Dora B. Montefiore, New Age November 1904
Source: New Age, p. 715, 10 November 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The meeting for promoting the training and supply of midwives, which was presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury on November 4 at the Westminster Palace Hotel, would have been entirely unnecessary if the Act of 1902 had been inspired by broadly democratic considerations instead of by narrow professional interests. The result of the working of the Act has proved how absurd and even cruel the effect of legislation can be when one sex is legislated for by another sex. At the time that the Bill was in its Committee stage, members of Parliament were over and over again interviewed by those who understood intimately the conditions prevailing amongst the very poor, and who pointed out that the Act would prove one-sided and oppressive, if registration and a right and proper standard of efficiency among midwives were to be legally enforced, unless it went hand-in-hand with a free State training for those who were to work amongst the very poor. A training for which women themselves had to pay necessitated their demanding suitable fees in payment of their professional services; whereas State-trained midwives could and should work among the very poorest mothers either without payment or for nominal fees. The birth of healthy citizens is of community or State importance; and the provision and training of those who will minister towards that object should, not be left to haphazard charity and philanthropy, even if presided over by an Archbishop and a Princess. The Archbishop remarked that “the meeting had been held to emphasise the responsibility that now rested on the community as a whole in consequence of the legislation which, in answer to public demand, was passed two years ago.” Just so. The responsibility rests on the community as a whole; and, in the cause of justice, of efficiency, and of self-respect among the poorer mothers of the community, it would be better if they could apply in their hour of need for a State-trained midwife than for one hailing from some charitable organisation, whose services are granted as a favour, instead of as an inherent right. About 60 per cent. of all confinements in England and Wales are attended by women alone; and it is a natural and proper arrangement that trained women (rather than men) should so attend each other. Let the public demand in the future, therefore, be for free State-training, side by side with State registration; and let the working classes, who are the most interested in the question, see that the demand is complied with.
It is because England is governed by a Plutocracy, instead of being administered (in the interests of all) by a Democracy, that she proves such a grudging step-mother to the larger half of her infants and children. The daily papers the other day told the story of a boy of fifteen with no relative that he knew of in the world, who for two years had supported himself in the London streets chiefly by means of carrying luggage at railway stations; and during all that time he had slept out in sheds and doorways, under archways, wherever he could find shelter. Finally, he had to give up the struggle, and thinly-clad, weary, and hungry, he walked into Twickenham Police Court, and requested to be locked up for “sleeping out.” When brought before the Brentford Magistrates he was taken charge of by Mr. Herbert, the Court Missionary, who has placed him in Mr. Fegan’s Home, and will ship the lad in the spring to Canada. Mr. Herbert is reported to have remarked, “You are just the kind of boy that Canada is calling for.” It apparently had never occurred to anyone in the whole business that “he was just the sort of boy that England was calling for”; and that, instead of neglecting, starving, and degrading her children of tender years till they are reduced to the necessity of seeking a prison shelter, it would be more economical (to place the question on its lowest level) for England to feed, and train, and make use of those young lives for her own benefit, and with a view to her own efficiency. Ruskin taught us that life was the only wealth, but the men and the rulers of the nation haggle over tariffs while the warm life-blood of real wealth, its youthful population, is being swept, as so much useless rubbish into cemeteries and colonies. There is waste land in England calling out for the (at present) waste labour of lads like John Smith, to whom England has proved but a sorry step-mother.
There are other outrages than those of the North Sea, and that require quite as full and careful investigation as to their cause, provocation, and results. There are too many deaths of bruised and injured paupers in Workhouse Infirmaries; and when a jury returns a verdict over the body of an “aged inmate” (who had been kept for 23 hours in a strait jacket before her death, and on whom the “doctor found several-bruises, including a big bruise in the abdomen”) “that deceased died from injuries, but how received they could not say,” one is left with the feeling that all is not always for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Another very similar case occurred quite recently at the Kensington Workhouse Infirmary, where the Resident Medical Officer has invented a euphemism for the dreaded strait jacket, which he appears to believe robs it of most of its horrors. It is doubtful whether the euphemism consoles either the sufferer, whose last hours in a world which cherishes peers and discourages paupers flickered out in constraining torture, or the relatives of the luckless sufferer, who are left to endure the double sorrow, of loss and of self-reproach for having, perhaps, been over-persuaded to trust their loved one to the care of the community. The lunatic ward of the Workhouse Infirmary needs far more inspection and supervision than it at present receives; and if some revelations could be made from the inside such as years ago were made in the men’s casual ward, and recently by two ladies in the women’s “casual,” the public conscience might be aroused on the subject. There are special difficulties in throwing light on this organised inferno of the ratepayer, where the weak-minded and imbecile, the howling “drunk” picked up in the street and suffering from “the horrors,” the epileptic, and at times the raving lunatic are herded together, and surrounded by no witnesses but those who are “interested” in keeping the real truth from the outside public. But the jury, in the Prescott Union case might surely have added a recommendation that strait jackets should not be put on aged female inmates, who presumably have not many weeks or days to live.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.