Dora B. Montefiore, New Age April 1904
Source: New Age, p. 266-267, 28 April 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
This subject, on which we are more behindhand than most Continental nations, was brought before Parliament on the 20th inst. by Mr. C. Hay, who moved “That the Board of Education should require arrangements to be made by the local educational authorities whereby every child compelled by law to attend a public elementary school shall have received proper nourishment before being subjected to mental or physical instruction, and that in cases in which proper food has not been provided the child by its parents it should be first supplied by the local education authority, and, subsequently, suitable action taken to recover the cost.” Sir John Gorst, who for some time now has been advocating with pen and tongue this much-needed reform, said, when speaking to the resolution, that “the time had come when enough had been talked of this matter and when some definite action ought to be taken on the part of the Government and the local authorities.” Cheers are said to have greeted this remark; but we shall know by the result whether those cheers were genuine or no. It seems so easy for politicians to cheer fine sentiments, but so difficult for them to act up to them; otherwise we should surely not have to wait so long for much-needed legislation on lines of ordinary justice. Mr. Hay says that in London alone 35,000 children go daily to school hungry; Dr. Macnamara declares that ten years ago it was found, as a result of investigations made by the late London School Board, that 48,000 children came to school day by day hungry.” In other words, the nation has been for ten years consciously torturing that number of children by forcing mental work on anĉmic ill-nourished infant brains! Ignorance cannot be pleaded, for the facts have long been known, and yet this Government, which has squandered millions in order to destroy the independence of two young Republics, cannot make up its mind to legislate for the immediate spending of a paltry £26,280, which is what Mr. Hay calculates would meet the immediate. necessities of the case. Sir W. Anson reminded the House that a Committee was at present collecting evidence on the subject, so the debate was adjourned; and the penny dinner and half-penny breakfast for 120 days in the year, which is all that the movers of the resolution ask for on behalf of the half-starved little scholars, have once more become as phantasmagorial as the most Barmecide of feasts.
Every now and then a correspondence is started in the daily papers on the subject of the unwholesome meals eaten by working girls and women. But the subject does not seem in England to get beyond the stage of criticism, though in France they are making a practical experiment on lines which should commend themselves to all who are interested in the cause of the working woman, as the experiment is one which tends to help the workers to help themselves. An association has been formed with a capital of £600 in £1 shares, and with this capital it is intended to start a restaurant in a centre where workgirls are employed, and where only they will be accepted as customers. For the modest sum of fivepence the following menu will be available: – Bread, 1/2d.; meat, 2d.; vegetables, 1d.; dessert, 1/2d; coffee or wine, 1d. When a workgirl shall have had a hundred meals at this restaurant she will have a right to a share in the establishment, each of the original shareholders having consented to hand over his share or shares to the workgirl customers. When the whole of the six hundred shares are in the hands of the workgirls a second restaurant will be started in another quarter, and in this way the work of the association will be extended. Restaurants on similar lines are quite as much needed in London and other large cities in England as they are in Paris, and commend this excellent little venture to those who are seeking to help the workgirl. By giving her a financial interest in the restaurant she patronises, she is encouraged to keep up the standard of food both in quantity and quality, and she is discouraged from running round to other and rival establishments which may offer more showy but less substantial food.
From all quarters comes the protest of underpaid unrepresented women. At the recent Conference at Liverpool of the Postal Telegraph Clerks’ Association Miss Shipway, of Manchester, explained how the much talked of weekly salary of 35s. paid to women telegraphists could only be reached after eighteen years’ service, and that in the interim the salaries paid were inadequate, and much below those of the men. On the London School Board, lately taken over by the London County Council, women teachers are in great demand, and the reason given for the shortage in supply is that the women teachers are underpaid. The old School Board gave a commencing salary of £35, rising by yearly increments to £140, which is less than that offered by provincial School Boards, though living and travelling expenses in London are higher than in the provinces. At the recent annual meeting of the National Union of Teachers at Portsmouth a resolution was agreed to that the minimum salary of a certificated head master should be not less than £150 and of a certificated head mistress not less than £120 a year. It is only to be regretted that the resolution did not stand out for equal work, equal pay; for those are the only sound lines on which a readjustment of salaries should be approached.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.