Dora B. Montefiore New Age February 1905
Source: New Age, p. 106, 16 February 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The Daily News has a paragraph in its issue of Saturday which is excellent in spirit, but, I fear, unpractical in real life. The paragraph describes the efforts of a member of the Daily News staff to fit out with clothes some factory girls who are out of work, so as to enable them to take situations as domestic helps or servants. Where the scheme is at fault is that it does not take into consideration the fact that domestic work is one of the most skilled trades, and that to take a girl who has never served her apprenticeship to the trade by working for two or three years under a well-trained upper servant, and to put her to cook, clean, or mend, would be just as disastrous in its results as taking an out-of-work unskilled labourer and setting him to a job of brick-laying or plumbing. It is precisely because this fact, of the highly-skilled nature of domestic work, is too often overlooked that much of the “domestic service trouble” has arisen. The ladies who are now undertaking the work recognise its quality and its difficulties for the unskilled; and they are undergoing courses of training as cooks; table-maids, or housemaids, at various centres. This will all tend to raise the standard and position of domestic helps; the next step should be organisation and solidarity. When this is accomplished, and domestic service raised to the status of a skilled trade, there is no reason why the present tentative system of the servant who “lives out” should not extend; for as soon as employers can depend on the regularity, punctuality, and efficiency of their employees, it will be found much better for both parties to fix a regular scale of working hours, and to give the perfect liberty outside such hours which can be obtained in other occupations. But to place untrained factory girls, many of whom are unfortunately thrown out of work by the fluctuations of Sugar Conventions, in charge of our kitchens and brushes and brooms, is, I fear, to make confusion worse confounded.
In this connection of more efficient training in domestic work, I welcome the appointment of Miss Lawrence as Chief Woman Inspector under the Board of Education. She is to direct a staff of women inspectors, who will assist the Board in dealing with many questions on which experienced women are more especially competent; such as cookery, laundry work, household management and hygiene; instruction in these subjects has, up till now, been too theoretical, and has not kept sufficiently in touch with the daily life of the people; this will now be altered, and the new women inspectors will assist the local authorities in each borough in providing practical domestic and motherhood training; besides advising on many questions of importance involving national physique, the treatment of young children in elementary schools (which treatment, let us hope, will include their feeding); and to exert, in brief, that mother influence which has been too much ignored in the past by masculine administrators and legislators.
The February number of Work and Play of the World contains a very suggestive article on wages and hours of German workers. I give for the benefit of my women textile-worker readers extracts that throw light on the lives of the German textile workers; though it must always be remembered that in comparing rates of wages we must also compare the purchasing-power of money and other conditions in the country under comparison. Though the article does not give these data, there are statements about the extra work undertaken outside factory hours, and about child labour, which speak eloquently as to the grinding and ill-paid toil which is the lot of the German men and women factory workers. The average yearly earnings of men textile workers is from £25 to £60; of women from 10 to £30. Sixty per cent. of the textile trade work eleven hours a day; and 10 per cent. eleven and a half hours. In Bavaria, where the textile worker is at his lowest ebb, after eleven hours work in the factory, man and wife return home to begin another term of labour, sometimes stretching to six hours. From five to ten persons lie down to sleep in one room; and the children who are still too young for factory work sell matches and flowers in the street! The picture is a terrible one, and it is not surprising that the Kaiser, who is the abounding “Providence” of these luckless sweated swarms of humanity, begins to share the alarm of his imperial brother in Russia, the “Little Father” of the starving millions – some of whom he shoots down, and some of whom he lectures and turns empty away.
The doctor at Stepney Workhouse stated at the inquest on a woman of seventy who died, he considered, from improper feeding, that “the dietary in that workhouse was the worst in London, and worse than that of any gaol on Fridays.” This is the treatment that England meets out to her workers after seventy years of toil, and this is the reason that the workhouse, under present conditions, is more dreaded by the decent poor than the grave itself. If any of my readers know that exquisite little swan song, The Roadmender, (by a young girl writing under the name of Michael Fairless), they will recall the pathetically simple words in which she sums up one of the humble tragedies that lead to the workhouse and too often to an inquest, and a callous, sordid squabble as to responsibilities between workhouse officials and “Guardians"?) of the Poor. “There is an old couple in our village who are past work. The married daughter has made shift to take her mother and the parish half-crown; but there is neither room nor food for the father, and he must go to N — . If husband and wife went together they would be separated at the workhouse door. The parting had to come; it came yesterday. I saw them stumbling lamely down the road on their last journey together, walking side by side without touch or speech, seeing and heeding nothing but a blank future. As they passed me the old man said gruffly “Tis far eno'; better be gettin’ back”; but the woman shook her head, and they breasted the hill together. At the top they paused, shook hands, and separated; one went on, the other turned back and, as the old woman limped blindly by, I turned away, for there are sights a man dare not look upon.” To anyone who has not yet read it, let me recommend The Roadmender, the vision and dream of one too early called away from work and love; but who yet was able to write: “And yet, looking back to the working days, I know how much goodness and loving kindness there is under froth and foam. If we do not know ourselves, we most certainly do not know our brethren.”
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.