Dora B. Montefiore, New Age May 1904
Source: New Age, p. 332-333, 26 May 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
There has been much correspondence lately in various papers, and several articles by more or less well-informed writers on this subject of elementary school teaching being undertaken by women of wider culture and experience. So much is involved in this choice of teachers for the children of the people, that it is worth while going into the question of its pros and cons as a profession for women; and then pointing out how the lack of a better class of women elementary teachers tends to cramp and to stultify even the small amount of education which our busy County Councils and co-opted ladies see fit to grant to the citizens of the future. In the first place, the salaries offered to women teachers are totally inadequate as remuneration to professional women holding places of such responsibility. An elementary teacher, who was educated at the Ladies College, Cheltenham, and afterwards for five years at one of our greatest Universities, wrote on March 19 to the Spectator, stating that “in a girls’ school of three hundred and fifty in her University town, for a class of over fifty children, Standard V, a teacher with a degree, and also the certificates for elementary teaching, is offered the munificent salary of £80 per annum.” Is this, she asks, sufficient “for the board, lodging, dress, personal and travelling expenses of any highly educated woman?” Then, again, many girls of good upper middle-class dissenting families might be induced to train as elementary school teachers if they were not debarred by the fact of their not professing the doctrines of the Church of England from competing for the head mistress-ships in many thousands of schools. Every petty disability that narrows down the chances of promotion is a bar to efficiency. The size of the classes is also a very serious strain on the conscientious teacher. The children, not being so used, unfortunately, in their own homes to the order and discipline of better class homes, are often unruly and inattentive; which, added to the fact that in many cases they are physically overworked and underfed, makes them very refractory to mental stimulus. These are the special difficulties which prevent the better middle-class women from training as elementary teachers; and in order to attract to the work a more cultured class it will be necessary to raise the salaries, to remove all artificial barriers to promotion, and gradually to attract into the schools children from all classes, as is done in Continental countries; for only in that way can a true basis for an educated, enlightened Democracy is formed.
I have under this heading to make a personal statement of recent action on my own part, which I hope will induce and encourage others to do likewise. Since February this year I have refused to pay my income tax, stating, both by letter and verbally, that I did so on public grounds, for, being a woman, I am refused a voice in the spending of the taxes, and “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” On May 18 a bailiff was placed in the house, and in the course of the day the dining-room sideboard and chairs, a dressing table and washstand, and my bicycle were distrained for the debt £9 15s. 6d.). These goods will be sold by public auction at Elsden’s Auction Rooms, Railway Approach, Shepherd’s Bush Station, on Tuesday, May 31, and it will help forward the cause for which we stand if suffragists, both men and women, will attend the sale, and join in the protest against a Government of force, which exacts the duties of citizenship from more than half the population without allowing them its privileges. I may say further, in explanation of the attitude which I have taken up, and which I trust others will follow, that our women’s resistance to the injustice of the existing law is the only logical passive resistance. Though we may admire the public spirit shown by those who are “passively resisting” the Education Act, we yet know that the day will come when the party with which they sympathise will be in office, and when they will be able through their voting power to set right what they now feel to be a wrong. But with us women, under the existing state of the law, there is never any question of our party being in power, or of our views being directly represented. We are “Uitlanders” for whom no buccaneering Jameson will make a raid, no Empire arm and bleed in order that our wrongs may be righted. We are often taunted with not really wanting the vote, but the men who think thus misread our thoughts and misjudge our attitude. The publicity and other conditions inherent on the course of action which passive resistance to the law involves are repugnant to the last degree to any women of refined feeling; and, it is therefore only, as a last appeal that we refuse to willingly pay taxes. I feel convinced that others will join me in this appeal, and that those who cannot literally do likewise will use every effort to make the protest as effectual as possible.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.