Dora B. Montefiore, New Age October 1904

Women’s Interests

International laws as they affect women

Source: New Age, p. 682, 27 October 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The Reports that have been sent in from the various countries to the Committee for International Law furnish most interesting reading. Denmark reports that two important measures are at present before Parliament in their country, one giving women the right to vote for and sit on municipal bodies, and the other admitting them to the Official Bureau for Statistics. Both measures have been passed unanimously in the Lower House, and are now awaiting the assent of the Upper House. The Federal Parliament of New South Wales passed in January, 1904, a measure permitting women to naturalise themselves as citizens of that colony, either by demanding direct letters of naturalisation, or by marrying an Australian citizen. By the same law, an Australian born woman does not lose her right to the suffrage if she marries a foreigner. Holland reports amongst other matters that since July, 1903, two women barristers have been practising at Rotterdam and at The Hague; also that a local municipal decree ordering a woman primary teacher to resign on the announcement of her intended marriage, has been peremptorily rescinded; the higher municipal authorities declaring such a decree illegal. The New Zealand report on legal conditions relating to women’s work is full and most encouraging, as showing that politically emancipated women are thinking out the question in all its bearings, and bringing intelligent pressure to bear on the Legislature. On the occasion of a law being brought in to forbid women from serving in bars, the opinion of women voters was fairly divided on ale subject. When well-meaning, but narrow philanthropists put to them the question “Would you like to see your daughter employed in a bar?” the answer came from those who were able to look on the other side of the hedge: “No more, and no less than we should care to see a son employed there.” As regards restrictions in trades (notably in the printing trade), where such restrictions are not extended to men workers, it points out the absurd anomalies that obtain in consequence of the present interpretation of the law in that colony. In the Province of Canterbury the women compositors can work during certain hours, which it is illegal for those living in the Province of Wellington to work. Some of the women compositors, where the law places them on an equality with the men, earn as much as 3 a week; and the report goes on to say: “Under one form or another, we are convinced that this question will come up again in every country of the world (see for example the report from Holland about women in the fish curing industry) as long as the law makes a difference between men and women workers.”

“Parables” and ethical teachings.

The Dean of Westminster, when distributing last week the awards in connection with the Church Sunday School Institute, is reported to have charged these teachers when imparting instruction to their pupils, from the Church standpoint, to explain the earlier chapters of Genesis as “allegories or parables.” “The first chapters of Genesis,” he said, “no longer mean to us that the world was made in six days. The second chapter of Genesis no longer means to us that God moulded clay into a human figure and breathed upon it, or that, he took a rib from Adam, and made Eve.... These, and other stories like that of the talking serpent and the talking ass we do not take now – or at any rate most of us (I do not) – as literal statements of historical facts, but as imagery which clothes certain spiritual lessons.” This being the case, it would be interesting to learn from the Dean why he continues to dress up in, a certain fashion borrowed originally from the Oriental nations, who started this sort of parables; why he surrounds the reading of them with every circumstance of pomp and religious ceremony; and why he continues to put forward the book that contains them, as more inspired, more sacred, and more “holy” than any other Scripture of any other religion? There are beautiful imaginative allegories, invented in the childhood of man, which may be collected from all over the world, and are so collected by ethical teachers, in order that their hidden perfumed wisdom may be crushed out by skilfully loving hands for the teaching of the twentieth century child, and for the adult who is willing to become as a little child and learn the lessons of humanity from the seers and the lovers of humanity. But why, after this admission from a prominent Churchman, is it necessary to keep up the farce of all ethical and spiritual wisdom being centred in the Jewish Scriptures? Why not, for a change, instead of reading amidst all the stored beauties, spiritual influences and “frozen music” of our great Gothic glory of Westminster Abbey, the story of Balaam’s talking ass – why not, for instance, read us a chapter from the teachings of Yomei, the Chinese philosopher, who “emphasises a perfect poise of the soul, a quiet balance of nerves, and an equilibrium which cannot be disturbed by the annoyances and surprises of everyday life"?

The mother’s influence in ethical training.

This question of how and what to teach children from the ethical and spiritual standpoint, is a question which should be of supreme interest to mothers, who have the first moulding of the ductile infant mind and heart. There is little doubt that the story, the simple allegory, is the most effective and acceptable way of reaching the latent moral side of the child nature. I say latent advisedly, for we must never forget that the moral code is like other things, the outcome of evolution – that what is moral for humanity is what is best for the increase, the protection, and the happiness of the race, and that children are not necessarily born moral, any more than they are necessarily born healthy; also that the lack of morals in childhood need be no more a reproach than is the lack of health. What is needed is intelligent, scientific, and up-to-date teaching of the laws of health, and of the laws of morality; a strengthening of the physical to resist physical disease, and a strengthening of the will power to resist moral disease; great and watchful attention to physical conditions and environment in the young, and great and watchful attention to their moral conditions and environment. Above all there must be full confidence between child and parent – specially between mother and son, and father and daughter – (for the subtle influences of the complement which one sex is to the other, may, I believe, be of immense value in this connection). There must be no subject on which a child cannot question its parent, and no subject on which a parent should shirk giving a child a frank and full answer. The very fact of the question shows that there is a need for the knowledge demanded, and the old traditions of “initiation” or teaching by word of mouth is the truest wisdom; for much which a parent can tell a child through the medium of the flowers, seeds, and animals by which it is surrounded seems coarsened and rendered almost gross when put before the child or young person in print. These thoughts have been partly suggested to me when reading the recent controversy about John Oliver Hobbes’s suggestion of giving our girls Tom Jones to read. I shall hope in next week’s column to explain my thought more fully.