Dora B. Montefiore, New Age November 1904

Women’s Interests

The Question of Home Work

Source: New Age, p. 730, 17 November 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

This most difficult and complicated industrial question is receiving at the present time much attention, both in France and Germany; and, as it is first a woman’s question, in that most home-workers are women, and secondly a man’s question in that the sweated wage of the home-worker affects unfavourably the outside wage of both men and women, it may be interesting to notice briefly the lead that our Continental friends are giving us in grappling with this industrial difficulty. Professor Raoul Gay has been entrusted in France with the duty of drawing up a report on the subject; and, as a result, the Association Franšaise for the Legal Protection of Workers has passed the two following resolutions:- “To request the Government to order an inquiry to be made on the subject of home work in general, so as to ascertain exactly its extent and value as regards industry as a whole. Secondly, to request the Government to bring in a Bill to compel employers to give lists of all workers who take work home from any industrial establishment, in order that the authorities may have some definite statistics on the subject of work that is put out.” A union of women home-workers has also been formed in Paris, with central offices at the UniversitÚ Populaire at Montmartre, and much is hoped from this first attempt at organising and consolidating this most difficult class of workers. In Germany the resolution carried at the first Congress for the Protection of Home Workers demanded a legalised minimum wage, the amount of which should be decided by a Special Commission composed of an equal number of workpeople and of employers, with a delegate chosen from the inspectors as President. The minimum wage thus fixed was not to be lower than that paid in ordinary factories and workshops, and was, as soon as settled, to be absolutely binding on both employers and workers. These are all practical steps in the right direction, and it is to be hoped that before long an Exhibition of Sweated Industries, such as was held this year at Bethnal Green, will be held somewhere in the West End of London, so that more of the buyers of sweated goods may have easy access to it, and the conscience of the public may be more thoroughly roused on the subject. It will be long before I shall be able to forget the pitiful array of sweated articles made in the one roomed homes of the poor of Bethnal Green. Paper bags, mousetraps, brushes, boots, toys, at a few shillings the gross! How often is the same sad and sordid story to be told before some practical steps are taken to insist on a legalised minimum wage for the sweated English home-worker?

Women Heroes.

I cannot refrain from quoting a paragraph from an article by Angus Hamilton in the Fortnightly Review for November. He has lately returned from Manchuria, and is giving us “Sidelights on the Russian Army.” “In all these months of war and bloodshed,” he writes, “the patient endurance of the Sisters of the Red Cross has been the one redeeming feature in the mass of corruption and degenerate manhood which now describes the Manchurian Army. In this reference I do not allude to women of social position, who prove as troublesome to the Russian authorities as did a similar plague to Lord Milner in South Africa. The hardworking, earnest, practical little women, ignorant but industrious, who devote their time to the welfare of the Russian soldiers, make a beautiful picture. They are fearless. They endure the same fatigues as the soldiers, and, as recent events have proved, they sacrifice very willingly their lives to save their charges. I do not think that any war has produced more touching examples of fidelity to duty than those offered by these badly-dressed, plain-faced, sweet-natured nurses, as they trudge through the rains, through the heat, and the dust and the snows of Manchuria. These women quite delight in their calling, and in spite of the reverses, or perhaps because of the reverses, they muster in large numbers to the roll-call when their services are demanded. I have made inquiries about the condition regulating their service with the troops, and certainly on the score of remuneration or generous treatment there is nothing attractive in the work. They appear to give the best of their lives to nursing the soldiers, and out there in Manchuria the pillow of many a dying man has been rendered more comfortable by little gracious attentions from some one of these Sisters. I am inclined to think that they exercise a greater influence than the long-coated, long-haired priests, whose sacerdotal offices are exercised so perfunctorily.” One more testimony this to the faithful devotion of women, even to the death, when their country and their men comrades call on them to face battle, murder, and sudden death. Yet there are still niggardly politicians, echoed by “men in the street,” who take up the parrot-cry, that women should be denied the vote because they do not risk their lives as soldiers on the field of battle.

Well Worn Tactics.

Really, nowadays, when everything in the way of defence and attack is being revolutionised, it is time that men, who are still opposing women suffrage, should invent some new line of defence against the resistless, on-pressing attack of democratic public opinion demanding equal political rights for all adults. Mr. Frank Foxcroft, in a really feeble article in the November number of the Nineteenth Century, has with infinite pains scraped together a flimsy earthwork composed of the irresponsible opinions of some of the over-rich and over-spoiled women of America, who, living in unnatural and over-civilised surroundings, have never themselves been called upon to face the realities of life. Behind this earthwork he is potting away at the vast advancing army of thinking and feeling men and women, who are convinced that the onus of proof why all adults should not enjoy equal rights of citizenship rests with the diminishing number of defenders of the ancient order of things. These defenders are for the most retreating, as the classic phrase has it, in “good order”; preparing, let us hope, as similar defenders have done in Australia and New Zealand, to hastily turn their coats, and mingle smilingly among the “enemy.” A few fanatics like Mr. Frank Foxcroft are left to cover the orderly retreat, and one is tempted to feel almost sorry for them, when one takes into consideration the poor quality of their remaining ammunition. Mr. Foxcroft, for instance, after giving us tables of figures proving that the number of male voters in the four States which have granted woman suffrage exceeds in each case the number of female voters, proceeds to upbraid the women for not having accomplished more than they have done in the way of advanced legislation. And this fact of lack of accomplishment by a minority who can only vote, but who cannot be elected, he considers an argument against woman suffrage in general! Mr. Foxcroft has yet to learn that in New Zealand, where women have had the vote for the last ten years, and where they are admittedly active and vigilant in the cause of public morality and equal justice for all, they have not yet succeeded in removing from their Statute-book laws relating to the State regulation of vice – laws which outrage every instinct of the conscious evolved woman by treating her sex as the legalised and penalised victims of men’s passions. These special laws in that colony are, it is true, a dead letter, but the fact of their remaining on the Statute-book is none the less an offence to colonial women voters, who now realise that the vote must be only a step towards the seat, if the cause of enlightened progress is to be effectually and intelligently served. Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy, our veteran champion and life-long worker in the cause of humanity, deals effectually with Mr. Foxcroft in a letter to the Cheltenham Examiner of November 9; and Theodora Mills, hon. secretary to the Cheltenham Women’s Suffrage Society, asks pertinently in another letter, “Are reformers ever in a majority?” Mr. Foxcroft had better surrender in time “with all the honours of war.”