Dora B. Montefiore, New Age November 1905
Source: New Age, p. 713-4, 9 November 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I feel I owe an explanation to my women readers for not having mentioned in this column the third Annual Suffrage Convention held recently in Hull. The fact is, I began writing an account of it on the Sunday morning; I went out in the evening to speak to a large gathering of poor laundry-women at Acton, who sadly need helping and organising; and standing about the damp and cold, taking down their names after the meeting, I got a severe chill, which kept me in bed under doctor’s orders for the greater part of the week; – and my article remained unfinished. It is too late now, unfortunately, to do more than allude cursorily to the subject, and remind my readers that the recent Convention was the third of three decided on by a small gathering of leading women interested in the suffrage question, at Mr. Stead’s office; that the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies was requested to undertake the organising of the three Conventions, and that a special fund was raised for the purpose of defraying the expenses of this extra propaganda. Friends who were present at the recent Convention at Hull have told me of the great enthusiasm that many of the speeches called forth, and of the strong power for work and demand that lies specially among the northern suffrage organisations. But there is still, for me, too little touch among our southern official organisations with the working woman, and too little elasticity of method in popular propaganda. An enormous, and hitherto untouched, force lies dormant among the working women of London. When they begin to realise that the conditions of their lives and of their work can be affected by legislation, and that they should insistently demand a voice in influencing that legislation, then, and then only, will the demand of the south show solidarity with that of the north, and become strenuous and vital. The working women of London are moving, but they are not inspired by the National Union of Suffrage Societies.
The late Mr. Gladstone, turning his back upon the Church, and gazing with the glance of a shying horse at the huge black hoarding of the L.C.C. advertising building spaces in the new King’s avenue – such was the sight that met my surprised eyes as I turned on Saturday from Arundel Street into the Strand! The next moment a post-card, looking like a reproduction of a wedding-cake ornament, was thrust under my notice, and I observed the Cockney-voiced street-vendors doing a flourishing trade with the sale of these “penny memorials of the late Mr. Gladstone.” Truly we are not an artistic nation! The City of London has suffered many things at the hands of sculptors; and one feels sometimes tempted in a moment of aesthetic irritation to exclaim, let who will make our laws, if only the French may make our statues! As a portrait of the late Mr. Gladstone, an elderly gentleman in robes and nineteenth century costume, and wearing an unusually tall and flappy collar, the statue itself, it seems to me, would have been excellent in one of the Embankment Gardens, on a level with the eye, and seen against a background of green! But Mr. Gladstone, raised aloft, and surrounded by gesticulating female figures! One is tempted to ask: Did Mr. Thorneycroft mean it for a joke? Round the base of the statue are four allegorical figures, Education, Courage, Aspiration, and Brotherhood; and they are all female figures, and are all evidently doing their best to upraise and sweeten the world. Now it is well known that Mr. Gladstone was the great opponent of the enfranchisement of women; so I venture humbly to submit that it is not a fair position in which to place him now, or in which to hand him down to posterity. What sort of opinion will our children’s children have of the man – the People’s William, who so markedly turns his back on the Church, and who spends his days in the company of such evidently emancipated women? One question more to Mr. Thorneycroft: Did it never occur to him that when the lady who holds by the head the serpent in one hand and is prepared to cut off its head with the uplifted sword in the other hand, has accomplished her deed of courage, she will infallibly have cut off at the same time a good slice of her own hand and arm? Women will need plenty of courage in their fight with sex prejudice, which I shall venture for the nonce to symbolise under the form of the serpent; but I do beg of them to be careful in the choice of their weapon of attack, and experience does not seem to prove that a sword is the appropriate weapon for slaying anything as elusive and as subtle as a serpent.
I meant also last week to have commented on the regrettable fact that the Association of Headmistresses had recently passed a resolution denouncing the system known as “mixed schools,” or, in other words, the co-education of boys and girls. To us, who have for years written and spoken in favour of this valuable principle in education, it is not perhaps wholly surprising to find most worthy and conscientious women of a generation that is passing away speaking against a system which they have too often failed to grasp as a whole, and which they think militates against some of their preconceived ideas of what is “ladylike” and “womanly.” Had Lady Verney and Dr. Sophie Bryant gone somewhat deeper into the subject it might have, perhaps, occurred to them that, given the small number of co-educational schools in England, their influence cannot be blamed for the “Tomboyism” and love of out-door sports and games which distinguish the girls and young women of the present day. Having suffered much in my youth from the fact of being branded “Tomboy,” I learnt as I grew up to face the terrors of the dreaded appellation and understand aright wherein lay the supposed sin. As the result, I feel convinced that a “Tomboy” is nothing more nor less than a girl who refuses to be over-sexed. She has a good, healthy body, tireless legs, hands with which she can defend herself as ably as does her brother, and a brain often more active and imaginative than his for planning mischief and escapades. That the free, healthy intercourse in work and play between boys and girls is beneficial to the latter in counteracting the tendency to over-sexing which their education apart entails, is well insisted on in a letter by Mr. Frank Britten, M.A., to the Morning Post of November 3rd. He, as one who has directed the fortunes of two co-educational schools, speaks at least with inside knowledge of the subject; and he writes: “For my own part I am convinced that the girls (in the Odiham School compare favourably with the girls from the public and high schools. My system merely lives down or eradicates their self-consciousness to such an extent that my girls can converse with boys of their own age without, on the one hand, displaying a giggling nervousness, or on the other endeavouring to assert their position by an ill-assumed mien of contemptuous affectation.”
I was glad to see in last week’s NEW AGE that Mr. Franks, who used to manage for the New Commerce in Holborn, the only place where leadless glaze china could be obtained, is to open on Monday, at 25, Chepstow Mansions, Westbourne Grove, a shop where similar china can be obtained. I should like to emphasise to my women readers the ethical responsibility laid on us women, as spenders of income, of refraining from buying either sweated goods or goods made under conditions inimical to health. Let us, therefore, keep in mind that address at Chepstow Mansions, where we can obtain china made without the deadly white lead glaze; and let us, by asking constantly in our own china shops for china made under the same conditions, help to create a public conscience and opinion in the matter.
The Society of Women Journalists, the modest little “Trade Union” for journalistic women, held its eleventh annual meeting, and adopted its eleventh Annual Report on Saturday, November 4th. The aims of the Society are to promote and protect the personal and professional interests of its members, and to maintain and improve the status of journalism as a profession for women. It has a membership of nearly 150, most practically arranged premises at 1, Clifford’s Inn, and, after all expenses are paid, a small balance, at the bank, testifying to the care with which the slender resources of the Society have been administered.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.