Dora B. Montefiore, New Age March 1904

Women’s Interests

Causes and effects

Source: New Age, p. 138-39, 3 March 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I have received several letters that have moved me deeply on the subject of my late article on the unfortunate married woman brought up before the magistrate in the Clerkenwell Police Court. An unknown friend (a man) writes: “With more of such courageous treatment of social problems we should have a huge upset of the present injustice to women. It is manifestly difficult to bring the public – clergy included – to recognise that the condition of our streets by night is due largely and mainly to the starvation wage, and to the inequality of the laws; and so many would-be reformers – including the Bishop of London, by the way – begin at the wrong end, by dealing with the effect in lieu of the cause.” A dear and valued friend writes: “What terrible evidence your last two articles give of the urgent need of the protection of full citizenship for women, secured only by Woman Suffrage.” These two quotations sum up the remedies that need to be and that must be applied if the social problems that eat like a canker at the heart of the social life of England, are to be effectively dealt with. A more equal distribution of wealth and equality between the sexes! Maeterlinck demands them in words worthy of the poet and the philosopher, and in the name of that divine spark of justice lying latent in the heart of every man. The evolved and conscious women and men thinkers of the day demand them, for they realise that righteousness, or, in other words, just dealing exalteth a nation, and that wherever we allow one of the weak and oppressed to suffer wrong, which it is in our power to prevent or redress, we imperil our own liberty, and suffer moral deterioration. And in applying these remedies, as my correspondent points out, it is with causes we must deal, rather than with effects. We must apply the methods of the physician, who goes into the history of the complaint he desires to cure, and who, only when he has all the facts in his possession, has put them in their right relation to each other, and has weighed them in the balance which his knowledge and experience supplies, ventures to diagnose the disease, and apply the necessary remedy.

The protection of full Citizenship.

It is a curious commentary on our social and political life as a nation, that men and women can be raised to a point of red-hot enthusiasm over the fiscal question, which touches mainly their pockets, and remain cold and unmoved over social and moral questions, which strike at the root of national life; that halls can be packed and overflow meetings held over a question of tariffs, but that the mass of citizens find they have engagements elsewhere when it is a question of extending the rights of citizenship to their wives, mothers, and sisters, and of giving them power through the exercise of the franchise, to protect (as do men) their own interests; that in the House of Commons, if half a dozen members only were in real earnest on the question of woman suffrage, and would ballot continuously till they secured a date for a debate on the subject, the interests of us women would, at least, be as likely to be looked after as are the interests of vivisected animals at one end of the gamut, and of alien mine-owners at the other end. For all the various interests, including, and between these two extremes, have each their large or small group of supporters in the House ballotting continuously and in concert to secure a date for the discussion of the subject to which they are specially pledged. We are constantly told that women’s interests are protected and legislated for by men; how is it then, we may well ask, – that, in spite of all the work, money and organisation provided by women in the cause of their emancipation, male legislators neglect year after year to secure a date for the discussion in Parliament of the question which women have so much at heart?

Pious opinions not needed

As a matter of fact it would seem that men who are in a position to help us, and who are urged by women working in various ways in the movements to do so, seem to think it sufficient to hold a “pious opinion” on the subject, but abstain from working for it through any of the ordinary Parliamentary methods employed by men in the furtherance of their own causes. It is from this “pious opinion” rut that we women must extricate the apple-cart of women’s emancipation unless we desire it to stick there for the next generation. To do this we must strain every nerve to get members of Parliament who are friendly to our cause to force a debate on the House during this Session. Unless a Bill is backed by the Government, it has to be looked after by private members; and the number of days during a Session on which private Bills or resolutions can be introduced is very limited. There only remain now at their disposal the Tuesday and Wednesday evenings before Easter, and the Wednesdays between Easter and Whitsuntide; and a place for a debate on these evenings is balloted for by members having private motions to introduce. Unless a first place is obtained in the ballot there is little chance of a debate, as the enemy (who are working their best against it) can always drag out and prolong useless discussions till the hour for bringing on the Woman Suffrage subject is passed. This has already happened during this Session, when Mr. Maconochie balloted for our motion, and obtained fourth place; needless to say the motion was never reached! Let every woman who is in earnest on the subject write to her member, asking him to ballot, and to ballot continuously until he get a first place and a debate; and let every man, who, like my Correspondent, believes in attacking causes rather than effects, if we would give equality to all before the law, become an active and militant woman suffragist, and use his vote and his influence with his member to secure what women have been praying and working for for years, a debate in Parliament on the subject which to them, is of such vital importance.