Dora B. Montefiore, New Age September 1904
Source: New Age, p. 602, 22 September 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I should like to draw the attention of all and sundry who may still be unconvinced on the subject of women’s interest in and capability of judging political questions (regardless of priestly influence) to the article by Tom Mann in the Nineteenth Century for this month. The whole article on the present day position of politics in Australia is of extreme importance, but the following paragraphs are, I think, worthy of a place in a column devoted to women’s interests. Tom Mann writes: “Franchise for both Houses being adult suffrage, much speculation took place as to how the women would vote, or whether they would vote at all. The result has shown that the women were quite as keen to exercise their vote as men, and, as might naturally have been expected, their independence was shown, and the right to do exactly as they pleased was freely claimed and acted upon; each class voted in the main as did the menfolk in the same class, and, although quite a number of men were concerned as to whether the Churches would succeed in detaching and diverting the votes of many women in a manner unfavourable to the Labour policy all such were perfectly satisfied when the results were declared. Over the whole Commonwealth the lively interest shown by the women, and the all-round efficiency that characterised them at the polling booths, commanded the most hearty admiration of the sterner sex. During the election campaigns great amusement was caused by the wriggling of those candidates who for many years had opposed women’s suffrage, but on this occasion were taxing their brains as to how to secure the votes of the women. Their sudden discovery that women would probably impart a healthier tone to matters political, and that there was no valid reason as to why the rights of citizenship should be exclusively held by one sex, when the everyday interests of both sexes were directly affected thereby, etc., .... This, in face of the most determined opposition to the women’s claims all through their political careers until they were beaten, relieved the monotony of many a meeting, when women themselves, or men on their behalf, insisted upon reminding such candidates of their previous attitude on the subject.”
A paper read at the recent British Association at Cambridge appears rather to have startled the orthodoxly-minded scientists of the day. Professor D.J. de Korösy, Director of Municipal Statistics at Buda-Pesth, read a paper on the relative mental capacities of boy and girl scholars. As the result of the examination records of nearly a million children of elementary and higher grade schools, as gauged by successes and failures, the comparison reports is greatly in favour of girls. Even as regards arithmetic, usually considered the special prerogative of boys, the balance of proficiency inclines obviously to the side of the girls. This is too hard a saying for a writer in the Lancet, who does his best to obscure a straight issue by vapourings about nervous and emotional disturbances peculiar to youth; winding up with the reflection that the boys must gain mentally in the long run, as most of the contributions to the thought an action of the world come from the male side of humanity. The writer does not take into consideration, it would seem, the superior and special training and the superiority of opportunity which the male side of humanity still possesses. If all red-haired boys were set aside from youth to receive inferior teaching, were prevented by law and custom from following whatever trade or profession they might wish to choose, were “secluded in the home” as unpaid domestic helps, and were granted no share or rights in citizenship, we should hardly expect any appreciable contribution to the thought and action of the world to come from red-haired men. Yet these are the disabilities, added to a thousand others of a petty nature, which woman has to surmount before she can even put her foot on the ladder leading to the platform where stand those who are, in any real and appreciable degree, contributing to the best thought and action of the world. The marvel really is that so many women, in spite of every obstacle placed in their way, and in spite of the lack of official acknowledgment which much of their best work receives, do succeed in making a mark on the best thought and action of the world.
I observe in the correspondence column of this week’s NEW AGE that Jane Ann Heavisides Simpson considers my remark in last week’s issue, re the late Mr. Gladstone being bitterly opposed to Women Suffrage, is “an assumption,” and that his real objection to the Bill of 1892 was its exclusion of married women. My critic will doubtless not dispute the historical fact that in April, 1892, on the eve of the second reading of the Bill for Extending the Parliamentary Suffrage to Women, Mr. Gladstone wrote a letter to Mr. Samuel Smith, M.P., against this Bill, and in that letter the following sentence occurs:- “A permanent and vast difference of type has been impressed upon women and men respectively by the Maker of both.” Of what use could the dragging in of such an argument be in this connection, but to attempt to prove that “the permanent and vast difference of type” between men and women enabled the former to judge and act in matters political, but incapacitated the latter from so doing? Mr. James Stuart, in an open letter to Mr. Gladstone, in reply to his published pamphlet, wrote: “After reading your letter over, I must confess that I have not read anything of late that has given me so much surprise and disappointment. If your letter had been shown to me without a signature, and merely alleged to have been written by you, I should have absolutely refused to believe it. .... It is inconceivable, to my mind, to conjecture what actuated you in the circumstances to write such a letter, and publish it immediately before the second reading of the Women’s Suffrage Bill – except, of course, to defeat the Bill.” In the debate on the Reform Bill of 1883, Mr. Gladstone threatened to throw out the Bill if the amendment to it in favour of Women’s Suffrage were adopted. There was no question in this amendment of the exclusion of married women, but Mr. Gladstone spoke and voted against it. Lady Florence Dixie, writing in 1892 a letter to be read at the St. James’s Hall meeting, characterised Mr. Gladstone’s attitude as expressed in his published pamphlet as “unworthy of a democratic statesman, which he professes to be.” In the divisions on a clause in the Reform Bill of 1883 with regard to the temporary disfranchisement of male felons, which divisions eventuated in the rejection of the disfranchising clause, Mr. Gladstone voted against the temporary disfranchisement of male criminals, although he had voted for the continued disfranchisement of women, whose only crime was sex. I shall leave it to my readers to decide whether my remark was based on an assumption or on fact.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.