Dora B. Montefiore, New Age October 1905
Source: New Age, p. 667-8, 19 October 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Amongst publications sent me for notice I will begin with the Report of the International Council of Women; which Council encloses with its Report a leaflet in the form of a question and answer, explaining its constitution, aims, and objects. This International Council consists of 20 federated National Councils, most of whom send in a separate Report, which is published in the general Report under notice. The special movements which the International Council of Women has pledged itself to support are the movement towards International Arbitration; the combating and suppression of the “white slave traffic”; and organised efforts to enable women to obtain the power of voting in all countries where a representative government exists. Besides these special movements the International Council and its federated Councils undertake philanthropic, social, and educational work, and hold quinquennial congresses of women in various countries. It possesses a balance in the Bank of Nova Scotia of 1,172 dollars, and its annual expenses appear to be under 500 dollars; most of which is absorbed in the very moderate expenses of the President’s office. One is tempted to ask, when examining the financial statement, who bears the travelling and lodging expenses of the general officers, who hail from Germany, Sweden, France, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Canada, and who meet every year in a different country in Council? Are such expenses paid by the National Council sending the general officer? Judging from the various Reports from the different National Councils, and recalling also my own experience when I acted for several months as Recording Secretary to the Committee of Arrangements for the Congress held in London under the auspices of the I.C.W., there is a lack of directness and concentration in the work of the National Councils; and too little zeal in attacking directly the cause of women’s backwardness and want of protection in the community. In other words, if the National Councils would drop philanthropy and concentrate on economic and political questions, we should not find Frau Stritt, the President of the German National Council, reporting: “the proletarian women’s movement still holds aloof”; nor would the reporter from Denmark have to chronicle that “there exists however in Denmark an independent organisation for promoting women suffrage, which has not affiliated with the National Council.” In internationalism, however, lies our hope for the future, for enlarged culture, for the spread of freethought, and for the realisation of the solidarity of the human race. In the Women’s International Congresses that meet every five years under the auspices of one or other of the National Councils, women whose intellectuality and culture are on a far higher level than that of those who pull the strings, and pose as “Patronesses” of the I.C.W., meet together and project their influence through many lands; it is around these pioneer women, these evolved thinkers, workers, and organisers, who have left behind them the worn-out symbols of the past, that our hopes and aspirations for Humanité Nouvelle centre.
This little quarterly review is always bright and encouraging reading, telling as it does how the woman of the people is herself, through organisation and solidarity, working practically at her own emancipation. There is a note of real live energy, of useful and vital activity, as opposed too often to the fussy patronage of middle-class women’s work, that is vastly encouraging to those who desire ardently to see the proletarian woman articulate. It is as well to remind the public that the Government in its wisdom and generosity only allows ten women inspectors for a million and a half of women workers; and that in spite of H.M.’s Chief Inspector’s Report on the dangers of white lead glazes as used in the manufacturing of pottery, the Secretary of State on July 14th of this year acknowledged, in reply to questions in the House, that out of 476 factories coming under the special rules, only 56 use glazes conforming to the standard laid down by Rule 2. As an example of the honourable and scrupulous regard for truth displayed by one of his Majesty’s Ministers, it is interesting to note the reply made to Mr. Tennant, who, on June 29th, asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention had been called to a strike among the women employed by Messrs. Hibbert and Co., who it was stated paid for the making of haversacks at the rate of is. 3d. a dozen, whilst the Pimlico Army Clothing Factory paid 5s. a dozen for similar articles. Mr. Bromley Davenport in reply said he knew of the strike among the women at Messrs. Hibbert’s, but stated that as haversacks were not made at the Pimlico Clothing Factory, no comparison of prices was possible. This reply, says the writer in the W.T.U. Review, “throws an interesting light on the evasions which do duty for replies to questions in some departments. As a matter of fact, haversacks were made at Pimlico at the price stated during the war, and advantage was taken of the fact that Mr. Tennant’s question was in the present tense.” Just two more items of interest culled from the pages of the Review, on which it may be profitable to us women to meditate. The Shop Hours Act of 1994 is not being taken up with alacrity by local authorities, and the pressure on shop assistants has been but little relieved. Through the mouth of their delegates at the Trades Congress, they stated in plain terms that nothing short of Sir Charles Dilke’s Shop Assistants Bill would meet the necessities of their case. Medical evidence, given in the course of a Home Office inquiry into the bye-laws proposed by the L.C.C. pursuant to the Employment of Children Act, showed that 73 per cent. of boys engaged in barbers’ shops were subject to anaemia – a percentage nearly double that to be found existing in any other trade employing young boys. When will the whole motherhood of the land wake up to the fact that no young boys or young girls should be employed in any trade but only grown men and women, who are now, under present economic conditions, forced too often to live on the earnings of their undeveloped and anaemic children?
Another useful little publication is Women’s Employment, a monthly paper dealing with the professions and employments of educated women. The current number contains special articles on “Practical Market Gardening Carried on at Home,” and “Handicrafts for Women,” which, though perhaps rather amateurish in tone, are working along the right lines of specialisation and training. There is also an article on “Open Doors Beyond the Seas,” which contains a statement requiring, it appears to me, further elucidation. The writer says that, at an interview with Mr. Pember Reeves, High Commissioner for New Zealand, that gentleman informed her that in consequence of the urgency in New Zealand of the servant problem, “educated women going out to that Colony in the capacities of cooks, house and parlour-maids, would receive respectively minimum wages of £40, £30, and “35 per annum, including board and lodging.” The italics are mine. I calculate the value of the board and lodging at £26 per annum, which leaves the magnificent sums in wages of £14, £4, and £9. If this is what Pember Reeves meant to imply, I should advise educated English women to leave New Zealand to solve its own “urgent servant problem.” But if this minimum wage is offered besides board and lodging, then the wage is only a very slight advance on what a thoroughly trained cook, housemaid, or parlour-maid could obtain here.
One word of protest against the infamous restrictions imposed by the Local Government Board on the administration of the new Act which all who had the real welfare of the nation at heart had hoped would establish the precedent that the workless man or woman who was willing to work had a claim on the attention of the legislature which could no longer be ignored. We fully realised, those of us who wished to get the best out of the Act, meagre and grudging though it was, that those who would be most likely to be workless this winter were just those who, through constant unemployment and the crushing force of circumstances, had been rendered the least efficient and the least capable of finding work in slack times. But the Local Government Board has now decided that no person shall be relieved by the local distress committees who has been in receipt of Poor Law relief during the last twelve months. Surely it was because the Poor Law could not deal with the mass of unemployment that the recent Act was passed; and now it would appear that the very men whom it was intended to relieve, who beside being branded as paupers, and disfranchised, are to be excluded from the right to be helped to obtain work from the Distress Committee organised to supplement the Poor Law!
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.