Dora B. Montefiore, New Age November 1905
Source: New Age, p. 746-7, 23 November 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The Archbishop of Canterbury appears to count among the blessings for which women should be thankful the “good time” which illness brings. He made this surprising remark a short time ago when opening a new ward of the Women’s Hospital in Euston Road and added the no less surprising statement that “he counted it no small blessing that his widows at Lambeth Palace overlooked S Thomas’s Hospital, serving as a constant reminder to him of the suffering in life.” The certainly is no accounting for taste, and some people may count it a blessing to live near a twentieth century London slum so as to be constantly reminded of the chaos and anarchy that reign in our present social system. Does the Archbishop realise, I wonder, that if we were not daily, through ignorance and through a force of social and economic conditions, breaking the laws of hygiene and of health, we should not need a third of the hospitals and asylums that at present exist? Instead of sentimentalising over the thoughts of the suffering in life it behoves every social worker to devise mean for preventing the existence of that suffering. The “good time” will come when hospital and Primates, along with the conditions which make them necessary, are things of the past.
A most extraordinary thing is happening; most bewildering change is coming over the opinions of men – I will not yet venture to say of politicians! But men are beginning to reckon with and to count on the opinions of women in important public questions, and Mr. Arnold White has made, “on his own,” the marvellous discovery that in the matter of public expenditure women might be counted on to be more economical and careful than are men! It is true we “new women” have been preaching this for years as a reason for not excluding women from public administrative bodies though we have been naturally but voices crying in the wilderness till Mr. Arnold White and Lady Violet Greville arose to tell us how to use women’s influence, not only in the matter of “departmental and Parliamentry expenditure, but also in the management of the unemployed question.” Lady Violet Greville has written to the Daily Telegraph to say that: “We want the woman’s sympathy, the woman’s interest in small things, the woman’s patience, economy and capacity for management, introduced into public life. We want a nation of mothers instead of a nation of heartless officials and grudging step-mothers.” And Mr. Arnold White remarks: “This is the soundest sense.” I quite agree with the gentleman; but I disagree with him bitterly and fundamentally when he goes on to say: “Women who do not possess votes, generally possess voters. Can they not sting their men folk into activity sufficient to make Parliament understand, etc.” If Mr. Arnold White and those that think with him consider women’s influence would make for real good in the councils of the land, let them work honestly and strenuously to give women that direct power in the State which can alone ensure their influence being righteously felt. We ask for no indirect, no back-stairs influence, no bribing of voters either by money or by sex. We know, by the reading of history that women in the past have “possessed” not only voters, but monarchs, statesmen, and politicians, and have used them as puppets in their corrupted hands. W learnt through Mr. Arnold White’s own articles during the Boer War that women “possessed” many who were in power in the War Office; and we did not gather that good ensued from that indirect influence of women who “possessed” men and voters through their powers of sex attraction. We ask for the Parliamentary vote as human beings interested in the fate of that part of the human race to which we belong; and we utterly repudiate any suggestion of attaining indirect power through the “possession” in or out of marriage of any other human being.
I attended a Liberal meeting at Paddington last week to seek some light and leading on this subject from Sir Robert Reid and Mr. Chiozza Money, the Liberal candidate for that district. I found the awaiting audience led by a choir of young ladies engaged in the intellectual and stimulating pastime of singing “A little bit off the top,” to the tune of “When Johnnie comes marching home.” So I took my seat in the centre of the second row and awaited developments. Sir Robert Reid spoke much and long on the necessity for economy and retrenchment; he reaffirmed the good old principle of “no taxation without representation,” and though he addressed his speech to “ladies and gentlemen,” he said not one word as to how the “ladies” were to help to economise or to get represented. Mr. Chiozza Money had a brand new diagram about the social question, showing how, roughly speaking, half the wealth of the community was possessed by five millions of the people and the other half, by thirty-eight millions of the people; but he did not seem very clear as to how Liberals were going to alter this unsatisfactory arrangement; neither did he hold out any hopes to women of their being themselves helped to alter the economic and social conditions under which they toiled and suffered. Therefore, when the usual vote of thanks to the speakers was started, I rose and asked the chairman if I might be allowed to put a question. He courteously granted the permission, and I then asked if the Liberals were returned to power whether they would give women the vote. Mr. Money assured me “he was in favour of such measure; and I then pressed the question on Sir Robert Reid, basing my desire for information on the fact that there had been several allusions in the course of the speeches to the probability of Sir Robert Reid being in the next Liberal Cabinet. Mr. Money then reminded me that only he himself could answer questions at that meeting, and once more assured me that he was in favour of granting votes to women, while Sir Robert Reid ejaculated “You must ask me that at Dumfries!” “We will meet at Dumfries then, Sir Robert,” I replied before sitting down. It is as well to remind women that the rank and file, whether of Liberals or of Conservatives, are always in favour of Women Suffrage when they want to get women’s work at election time. We have seen session after session of how little use private Bills are, when their fortunes depend or the hazard of the Ballot for place, and on the eccentricities of one or two hostile members. Women’s suffrage must be made a Government measure if we are to hope for success in the near future. I hope, therefore, women will make a point of attending candidates’ meetings and questioning both them and Party Leaders on the subject. This, of course, applies to political meetings of either of the three Parties.
The Women’s Social and Political Union of Manchester have engaged an organiser to work through Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire during the next few months, and keep before the public the question of Woman Suffrage. Subscriptions to the Special Organising Fund may be sent to Mrs. Dean, Secretary of the Union, 6, Gerald Road, Lower Broughton, Manchester.
Mr. Stead reproduces in the Review of Reviews a Russia propaganda post card in which a young woman is depicted contemplating Sophie Perovski on the gallows, and remarking: “If my sex does not disqualify me for the gallows, why should it disqualify me for the franchise?” We in England might make as vivid an appeal based on the sentence passed recently at the Old Bailey on “a small, frail, trembling, yet dignified old woman of sixty-five years,” who had the misfortune to fail in carrying out, with her husband of seventy-eight, their plan of “leaving together the world.” They agreed to take poison, as there was nothing but that or the workhouse before them; and as the man died, and his poor old widow recovered, society, through the mechanism of laws, which neither she nor any sister woman had had any voice in making, sentenced her “to be taken to the place whence she came, and thence to a place of execution, and there to be hanged by the neck until she be dead.” This horrible sentence, though passed with all the accompanying mummeries of the black cap, and the prayer for mercy on the soul of the victim, was not carried into effect; but the underlying principle is the same. Let women have a voice in making the laws under which they may be pitilessly tortured and racked.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE