Dora B. Montefiore, New Age June 1904

Women’s Interests

“They Would Make Excellent Parlourmaids.”

Source: New Age, p. 379, 16 June 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

This is the burden of the song of the middle-class woman, who feels the shortage in domestic labour, and who yearns to see the neat and nimble-handed barmaid turned out of the occupation she has chosen, and forced into the less well paid ranks of domestic service – an occupation she does not choose, but is obliged by the iron law of supply and demand to accept. And the lady who uttered these words at the Council meeting of the Women’s Liberal Federation believes herself to be a Liberal in thought and in politics! The idea is really a felicitous one, and almost worthy of a Women’s Liberal Pamphlet, which might be entitled “The Royal Road for the Making of Excellent Parlour-maids.” It is to be hoped, however, that the ejected barmaids, who will be sufferers at the hands of the future Liberal Government just as the ejected “Bung” is a sufferer at the hands of a Conservative Government, will take a lesson by Bung’s tactics, and will claim compensation – and get it. Then they can turn their attention under the guidance and tuition of Liberal ladies, to becoming “excellent parlour-maids,” and to dispensing in private houses the noxious alcohol, which a beneficent law forbids them to dispense in public.

A Few Facts About Barmaids and Their Employment.

But, seriously, it is of no use speaking and writing as if the occupation of barmaids was the only one aimed at by this resolution, over which the Liberal ladies spent a June morning. Neither must we forget in this connection that the Union of Waiters, with Paul Vogel at their head, are also most anxious to turn barmaids into parlourmaids; though the deep down reasons that inspire their lofty flights of moral exaltation when they approach the subject in public speech may not be of the same order as are those of the Liberal ladies. There are thousands and thousands of women waitresses working in licensed houses who have (fortunately for the customers) replaced the greasy dress-coated waiters in coffee-room, travellers’ room, and private room; and these, if the parlourmaid propaganda prove acceptable to some future Government, will, like Othello, suddenly find their occupation gone. I was staying lately in a Lancashire town, where I made inquiries, as I always do, into the conditions of women’s labour, and made a point of knowing working women in their own homes. I found from inside sources of information that at one of the leading hotels, where none but waitresses are employed, the wife of the proprietor had a talk with each girl before she was engaged, and a warning was given as to the character and record of certain male inhabitants of the town who from time to time patronised the hotel. This list was an interesting one, and a certain J.P. and other “magnates” figured in it. It would seem, therefore, that if we want to get at the root of the matter on the moral side it would be better to reform our men than to expel our barmaids; as such men might prove a danger even to “excellent parlourmaids.”

“Our Cause Goes Marching On.”

Amongst the letters that have reached me in reference to my recent “passive resistance” protest, two or three writers mention the fact that one of the reasons which prevent thinking women from emigrating to Natal and other British Colonies is that there the native male population has the franchise, and that consequently the position of the educated English woman under the heel of the uneducated black man is not a desirable one. Without wishing to lift a finger to accentuate race antagonism, I recognise the deplorable mistake that has been made in giving the coloured male the rights of citizenship, whilst denying those rights to the white woman. Some of the noblest women in America worked and fought for negro emancipation, and it is too often the negro voter who to-day stops the way to the emancipation of women. But I feel assured that, just because, those women have been such noble and disinterested workers, their cause and ours, in spite of temporary set-backs, will in the end triumph more completely. Mrs. Julia Ward-Howe, the negro emancipator, who has recently celebrated her 84th birthday, had a vision of the future when she wrote those lines of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” – lines which are sung to the swinging march of “John Brown”

“Though foes seem to triumph,
Though hope is nearly gone,
Though our mortal frames may perish,
The cause goes marching on....
Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
Our cause goes marching on.”