Dora B. Montefiore, New Age July 1904

Women’s Interests

Some More Reminiscences of the Berlin Congress

Source: New Age, p. 427, 7 July 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I want to describe this week, and, if possible, convey to my readers something of the vivid and stimulating impressions made on me by contact and communion during the Congress week, with some of the noblest women souls in Europe, America, and Australasia. If I begin by telling you something about our hostesses, the German women, it is because their advance in thought and their strenuousness in action during the last five years have been so remarkable that they should serve as a beacon light to us women in England, who during a similar period have seen our cause flouted and neglected by a reactionary Government, whilst the education of the children of the people has been snatched from our hands and given over to co-opted theorists and narrow-minded Churchmen. It was among German women, also, that I had the happiness of renewing several heart-friendships which have stood the test of years; whilst I have gained among them, I trust, other friendships of rare and excellent women till now unknown to me. Mrs. Garrett Fawcett, in her franchise speech towards the close of the Congress, was very happy in her description of the work and methods of the German women. She said that, when in Venice the year before last, she noticed the empty site where the beautiful Campanile used to stand; when she returned last year to Venice the site still stood empty, and she remarked: “You do not seem to be getting on very rapidly with your work of rebuilding.” “On the contrary,” was the answer. “But all the work has been pile-driving, and that you cannot see; but once that is finished the building above ground will be a comparatively easy matter.” Mrs. Fawcett held that, judging from the results of the wonderful Congress in which she had just taken part, the German women had been pile-driving for many years; and there is little doubt, for those who can see and judge of things below the surface, that the superior education given to German boys and girls of all classes is accountable for the intelligent interest with which Progressive and Socialist propaganda is received in that country.

The Scandinavian Woman.

Students of Scandinavian literature will readily understand that there must be numbers of extraordinarily interesting women hailing from the lands of Bjornsen, of Ellen Key, and of Henrik Ibsen. There were not lacking at the recent Congress specimens of these captivating advanced thinkers, who through the fearlessness with which they attack modern social problems, and the frankness with which they brushed aside conventional priggishness and bourgeois make-believes, proved their right to be held as one of the strongest Iconoclastic forces in modern European thought. My first introduction into their circle was immediately after speaking one morning in the Industrial Section on the four leading principles which should guide our judgments when dealing with special legislative restrictions on women’s labour. A card was sent up to me on the platform, with a few pencilled lines from Madame, Palline Bagger Weiss, of Copenhagen, who wanted to talk over an article of mine which appeared last year in L'Humanite Nouvelle on “Maternity Insurances.” I have held for some time the idea that women should make use of the insurance principle (which is used daily more and more by men in the risks of business and of daily life) in order to insure for maternity; and in the above-mentioned article I elaborated the idea, and demonstrated how necessary the maternity insurance was to women order to help them in their struggle for economic equality with men. The idea had “caught on” with the Scandinavian women, who are all working at the problem of State pensions for women during child-bearing periods; for they feel acutely the hardship and injustice of forbidding work at such periods without granting a State pension. As I mentioned in an article some months ago, Denmark has led the way in this direction, and recent legislation in that country grants the child-bearing woman who is fulfilling a State function by giving a citizen to the community, a pension during the time that she is incapacitated from other work. That in a State where women possessed equal political rights the child-bearing women would soon expect and obtain material aid, well as flowers of speech, to help her to rear healthy and intelligent citizens, and thus fulfil “the sacred duties of motherhood.” I shadowed forth in this column in an article written just before I left for Berlin, and the incoming mail from New Zealand brings the practical working of the foreshadowed scheme. It is naturally attributed to Mr. Seddon, for the newspaper correspondent has an affection for figureheads which catch the eye and arrest the attention of the man in the street. But the motherhood of New Zealand is in this instance the power behind the throne, and Mr. Seddon is merely the mouthpiece who declares that every infant life saved to the State is worth 300 to the State. “He intends, therefore, that the State shall in future take steps to protect the lives of infants by providing the establishment and support of maternity homes; the training and providing of midwives; the establishment of homes for the daily care of young children whose mothers have to go out to work; and by making it illegal to insure children of tender years for sums beyond that which would cover the cost of interment.” The scheme, crude and incomplete as it appears to be, will set people thinking in the right direction; and, judging by specimens of awakened New Zealand womanhood who attended the recent Congress, Mr. Seddon will before long have some practical amendments from the women voters which will go far towards raising the status of “sacred motherhood” in that fortunate colony.