Dora B. Montefiore, New Age February 1904

Women’s Interests

Women and the Forthcoming L.C.C. Elections

Source: New Age, p. 123, 25 February 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

An appeal has been made to women in the Morning Leader of February 19 to support Progressive candidates at the forthcoming London County Council election, the reasons given for Progressive candidates deserving that support being both curious and instructive. The appeal can scarcely be distinguished from that made by the Moderates, who always excel in pointing out what they have done – not what they are going to do. The tone of the appeal and the class of interests appealed to fail, also, to strike a high note, or to kindle an elevated thought. A woman’s imagination, according to the Progressives, is not to stray far, beyond the regions, of the coal cellar and the kitchen! Women’s gratitude, if we may believe these gentlemen, should have been earned eternally in their interests in return for the stupendous work they have undertaken and carried to a successful issue of inspecting the scales and the sacks used in the distribution of coal, and the inspection of weights and measures generally. Seven short paragraphs are consecrated to the setting forth of the virtues of Progressives in the weights and measures line, and then in a burst of enthusiasm the Progressive chronicler exclaims: “Here is a record which should induce every woman elector and every housewife to persuade her husband to support the men who have done so much to make the lot of the Londoner better"! Not a word is said in this precious document about the education of the children of the very women to whom this appeal is made, and yet its compilers know full well that it is on the educational issue the elections are to be fought, and that there should be for the woman no higher nor more pressing issue than this question of education.

Progressive Leaflet No.17

I take next a Progressive leaflet headed “A Letter to Women Electors,” and I search in vain for some guide that may show women electors what is to be the policy re education of the Progressive candidates they are asked to support. In the list of the various branches of administration undertaken by the L.C.C., education certainly is placed first, and main drainage third, but when women read on, in order to ascertain how the Progressive policy in the administration of the Education Act will differ from that of the Moderate policy, they are met with the somewhat disappointing commonplace, which is all that is vouchsafed on the educational subject: “Now that the County Council is to control the education of the boys and girls of London, and, indeed, all grades of education, the interests of women should be greater than ever.” Considering that there are in the County of London 100,000 women who have the vote, and that the education of the children of a very large number of these women is to be “controlled” by this male County Council and a few co-opted and consequently subservient women, it is surely little short of effrontery to ask for the support of the woman’s vote on such a meagre programme as this. It may be urged that it is the province of each candidate to amplify this so-called stretch of Progressive policy towards education as set forth in Leaflet No.17. Let us turn, therefore, to the address of two, at least, of the Progressive candidates, and see how far they are in accord with democratic aspirations and ideals. “They mean to do all in their power to take advantage of the Act as it stands to secure a much-needed levelling up of the standard of education in the voluntary schools .... And it will be their special aim to promote the work of the evening schools to reduce the size of overgrown classes in the day schools, and to make increased provision for the proper supply and training of teachers.” Could a Moderate candidate, we may well ask, say less?

The Trade Union Manifesto on Popular Education.

As a contrast to this Moderation disguised as Progress, in which no mention even is made of the burning question so strenuously advocated by our great educational expert, Sir John Gorst, of feeding the children who are too often physically unfit to benefit by the instruction now given, let us turn to the manifesto recently issued by the Trade Unions as an outcome of their December Congress: “Among Trade Unionists,” we read, “there is a steadily growing feeling that the great reason for the workers’ slowness in learning (in the words of William Morris) ‘to know their own, to take their own, and to use their own,’ is the lack of education, and there is every reason to believe that, with the increasing strength of the Labour movement, it will be no longer possible to disregard the demand of the Trades Unionists’ organisations for better educational opportunities for the nation’s children.... At successive Trades Union Congresses a constructive educational policy has been formulated – (Progressive candidates might make a note of this in preparing their electoral addresses) – some of the items of which are ‘removal of the religious difficulty by providing that the education in all State-aided schools shall be secular .... and primary, secondary, technical, and higher education to be free, and to be placed within the reach of every child by such an extension of the scholarship system as will permit the granting of free maintenance scholarships to all children whose usefulness would be enhanced by an extended education and that adequate provision shall be made for children to continue at school until the age of fifteen years.’ “ If the Progressive candidates will compare these practical aspirations of the workers on the subject of popular education, in which they more than any others are interested, with their own feeble and non-committal commonplaces, it may perhaps explain to them why their programme, re the burning education question, fails to excite enthusiasm in the breasts of working men and women, who refrain from going to the ballot box not from lack of interest on the subject, but from lack of confidence in those who wish to “control” popular education.