Dora B. Montefiore, New Age January 1905
Source: New Age, p. 27, 12 January 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
In proportion as the Bureaucracy and the Governing powers of Russia are effete, stultified, and ineffectual, so the life currents of Democracy, both in men and women, flow warm, devoted, and irresistibly efficient. During the last weeks of crisis in the inner and outside affairs of Russia, two women’s names have been blazoned on the roll of fame – those of Vera Figner, who has spent in the vindication of the cause of liberty twenty years in Russian dungeons; and of Varia Stoessel, who, in vindication of the cause of humanity, has spent eleven lurid months in the man-made hell of Port Arthur, tending, with womanly care, though with insufficient appliances, the dead and dying among .her fellow-countrymen. The story of Vera Figner is the story, more or less, of thousands of other self-immolated women, who place the cause of their country before the calls of family, of domesticity, of life itself. She and her sister Lydia, finding themselves, in 1872, unable to pursue their studies in Russia, went to Zurich, which was at that time the centre of Russian political emigrants, and of the followers, of Karl Marx; and in 1877 they both. reached the goal where all. Russian things progressive have for the last forty years been driven – Siberia. Here Vera worked for some years among the poor and needy as assistant surgeon, but as she never lost an opportunity of propagating what to her was religion in its highest essence, she was put on her trial for being one of the organising spirits of her party, and because of her success in arousing in the army a spirit of revolt. She and naval Lieutenant Soukhanof were, in 1884, tried for their lives and condemned to execution, but the sentence was commuted to the slow torture of indefinite imprisonment in the vaults of the fortress of Schusselberg. She has survived the horrors of an inferno where many of her fellow-sufferers lost their reason, and, within the last month, has been sent to Archangel, until the roads are passable; when she will be sent on to some out-of-the-way village further north, where, although her term of imprisonment has expired, she will be kept under police surveillance.
It is of interest to record the achievements of these two women with equal capacities for heroism, but with contrasting ideals; because they typify the two sides of women’s activities in every civilised country – the side of the woman agitator, whose desire is get at, and change, the sources of evil; and the woman philanthropist, who accepts, more or less, present conditions; but struggles to mitigate with womanly tenderness the evil results of man-made wrong. The former woman is understood and appreciated but by a few; the latter woman all men acclaim. The former is the ardent suffragist, the keen and enlightened worker on Local Government, and educational boards, the woman who makes a study of economic and of social questions, and who seeks to modify economic and social conditions. The latter is the woman who undertakes “rescue” work, and who cannot be made to realise that for one she may rescue by philanthropic means, five may be enlisted in the sad army from economic pressure. She is the woman who cheers on and comforts the soldier, no matter how deplorable may be the cause in which he is fighting; she is the woman who spends herself and her substance in the distribution of unorganised and over-lapping charities, which are the curse of them that give and them that take. The former woman is, in a word, evolved and conscious; the consciousness of the latter is still latent and embryonic. One of the toughest and most-needed bits of propaganda still before us is that of the gradual transmuting of the Varias into the Veras; the changing of the point of objective for women from the pandering – however heroically – to men’s brutalities – to the eliminating from our scheme of things of those brutalities; the establishing of a co-operative commonweal on the bloodstained ruins of a competitive system based on battle, murder, and sudden death.
On the last night of the old year the members of the newly formed Lyceum Club of women writers, artists, and graduates, dined together in the Club premises. Miss Smedley, the founder of the Club and of its international branches, presided; and told in simple words the story of “the realisation of her dream” – the bringing together of working and cultured women in an outward bond of union. She had recently returned from Germany and Holland, where her success in inspiring women in those two countries with the same ideals was equally great; and where centres were shortly to be formed. The Lyceum Club itself, she told us, though it had only been in existence nine months, had a membership of over 2,000, and was already paying its way. The dinner was a representative gathering of women who are working steadily and quietly for economic and social independence. The guests of the evening were Mrs. Clifford and Jerome. K. Jerome, and the latter, in a quaint and yet whimsically earnest speech, addressed the assembled company as “Revolting women! Let me explain that I use the former word as a participle, and not as an adjective.” And wound up by telling us how much he rejoiced at the change that was coming over women in their attitude towards the work of the world; a change which he trusted would result in the future in a man – instead of excusing himself from public duties on the plea that having married a wife therefore he could not come – being able to say: “I have married a wife, and we will both come.”
This is the title of the following leaflet which has been sent me with the request that I will give it publicity. “In view of the fact that the various Working Women’s Organisations have been asked for a clear pronouncement of their policy on the question of Womanhood Suffrage, we wish to state our views on behalf of the Associations we represent. Womanhood. Suffrage is the final aim of our Franchise efforts; meanwhile we welcome heartily every practical step in that direction provided that such a step does not indirectly add to the disabilities of women. This we do, knowing that in England it is idle to expect revolutions, and the most we can hope for at first is an instalment of justice – a measure that will include a large number of women wage-earners, especially in the more skilled trades – as in the cotton trade. We think that until the franchise is given to these workers the Trades Unions will be hopelessly crippled in their efforts to protect the interests of their members; the women of the working classes will be at the mercy of any new tariff legislation, however detrimental to their economic interests; their wages will never rise above their present low level, and their whole industrial status will suffer. We are not responsible for, and we cannot dictate, the terms of our own enfranchisement. The measure we want, and the measure we are working for, is simply the broadest measure it is possible to get. – Signed on behalf of the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile and other Workers’ Representation Committee,
On behalf of the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade and Labour Council,
SARAH DICKENSON, Co-Secretary.
NELLIE KEENAN, Treasurer.”
This manifesto is another strong argument in support of my contention in last week’s issue that the working class, organisations are, as a whole, supporting the Woman Franchise Bill now before the country.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.