conference, held in London for the abolition of slavery, women were excluded from some of the sittings. With hearts burning with a sense of injustice, the American women returned to their country and started the agitation for equal rights. Let the women of the present day take the lesson to heart, and, goaded by the sense of the injustice they have suffered, both under the Borough Council and the new Education Acts, let them renew and carry on their agitation to its logical conclusion, the granting of the political franchise to women on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men.
I pointed out last week how women could help forward the Bill which Mr. Channing introduced last Session into Parliament to enable women to be once more eligible for County and Borough Councils by urging on Municipal candidates who solicit women’s votes their duty of petitioning Parliament to restore women’s municipal rights. The London Borough Councils of will have now an extra duty imposed on them in carrying out the provisions of the London Education Act, for under this act they have the power of appointing two thirds of the Managers. Not less than one third of these Managers are to be women. The exact powers of these Managers have yet to be defined, but as the office is likely to be one of great and ever growing educational importance it behoves women to watch closely the working out of the new educational scheme, for whatever they may think of the Act as a whole, the quality and breadth of the education given to their children in the near future will depend largely on the way municipal voters understand the educational question; in other words, if they are inclined to take a broad and progressive view of the matter, or to elect as educational authorities men whose interests lie in the liquor traffic, or who are only concerned in keeping down rates, or in providing comfortable “jobs” for themselves and their relations.
This is the cheering heading of the Working Women’s collective entry into the political arena, and they tell us in their programme “that what Lancashire and Cheshire women think to-day, England will do to-morrow.” “The sooner the better; and more power to your elbow!” is the response of all women throughout the kingdom who are working for the political, social, and economic emancipation of women. The Secretary of the Committee is Esther Roper, and its Treasurers Eva Gore Booth and Sarah Reddish, and they and their Committee tell us in their manifesto that “the one all absorbing and vital political question for labouring women is to force an entrance into the ranks of responsible citizens, in whose hands lie the solution of the problems which are at present convulsing the industrial world.” A Committee has therefore been formed of women in the trade, from various Lancashire and Cheshire towns, whose duties are to choose a suitable and zealous candidate, and to collect and be responsible for the spending of £500, the amount absolutely necessary for one candidate’s election expenses. Since the issuing of this circular it has been decided to contest the constituency of Wigan, and the name of the candidate will shortly be announced. Labour representation is in the air, and I have little doubt but what the example of the Lancashire and Cheshire women will shortly be followed by women’s organisations all over the kingdom.
Dora B. Montefiore.