Dora B. Montefiore, New Age June 1904
Source: New Age, p. 363-364, 9 June 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
There are assembled at this moment in Berlin delegates representing Women’s National Councils from all over the world. It is five years since they met in London, deliberated over the work undertaken by the National Councils in foreign countries and sketched out a programme of work for the future. The veteran American worker, Susan B. Anthony; presided this week over the opening meeting of the International delegates, and, later on at the close of the International Congress, which follows the delegates’ meeting, she will come to England, and we hope, give us an account of the woman’s movement in America during recent years, and strengthen by her counsels and her influences our work at home. When one thinks what women’s position is in Germany, what the difficulties are for everyone in the way of free speech, and how women are by law forbidden to attend men’s political meetings (with the benevolent intention, no doubt, of keeping them ignorant on political questions), it is nothing short of wonderful that such a gathering of women should have been, planned, engineered, and finally carried out in the country where Luther riveted on woman the final sex fetter, and, where the reigning Monarch has in public speech limited woman’s sphere to “Church, children, and cooking.”
The real interest of the gathering begins on June 13, when the business of the Women’s International Congress commences with reports and discussions in four main sections: Education; Social Work and Social Institutions; The Legal Position of Women; and Professions and Trades Open to Women. Under the section “Legal Position of Women” will be discussed questions of women’s position in marriage; as the mother of children born out of wedlock; as an administrator on public bodies; as an elector in municipal elections; and, finally, as a political elector. This last section will be of special interest, because women from our Australian Federated Colonies and from New Zealand will be there to tell of their experiences as political electors, and to encourage and hearten their European sisters in their struggle for their rights as citizens. I have myself to be in Berlin by June 11 as an invited speaker on the subject of legal restrictions on women’s labour and on the subject of political rights for women; and I am looking forward to the pleasure of being able to give my friends who read this column my impressions of the great gathering of women who are thinking, working, and sacrificing themselves for Humanity, which they feel will never be complete and free to progress on true lines till women, the mothers of the race, stand socially, sexually, and politically on an equality with men, the fathers.
I was too overwhelmed last week with business and correspondence in connection with my recent protest against the payment of taxes, as long as I and other women had no voice in the way such taxes were spent, that I could not send in my usual column of “Women’s Interests.” Letters of sympathy and of congratulation poured in on me from all parts of the kingdom and from the Continent, and I cannot help feeling that any personal sacrifice on my part has been amply repaid by the assurance I have received that the best minds and intellects of the day are with us in our struggle for emancipation. It is because I wish others to share with me that assurance that I propose giving a few extracts, first from letters received from men, and then from those of women; in most cases persons unknown to me: “If only half the women in England; who might do so, would follow your spirited example, or if the men – numerous enough, no doubt – who approve of your action had merely the courage of their convictions, this monstrous injustice and indignity would not long remain unredressed.” “I sympathise very much with you in your complaints against the Legislature, and congratulate you on the brave stand you are making for righteous equality. I am sincerely convinced that, if sex is to be a disqualification, it is my own and not yours which should be deprived of the power to vote.” “I hasten to congratulate you on possessing the courage of your opinions.... Not only is the present status of women impossible in legal equity, but it is also entirely contrary to nature – that is, to the laws of the Universe. It is only because man is crassly ignorant_ of these eternal laws that he commits such solecisms, and is content in his present barbarous condition in the matters of justice and common-sense.. But there is also this to be said, that women are equally ignorant, and that it behoves those women who are enlightened to do all in their power to educate their fellow-women to a sense of their position and their human rights.” Women correspondents write: “I cannot let the opportunity go by without expressing my very strong admiration of your spirited conduct: Your protest is likely to have a more practical effect than a hundred suffrage meetings, and I only hope that many women will follow your example next year. May I also tell you how much I have enjoyed your ‘Woman’s column in THE NEW AGE.'” “Just three lines to say ‘Well done! and Hurrah! I offer my warm congratulations.... You set the ball rolling in New South Wales, and you have possibly done the same thing here by your last night’s action.” “We ought all to be grateful to you for what you are doing about the payment of income tax.... Perhaps others will follow your example; it is to be hoped so.” From Holland comes the message: “I do admire your action in refusing to pay taxes. If we were really all prepared to imitate it, we would soon get the suffrage.” These are but a few specimens of the helpful words that were written. As for deeds – I shall always feel warm gratitude to the true friends who gathered round me at the moment when my things were being sold, and who conveyed to me that real sense of fellowship for which human nature craves at the moment of sacrifice.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.