Dora B. Montefiore, New Age May 1905
Source: New Age, p. 293-294, 11 May 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Why is it that any question alluded to in a newspaper touching the relations between the sexes always calls forth a much larger share of correspondence than does any political, social, or economic question? Is it perhaps because English Puritanism and prudery have for centuries tabooed the discussion of such subjects in any mixed assemblies; but, as they are the questions which underlie all social and family life, as they are subject to those laws of evolution which, during the last century, were discovered and explained to the public by the leaders of scientific thought – are not these subjects gradually tending to take their place in a line with other questions of social science because of the over-mastering popular desire for worthy and reliable scientific knowledge, rather than from (as some correspondents seem to imagine) a perverse desire to rush into print anonymously about questions which the writers would not care to discuss in conversation? On this question raised by “The Childless Wife” I rejoice to note, on the whole, the very high tone taken by my correspondents, and their evident honest and sincere searching for a rule of life whose sanction shall be above that of the arbitrary and Judaic teaching of the Churches and the out-of-date pronouncements of Canon and Common Law. To those who fear the reactionary influence of priest or minister on the politically emancipated woman, I may mention en passant that the only two letters I received quoting texts from the Old Testament in support of worn-out ideals of sex relationship were letters from men; and to my surprise and dismay I found an army doctor – a member of a scientific profession – referring me to texts in Leviticus at a moment when dignitaries of the Church of England are themselves explaining away these fables and folk-tales of the childhood of a race as “symbols.” In this week’s issue I propose giving extracts from the most interesting of the letters; and the following week to write my own thoughts on the subject.
Two men have criticised the conduct of the childless wife as being “pure egotism.” One man writes: “The childless wife and her husband appear to be a couple of sexual, neurotic ‘sports'; and the abnormal neurotics’ remarks after five years of marriage are not worthy of serious consideration.” A man signing himself “A Bachelor” writes: “One cannot refrain from admiring the determination of the writer respecting her reception of her mother’s advice on the shortcomings of men; and I am entirely in agreement with her concerning the sort of men women should demand, and which they would get if they only insisted. And I say this, that let women persist in such a demand, and they will vastly improve the conduct of men. ... Being one who also takes life seriously, it has occurred to me that marriage is wrong unless for the propagation of the race. Not desiring to bring children into the world to be persecuted right and left by Governments, to be robbed of the land and their liberties, it seems to me that the most humane plan is to remain a bachelor.”
One woman, whose letter, as I read between its lines, touched me keenly, because of the pent-up cry of sexually enslaved womanhood which it contained, wrote: “Thoughts are well expressed in the article that many thinking women have revolved. ...To a married woman, who has endeavoured to do her duty as a wife and mother every line tells; and even between the lines there are revelations the heart reads. Women have to forgive because they are helpless. What can a woman with a family do? What? She is powerless, tied, no longer one with human rights – the equal of her husband, but dependent on him. Yesterday’s paper gives: A sweep’s wife had three babies born with black eyes, the result of her husband’s ill-treatment! One does not get that exactly as one goes up the scale of society, but one gets something akin in too many instances. Of course, there are noble exceptions, and no doubt women have made men what they are by seeking them so earnestly, etc.; but what has been the reason, if traced to its ultimate end? The doctrine of woman being made for man, and all that that means .... As I need not say, most children are brought into the world not because they are wanted by the parents, but because they are the result of the ‘gratification of man’s strongest appetite,’ and which is considered a legitimate one.” Another woman writes: “They, this model intellectual couple, who are too weak to remain celibate, too cowardly to face their proper responsibilities, are living this unnatural life entirely for the good of society! They are so persuaded that the priceless boon of their influence and writings is for the good of this poor but – for them – ignorant world, that they even live a life of legalised immorality in order to make other people better! What fatuous, egotistic rubbish.! The world can get on admirably without the teaching even of an ‘intellectual’ wife of this type. The mere sight of an honest working woman with six clean, well-fed, promising men and women to-be around her knee will do more good to society than years of silly ‘shining’ of an intellectual! One thing makes us pity this childless wife.”
“The sight of women’s goodness and patience in all virtues, only makes the men this woman knows ‘tyrannical’ and ‘offensive.’ We in this country, I think, know many men who cannot be good enough and tender enough to sufficiently show their gratitude to the women who have committed their earthly lives to their care. .... One would like to advise this couple to quit ‘shining’ and ‘teaching,’ and retire to their own home to educate themselves by a clean, self-respecting life.”
A woman who has written much and ably on sociology, sends me the following thoughts: – “At this stage of the world’s history generation or reproduction of species should not be the outcome of unregulated amative propensity, but of love of offspring; and one rejoices to hear of the subject of parenthood being gravely discussed before marriage in the full recognition of a fact – viz., that the forces of generation are under human control, that the generative function ought not to be exercised without mutual consent of the married pair, and without ethical justification. As regards the regulative principles to bring to bear in this matter, however, the mind of the ‘Childless Wife’ seems somewhat confused. Her industrial and social activities are no doubt extremely useful, but it is absurd to argue that she should remain childless because these activities are of more value to the society of today than the probable social activities of her possible, but unborn, child or children would be to the society of the future. The laws of heredity are sufficiently understood to enable intelligent people to avoid bringing children into life who are physically unfit. The crux of the present position is that the ignorant, the thoughtless, the non-moral are populating as fast as before the discovery of neo-Malthusian methods of restraint, while the prudent and enlightened act on these methods, and their ratio of increase is proportionately much lower. Here is the problem not faced by our ‘Childless Wife,’ yet in public interests, present and future, no greater service could be done to the world at large than to lead the way in Stirpiculture and the Birth of the Fit, so that Humanity may enter a new era of progress and settle into its ‘onward stride’.” With this thoughtful pronouncement from a woman who has made this question of heredity and stirpiculture the study of her life, I leave the subject till next week.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.