Dora B. Montefiore, New Age August 1905

Women’s Interests

Impressions of Denmark.

Source: New Age, p. 538, 24 August 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

As one of our poets has sung: “Saxons, and Normans; and Danes are we!” And it, is most probably just because of that admixture of the enterprising northern races, whose wanderings and whose Viking deeds still hold us spell-bound with their dramatic interest, that we are the colonising, travelling, and tramping race we have now become. I wrote “tramping” advisedly, for who does not feel a brotherly touch of sympathy for the misguided ones (according to the Bumbledom code of ethics) who prefer during the long, soft summer nights to sleep under a haystack, or a hedge, or even to snatch a forbidden sleep on a seat on the Thames Embankment? With every return of spring “The call of the wild” wakens in a civilised form in the breasts of the now tamed sons and daughters of the Vikings, who begin, with the aid of Cook and Lund, and the many smaller imitators, to make plans for summer wanderings and more or less barbaric incursions into distant lands. Instead of shields and spears the mixed English race of to-day arm themselves with macintoshes and circular notes of credit, and with these weapons force an entry into the remotest regions and over the most inaccessible mountain passes. True to their earlier traditions, the migrations are more generally south, but a minority among us feel now and then a craving to visit portions of that Scandinavia which we vaguely associate with the wandering, enterprising, stirring drop of blood In our otherwise calm Anglian veins. It was this vague stirring, no doubt, that drew me when I heard of a party that was being made up to visit Denmark and learn something of its ancient and modern institutions, to put my name down among the number and to cross the North Sea to Esbjerg, where our wanderings through Viking land were to begin.

Not personally conducted.

The attraction to me of the method of organising the party was that it was not a personally conducted trip. We could travel when we liked and by the route we liked. The names of hotels and the prices charged were given us on a list, and we were left to choose our own hostelry and make our own arrangements. Those who elected to start by a certain train from Liverpool Street could have the benefit when landing at Esbjerg of the help of a Danish lady, who would travel through with us to Copenhagen and help us through with any difficulties that might arise from our lack of knowledge of the modern Viking tongue. This journey was made during the night, and as it included the crossing at intervals on huge steam ferries of the Great and Lesser Belt, there was a variety and novelty about it that one does not generally get in night travelling. All those who were not travelling in the sleeping carriage (berths in which had to be secured beforehand), were, when the ferries were reached, turned out of the train bag and baggage, and had to walk on board the ferry and take seats on deck. Then, after a few minutes’ delay, the compartments with the mails and heavy baggage and the sleeping berth carriage ran slowly and majestically on to the centre of the ferry, and the journey across the water began. The Lesser Belt is crossed in twenty minutes; the passage of the Greater Belt takes an hour and twenty minutes. I was delighted to find that the Danish lady who met and travelled through with us was an old acquaintance – Fru Nellie Hansen – whom I had met six years ago at the Women’s Congress in London, when she read a most excellent paper on Working Women’s Trades Unions in Denmark, many of which she had been instrumental in organising. She belonged to the Social Democratic Party, and she told me that her husband was the editor of a Socialist daily paper, of which there were no less than fourteen in Denmark.

A cosmopolitan party.

As I have already explained, the link that joined our party together was a desire to study the past and present history of Denmark, and with this object in view we each of us had paid a guinea to the lady who organised the party, and who, on her side, provided lectures, arranged excursions to co-operative dairies, Poor Law and Municipal institutions, educational centres, etc. – sides of life which it is usually very difficult for the ordinary tourist to see during a short visit to a foreign country. Our centre for lectures and meetings was the University Club, where a most charming hospitality was extended to us, and where we all met on the evening of the 14th at an inaugural “at home,” with the view of becoming acquainted with one another. Holland, Bohemia, Sweden, Germany, and England were all represented among the party, and we soon found that the two main currents of information and of experience that were sought were those on the educational system and on dairy farming. A country pastor from Bohemia had come, notebook in hand, to learn all he could about co-operative dairying, in order to take the information he could collect to his rustic parishioners and thus help them in their daily life. Many social workers from England were collecting information with the same object in view. A lady farmer from Shropshire was of the party, also a lady well known by her personal experiences of the interior of a casual ward; the head of a London settlement was there with a contingent from the Quaker life of England – that deeply spiritual life which gives us still some of our best social workers and educationalists. A lecturer from Ruskin College, a law student from the University of Upsala, one or two Agricultural students, who meant to take up dairy farming in England – these were some of the units that went to make up the party which was to spend together a fortnight in an organised and, it was hoped, profitable wandering in Vikingland – a land inhabited now apparently by serious and learned professors, by an independent and instructed peasantry, and by cultured and intellectual women, not of one class only, but of all classes and stations in life. In this last connection I must record the fact that amongst the lectures we are promised is one on “The Servant Girls’ Trade Union,” by Fröken M. Christensen, herself a servant girl, and the President and Founder of the Union.