Dora B. Montefiore, New Age September 1904

Women’s Interests

Report on Physical Deterioration

Source: New Age, p. 555-556, 1 September 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

In the recently published report of the Inter-Departmental Committee appointed to “make a preliminary inquiry into the allegations concerning the deterioration of certain classes of the population, as shown by the large percentage of rejections for physical causes of recruits for the Army,” there are several headings which are of special interest to women, and several points on which Women Inspectors have given valuable and suggestive evidence. Under the heading, “General Conditions of Factory Employment,” the first paragraph states that: “It must not be assumed that factory life is necessarily injurious to persons of normal health; indeed, Miss Anderson H.M. Principal Lady Inspector of Factories, went so far as to say that within proper limits as to hours and periods, and with such hygienic surroundings as are attainable, it may be the means of improving the health of women and girls of the poorer classes.” Dr. Young seems to have corroborated this statement when in his evidence he contended “that amongst factory workers there was no general deterioration at the present time, but rather a gradual improvement.” As regards the employment of mothers late in pregnancy, and too soon after childbirth, Miss Paterson says: “Great harm is done and suffering occasioned to the women by their remaining at work too long before confinement, as well as by returning too soon after it. Factory managers, doctors, health visitors, and workers themselves are agreed that the four weeks’ absence is often shortened to three, or even less.” The whole evidence under this head is deeply interesting reading for those who are striving to raise the economic and social conditions of working-class women, and I wish I had space for detailed quotations; but I hope the brief notice I am giving will induce others to procure the report from Eyre and Spottiswoode, East Harding Street, London, E.C.- The price is 1s. 2d.

Further Evidence of Women Factory Inspectors.

Amongst the causes that render the labour of pregnant and lately confined mothers necessary, Miss Anderson reports: “Death of father, or lack of employment, or inadequacy of father’s wage....

“Desertion of father.

“Fear on mother’s part of loss of future work in factory.

“Preference for factory over domestic work.”

It would appear that, under the heading “inadequacy of father’s wage,” should be noted the fact that “the husband insists on having his spending money, whatever the household needs may be, and therefore the mother’s wage, over which she has control herself, proves a valuable accessory.” For those who can read between the lines, there is all the pathos of dumb self-sacrifice in the picture of the expectant mother realising only too fully the extra strain on the family purse that will be entailed by the bringing into the world of the young life she is carrying, and working, in consequence, early and late in the factory in. order to lay by a small store from her own wage against the approaching hour of her need. No wonder the Committee “are convinced of the necessity of extreme caution” when dealing with this problem. “They have been reminded,” they state, “(1) of the enormous practical difficulties that would accompany any sort of legal prohibition; (2) the existence of a considerable number of unmarried mothers without means of support, whose main chance of rescue from degradation lies in the fact that they desire to labour, and know they ought to labour, in support of their infants; and (3) the presence in certain populous industrial districts of a large proportion of married mothers, who are necessarily the chief bread-winners of their families, and the danger that, if deprived of the opportunity of earning a wage, means will be taken to prevent these families coming into existence.” The Committee (of men, two of them Colonels in the Army) are evidently here in deep water, with the Scylla of unmarried motherhood threatening them on one side, and the Charybdis, of the prevention of families for whom there is no room in a competitive world, on the other. Miss Anderson seems to have held out a helping hand to them by the suggestion of the creation of some sort of fund for helping’ mothers both during and after confinement, and in paragraph 263 they flounder round between “voluntary agencies,” “charitable efforts,” and “insurances,” which “it is said abound in Lancashire.” Obviously, as Germany has realised, if the State forbids a woman to work for wages at or near the time when her material needs are greatest, it must (recognising that in child-bearing she is fulfilling a most important State function) grant her financial help to which no stain of pauperism is attached. Child-bearing women in that country are helped from an insurance fund provided partly by the employer, partly by the worker, and partly by the State. This is, the thin end of the wedge of State Maternity Pensions, to which undoubtedly every mother, whether married or unmarried, is entitled in every civilised State for fulfilling a State function which conscious motherhood will only fulfil in the future under the State guarantee that the offspring she brings into the world shall be insured, from the moment of its birth, against the uncertainties of existence which obtain under the present economic regime.

The Feeding of infants Under Six Months.

The evidence in this section should be carefully studied by young mothers; I will give a few figures taken from the evidence of experts. Mrs. Wyatt Smith quoted the experiences of the “Assistance Publique” in Paris, from which it appears that among “breast-fed children, being about 45 per cent. of the whole number under observation, the death-rate was. 2.6 per cent. among the 35 per cent who were artificially fed, the proportion was 10 per cent.; and among the 19.6 per cent. who had mixed feeding, the death-rate was 6 per cent.” Dr. Hope, a Liverpool Health Officer, made an inquiry a few years ago, and found that for every death from diarrhoea which occurred among breast-fed infants under six months old there were 15 among those fed partly at the breast and partly on artificial food, and 22 among infants fed, entirely on artificial food: “It is obvious,” the Committee sagely remark (when witness after witness testified to the unfortunate decrease in breast feeding, notably in towns), “that in these circumstances the question of possible alternatives becomes of the highest importance.” They then pass in rather scornful review the various artificial substitutes, including tinned milks and patent foods, and end by deploring the impure and adulterated milk supply which commercialism offers a long-suffering public. Considering the special details that this Committee; with its two Colonels and its assistant secretaries, had to enter on, it may seem to us mere women that one or two British matrons who had successfully brought up families might have been useful colleagues. Surely the War Lords must have felt somewhat out of place amongst so much “milk for babes” and so many farinaceous foods! To the outsider it looks as futile and as amateur a performance as would be that of the British matron deciding on the differing merits of varieties of Maxim guns, repeating rifles, and smokeless powder. Either investigation would present possibilities for a Gilbert and Sullivan Opera.