Dora B. Montefiore, New Age December 1904

Women’s Interests

The Men’s Trades Council and the Women’s Trades Council

Source: New Age, p. 795, 15 December 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I regret to have to record that the London Trades Council have in two respects proved themselves inimical to the enfranchisement of women. There are many Socialists among them who subscribe to the clause in their programme standing for economic, sexual, and political equality between men and women, yet, when the chance comes of testing the quality of their principles, they allow resolutions to be passed hampering the action of the London County Council, who are giving technical education to girls as well as to boys in the bookbinding and jewellery trades. The members of the L.C.C. are elected by the woman as well as the man vote, and women have consequently claimed from their representatives help in obtaining technical instruction, which shall enable them to do the better paid parts of skilled trades. In bookbinding, for instance, girls could never get beyond sewing and folding, because the bookbinding trade would not take them as apprentices for “forwarding,” etc.

In proportion as the wholesome manual work of the Arts and Crafts finds favour with women, so the number of those is increased who desire to make a livelihood in occupations not wholly mental or sedentary. To such, “forwarding” in the bookbinding trade and enamelling in the jewellery trade make a strong appeal. They applied in vain for admission as apprentices in the trades themselves; then representations were made to the L.C.C., and technical classes were established, to help them in their difficulty. The point to be emphasised in the motion lately carried by the Trades Council is the protest against “classes being initiated for students other than those actually engaged in the trade.” This is specially aimed against women (though after discussion the word “female” was omitted from the motion) because women, under present trade conditions, cannot be “engaged” in the trade as represented in its higher and more lucrative branches. It is to be hoped that the L.C.C. will continue its present “human” as opposed to “masculine” policy urged by the men’s Trades Council.

Women’s Political Enfranchisement.

The Trades Council further proved itself out of touch with the spirit of the day when it condemned the Women’s Political Enfranchisement Bill, introduced last Session by Labour representation members and others. It is a pity that instead of repeating the parrot cry that this Bill, which is to abolish sex disqualification, will only enfranchise upper and middle-class women, and thereby increase the power of the propertied classes, the members of the Council do not get up a few statistics on the subject, and survey, as men possessing some sort of political instinct, the situation. Some clue can be obtained as to what support for Democratic and Progressive institutions the woman’s vote on the existing basis would secure from the significant fact that where women vote, a steady Progressive majority is assured on the L.C.C. and used to be assured on the London School Board. Where men vote alone a ten years’ Tory majority, with reaction, extravagance, and every form of privation and degradation for the working classes has been the result. I was speaking on two occasions early this week to Women’s Trades council representatives in Lancashire, and look upon it as a privilege to have come in touch with such splendid and broad-minded examples of the English working woman. At Burnley the chair was taken by a woman who had been for years a weaver, but was now helping her fellow-men and women, and saving, with her mother instinct, the children of the community, on the Board of Guardians. She told how in her own town, Nelson, there were over 600 women on the municipal register – the large majority of them working women – and these would all be enfranchised by the passing of the present Bill. Another able woman who had been twenty years in the weaving sheds, and who had also served on the lately destroyed School Board, spoke of the newly formed “ladder of learning” which the County Councils, were instituting from Primary School to University. She described eloquently that ladder, and what it was to accomplish for the people; and then reminded her hearers that the foot of the ladder would never be firmly planted in the heart of democracy till political sex disqualification was removed, and till motherhood was given a direct voice in the Councils of the land. I cannot help mentally contrasting the utterances and the aspirations of the two Trades Councils, and reflecting that it is a strange attitude the Men’s Trades Council is taking up to attempt to restrict the basis of the political franchise. It would have been equally strange if organisations of women were to have passed resolutions condemning the £10 Householder, Agricultural, and Lodger and Service Extension until Adult Suffrage could be obtained. We have not found men till now deprecating that gradual extension which is in keeping with English political tradition and institutions; their opposition only seems to be aroused when such gradual extension goes outside the limits of masculine privilege.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Both men and women will welcome the promised visit amongst us in February of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet, economist, and lecturer. She proposes giving at “The Women’s” Institute, 92, Victoria Street, Westminster, a course of six lectures:

1. The End of the Servant Question.

2. Women and Beauty.

3. The Waste of Housekeeping.

4. Should Women Work?

5. The Mistakes of Mothers.

6. Clubs for Country Women.

A varied and comprehensive programme this; and one in the treatment of which many vital, social, and economic questions will be raised. I last met Mrs. Gilman at the recent Berlin Congress, when she spoke in her incisive American intonation, in the Section for Civil Rights, on the question of what marriage conditions are for women in most civilised countries, and what they should be. With simple gestures she indicated the legally superior position of man, and the legally inferior position of woman, in the marriage contract; then, extending her two hands on the same level – her mobile face beaming with intelligence and altruism – she made the audience, gathered from so many lands, understand what was the ideal of marriage among thinking and Progressive women. Her hearers rose to the idea with deafening applause, and one seemed to feel the heart of womanhood leaping towards freedom. When the Session was over Mrs. Gilman and I went together to a quiet little outdoor restaurant in the neighbourhood for lunch and a chat. As we sat in the welcome trellised shade, and waited for our lunch to be served, a young man came into the garden, advanced rapidly towards our table, and laid on Mrs. Gilman’s plate a bunch of flowers; then, lifting his hat, he disappeared as swiftly as he had appeared. Attached to the flowers was a card – that of a young German student – on which were pencilled the words: “With grateful thanks for your most beautiful speech.” The quiet impersonality of the tribute was a rare delight to both of us; and we both, know, cherish the hope that that young German student will, when he is a man, prove an able and successful champion of the rights of his sister women. Mrs. Gilman is a member of the Fabian Society, and any further details about her proposed visit, and the lectures she will give, can be obtained of Mrs. Rodger-Cunlife, 45, Albert Palace Mansions, Battersea Park, who is the treasurer of the International Union of Women Suffragists. The humour and the pathos of the poems contained in the little volume In this our World, of which Mrs. Gilman is the author, are dear to many. The heart of her teaching is, perhaps, contained in the last two stanzas of the poem “Reassurance,” addressed to the man who is uneasy and restless, when watching the rising tide of the true woman movement:

She has been yours in uttermost possession !
Your slave, your mother, your well-chosen bride,
And you have owned in million-fold confession
You were not satisfied.

Peace then ! Fear not the coming woman, brother !
Owning herself she giveth all the more !
She shall be better woman, wife, and mother
Than man hath known before !”