Dora B. Montefiore, New Age April 1904
Source: New Age, p. 235, 14 April 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I make no apologies for devoting, week after week, one or more paragraphs to this subject of Woman Suffrage, because the possession of the franchise under constitutional government is the possession of the power of influencing that government in our own and others’ interests. Every woman working in the interests of other women reaches after a time the point when she feels her work hampered and stultified by lack of power to influence social legislation; and it is for this reason that earnest women workers hail with delight the passing of resolutions in various parts of the country by political and social organisations of varying shades of thought, in favour of urging on the Government the necessity of granting to women (pending the attainment of Adult Suffrage) the franchise on the same terms as it is, or may be, granted to men. A resolution on these lines is entirely in accord with the principles of the Social Democratic Federation programme, and that of the Independent Labour Party, both of whom stand for women’s political, social, and sexual equality with men. These political parties realise, however, that their ideals can often be only attained in instalments, and that policy dictates the advisability of working for and accepting such instalments, as a step towards the attainment of the ideal. It is the wearer of the shoe who knows best where the shoe pinches: and it is the politically, socially, and sexually enslaved woman who knows best where the yoke of sex slavery galls most persistently, and who, the moment some measure of political power is granted her, will endeavour to shift the yoke, so as to ease her suffering shoulders. Mrs. Shepherd, of New Zealand, who has worked successfully for years in that country in the cause of Humanity, has written to the Manchester Guardian in reply to a man critic, who objects that “giving a vote to every woman over twenty-one would be practically granting two votes to every married man.” The essence of her reply is that, even if that should turn out to be the case, “the home vote is everywhere allowed to be the best and most valuable vote in the government of a country.” She then goes on to enumerate what women have already gained in New Zealand since they obtained the vote in 1893 – in a period, let us remember, of little more than ten years ! “As a matter of fact,” she writes, “women delight in service, and they realise now more than ever that State politics are only one remove from home politics..... They have agitated for prison reform, for the classification of children in the industrial schools, for the appointment of women justices as visitors to their own sex in prison.... They have gained equality of conditions of divorce for men and women; the age of protection of girls raised to sixteen, a ‘Slander of Women’ Act, and a ‘Disposition by Will’ Act, which provides that a man’s property will be left to his wife and children, whether he dies intestate or not... They have also used their influence largely in the cause of temperance legislation; and who will say that in all these questions the vote has not helped them?”
I was much cheered at Easter-tide by a flying visit to Lancashire, the home of so many sturdy men and women workers in the cause of emancipation of the worker. I have ever held that that emancipation must come about through the efforts of the worker himself, and, it is doubtless from among the men and women textile workers and cotton operatives of the North that the lead in such effort will come. The sense of personal dignity and the standard of living among textile workers in the North is far higher than among factory workers and artisans in the South. I spent a never-to-be-forgotten evening in the cheery little home of three sisters – weavers: two of whom take up ambulance work in their spare time, and are the possessors of various certificates and diplomas. The elder sister is on the Committee of the Wigan Women Textile Workers, who are running their own women candidates for Parliament; and I was shown the photograph of a woman weaver friend, in a nurse’s uniform. This woman, during a recent epidemic of smallpox, gave up her work in the sheds, and went into the hospital to nurse smallpox patients: her previous training in first aid and nursing, which she had acquired out of working hours, being a passport to efficient work in the hospital. After serving her country for some months in this capacity, she, when the epidemic was over, returned to her work at the loom. Who will deny that this woman, in her work for the saving of life, was not as much a hero as the soldier who, at his country’s call, has to destroy life? But the recent cotton crisis, and the consequent stopping of looms, or working, on half-time, has brought trouble into many a humble Lancashire home. In Manchester the unemployed are so numerous that the Municipality has taken up the question and opened, at the Police Barracks, an Employment Bureau which endeavours to bring into touch workers and employers. At the outset of the undertaking only men were helped by the Municipality, but through the efforts of Mrs. Pankhurst, who is ever ready to remind administrations of the claims of the so easily overlooked working women, a Women’s Employment Bureau has been added to the scheme. I visited the Bureau, and gained a harrowing impression of the prevailing distress. Mrs. Sales, who has been for eleven years a Guardian, and who now with an assistant manages the women’s department of the Bureau, is well fitted by experience to deal with the many difficult cases that present themselves. All particulars about each applicant are entered in a book, and I heard one woman give as a reason for being out of employment, a recent confinement. Her place in the weaving-shed was filled up during that time by another worker, and the law which forbids a woman to work within a certain period after her child is born, refuses to recognise that she, during that time, is fulfilling a duty to the State in giving it another citizen, and allows her no State aid during the period. If the husband happens to be out of work, want and destitution for mother and child are the result: and it is little satisfaction to them or to us to think that a well-paid Royal Commission is inquiring into the causes of physical degeneration. A visit to the Employment Bureau at Manchester might supply the Commissioners with pregnant hints.
DORA B. MONTEFIO R E.