Dora B. Montefiore, New Age December 1903
Source: New Age, p. 779, 3 December 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
In the article in the Nineteenth Century on this subject (an important one for women), Mary L. Breakell tells us that there are, in the United Kingdom, 249 qualified women practitioners, of whom 66 hold the degree of M.D. and many that of M.S. But the number of women having a private practice of their own does not seem to be on the increase, and we are led to understand, though the point is not emphasised, that this is largely the fault of the lay women, whose conservatism leads her often to call in a medical man for herself or her children, when loyalty to her own sex, not to mention greater comfort also for herself, should lead her to consult a medical woman. In reading recently Mr. H. G. Wells’s Mankind in the Making, that writer enumerates amongst the many necessities for the successful care and rearing of an infant the fact that “behind the mother, and readily available, must be a highly skilled medical man.” I would amend that recommendation by adding, “or, preferably, a medical woman.” That the advantages of the medical woman Over the medical man in the care of children have been discovered by those who are in authority in institutions and public charities is proved by the fact that the services of most of the qualified medical women are appropriated in this way, whereas the fact that there are only six medical women in private practice in Liverpool, four in Manchester, and three in Birmingham seems to indicate either that the women public do not demand their services, or that there is still plenty of work awaiting those women who are now studying for the medical profession.
There existed a law in Athens forbidding women and slaves from practising medicine. There exists a law in England at the present time forbidding women from practising at the Bar; and a law is in contemplation by those who (as R.L. Stevenson once said) “like to make others virtuous and themselves happy,” forbidding women from serving behind a bar. As far as the existing prohibiting law goes an appeal will be heard on Wednesday by a special tribunal, on the part of Miss Bertha Cave, a lady law student, against the decision of the Benchers of Gray’s Inn, who have refused to admit her as a student. The result of the appeal will be interesting, for it will settle for a time whether women in this country are to enjoy the same rights as their sisters in France and German in which two countries such women as Mlle Chanoin and Fraulein Dr. Anita Augspurg are distinguished members of the legal profession. As for the prospective law, it will, unless women barmaids bestir themselves and insist upon their right as adult citizens to choose the own employment, soon be hurried through Parliament by some of those legislating busy bodies who will tinker at any side issue that diverts attention from the real economic slavery of the working classes. The account of the recent County Council debate on the subject of the dismissal of barmaids employed at theatre bars is curious reading. To the mere woman the indignity to sex of having to dance for pay in skin tights and a girdle before a crowd of men armed with opera glasses appears to be the traditional camel swallowed with the greatest ease by such “unco guid” persons as Sir Algernon West, the Rev. Fleming Williams, and Mr. J.R. Macdonald, for we observe no attempt on their part to put a stop to this part of the theatre entertainment. But a woman clad in at ordinary black dress dispensing food and drink behind a bar in the same theatre is for their absurd minds a gnat at which they must strain As a matter of fact the barmaid’s pay is higher than that of most women of her class, and the conditions of work are generally better. The barmaid is a young woman who knows her world and has few illusions about men. She is therefore less likely than are her more unsophisticated sisters to “go wrong.” But if her employment is arbitrarily taken away, and she finds nothing similar at the same rate of wages, and with equally good conditions, then the temptation forced upon her by economic conditions will go far to make her realise that the moral conventions of a society which will not allow her to earn her living honestly at the trade she has herself chosen must be responsible for her taking to that other trade which too often solves the problem of the women unemployed. Earl Russell urged this important point on the consideration of the Council, and Mr. Macdonald is reported as having described Earl Russell’s “worse alternative” as “purely fictitious,” It would be interesting to know on what facts Mr. Macdonald founds his assertions!
I am glad to note that as one of the results of the recent Women’s Congress the North of England Society for Women’s Suffrage is inaugurating in that part of England a vigorous campaign in preparation for the general election. The first public meeting of the campaign will be held in the Central Hall, Oldham Street, Manchester, on Monday, December 7th, at 7.30, when Mr. W.T. Stead and Mr. Walter McLaren will be among the speakers; and Miss Bertha Mason will preside, The society has also issued a short manifesto setting forth that “the arbitrary withdrawal of our rights to direct election to the educational authorities of the country, together with a sense of the helplessness of the disfranchised with regard to the important question of fiscal policy, has pressed home to many thousands a realisation of their position, and an understanding that the franchise is the only secure and unassailable protection for the liberties of the citizen.” This fresh impulse to renewed work, taken with the fact that the women textile workers have selected their candidate to contest Wigan, and to represent in Parliament their suffrage interests, all points to the conclusion that women of every class, and especially the working classes, are closing up their ranks preparatory to a fresh and more vigorous attack in the cause of their enfranchisement. It is to be hoped that Mr. Hubert Sweeney, whose chief qualification in the eyes of the Women’s Committee is his willingness to put this question of our enfranchisement before any others, realises that in the fight that is before him he must expect merciless, if pointless, ridicule, as one of the principal weapons of his and our opponents. The man who either in or out of Parliament advocates sincerely and logically the granting of equal rights to women is looked upon generally in England as a crank, and is seldom at present treated seriously. Would that we had amongst our intellectuals a Bjornsen, prepared, as is the Norwegian veteran, to advocate with the pen and tongue of genius the necessity of women’s influence in public affairs, As the result, doubtless, of this strenuous and uncompromising propaganda, the position of women in Norway is ahead of most European countries, and is improving every year.
Dora B. Montefiore.