Dora B. Montefiore, New Age March 1905
Source: New Age, p. 154, 9 March 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
If the London Suffrage Societies would get more in touch with working women’s organisations, and would invite some hard-headed working women to sit on their committees, we might get some really pushful work done for Woman Suffrage. The organised working woman is coining on everywhere at a rapid rate, and is making her influence for good felt in more directions than one. The Women’s Co-operative Guild has been the means of educating and developing many working women, who are now desirous of serving on the various committees of the Industrial Co-operative Society. That the men co-operators will resist this invasion to the last is certain, for, where matters of finance are concerned, men show themselves more than ordinarily jealous of their prerogative. It would seem that at Hitchin, where Mrs. Bonner and Mrs. Buton have been selected by the women of the Co-operative Guild as their nominees on the committee of the Hitchin United Co-operative Society, Limited, there is likely to be a prolonged fight on the subject, as the women’s nominations were fiercely opposed; and five members threatened to resign their seats and withdraw their share capital from the Society if women were admitted to the Committee. One member, who tried to pour oil on the troubled waters, advised the women to keep away because “they were a desperate lot of fellows on the Committee.” If I know anything of the Guild women, they will not “keep away,” but will renew their just claims until they carry the day. Meanwhile, the two nominations are withdrawn till the next quarterly meeting, when the feeling of all the members on the subject will be ascertained. I wish Mrs. Bonner and Mrs. Buton every success.
At no time was there so much activity amongst women progressive writers. In the Weekly Times and Echo Miss Clapperton, a veteran Socialist and writer on sociology and eugenics, is giving her “Vision of the Future,” when our scientifically evolved collective life shall supply the conditions of real happiness for all sections of society. At present, says Miss Clapperton, “we have no carefully constructed scheme of thought and life, whereby the whole effort of individual men and societies of men is concentrated in common and reciprocal activity to the end of creating happiness for all.” That this is the case few will dispute; and we may well ask, is there anything in the methods of legislation at Westminster, or of Government in Downing Street, which encourages us to look forward in the near future to any elaboration by either political party of any such “carefully constructed schemes of thought and life,” which might ensure for the toiling masses a fairer share of happiness? In the Westminster Review for March, “Ignota” has a carefully compiled article on the effect of Woman Suffrage in Colorado; an article inspired by an unfair, misleading criticism as to the actual result on the women of that State of the exercise of the franchise, and of the right to a seat in the Representative Chamber. The testimony of an American statesman (who has had experience of the subject) in favour of the influence of women in politics, is quoted; and the whole question is brought up into line with the undoubted benefits to political life which are already observable in the Colonies of Australia and New Zealand, where the political disabilities of women have been removed. Another article in the same Review, by Mrs. Swiney, on the “Evolution of the Male,” will no doubt find a critic in Mr. Belfort Bax, or in one of his school. The theory which she enunciates is founded on the scientific work of the American writer, Professor Ward, and is one on which Mrs. Gilman occasionally lectures.
I have been deeply moved by reading the spiritual and literary outpourings of an artist nature broken and outraged by our stupidly barbaric system of punishment. The offence for which the writer of De Profundis was condemned to torture is one that we may diagnose and judge as we should a disease; and then with scientific skill, and with humane care, we should isolate and tend the patient for the term of his natural life. But we should no more wreak social revenge and grotesque cruelty on the sufferer than we should on a smallpox or typhoid patient. Over and over again there occur passages in the book which denote the insistent symptoms of a sick soul; and in more than one instance scattered through the exquisite prose there are subtle symptoms of mental deterioration, the effect of the combined physical, mental, and moral torture to which prison routine subjected him – a torture which in the case of coarser and less highly developed natures, too often leads to the pauper lunatic asylum. All women should read this book, for it will help them in the bringing up of their sons, and in their understanding of “poor humanity,” with its weaknesses, back-slidings, aspirations, degradations, and supreme triumphs.. All who are interested in prison reform should study it, for it is written in the life-blood of a prisoner broken on the daily wheel of a life which can only make for hardness or destruction, never for healthy regeneration and normal renewing of life. I must confine myself to one quotation: “The poor are wiser, more charitable, more kind, more sensitive, than we are. In their eyes prison is a tragedy in a man’s life, a misfortune, a casualty, something that calls for sympathy in others. They speak of one who is in prison as of one who is ‘in trouble’ simply. It is the phrase they always use, and the expression has the perfect wisdom of love in it. With people of our own rank it is different. With us prison makes a man a pariah. I, and such as I am, have hardly any right to air and sun. Our presence taints the pleasures of others. We are unwelcome when we reappear. To revisit the glimpses of the moon is not for us. Our very children are taken away. Those lovely links with humanity are broken. We are doomed to be solitary while our sons still live. We are denied the one thing that might heal us and. keep us, that might bring balm to the bruised heart, and peace to the soul in pain...” There are in the book three allusions to women; his mother, who, he acknowledges, strove to be his good angel; his wife “always kind and gentle”; and a noble woman friend, “whose sympathy and noble kindness; both before and since the tragedy of my imprisonment, have been beyond power and description.” Sorrow and suffering made the vibrating artist soul understand the compelling forces of poverty and of womanhood, and put into his heart the hidden meaning of the fact that “at the birth of a child, or a star, there is pain.”
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.