Dora B. Montefiore, New Age December 1905
Source: New Age, p. 793-4, 14 December 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford
Though women have no direct interest in the political crisis now on us, yet it behoves them, in the clash of conflicting parties, to keep the question of their own political emancipation steadily to the front, and, as the Liberal Cabinet is already completed, and a Liberal Government will be in power (at any rate till the next General Election), Liberal candidates and leaders must be everywhere approached and questioned on the subject of what their Government means to do for women when dealing with questions of franchise reform. I rejoice to see that at the annual meetings of the National Reform Union, held at Manchester on December 8th, the chairman called on Miss. Ashton to move a resolution to the effect that: “In the opinion of this Council no measure of franchise or registration reform will be satisfactory or complete which does not abolish the disqualification of sex, and secure to women equal voting rights on the same terms as men.” Miss Ashton, after pointing out that this resolution, and the one recently passed by the National Liberal Federation; made it incumbent on the Liberal party to back their policy, added: “What we ask for is not a pious opinion that women should have the vote, but for the active support of the Liberal party when programme-making begins, so as to carry into effect the resolution.” She declared herself not satisfied with the suffrage for men; she wanted to see adult suffrage for men and women alike. Meanwhile, until that became a piece of practical politics, she wished to see women put on an equality with men. Mrs. Crompton seconded the resolution, asking those present to prove themselves by their vote to be true Radicals, which she took to be “Liberals in earnest.” The resolution was carried unanimously.
I hope all my readers will get this month’s Review of Reviews for the sake of the interview with Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy, than whom, as the interviewer points out, “there is no woman now living in this country who has had as rich an experience and as honourable a record in the woman’s cause.” In the interview she sends three succinct, crisp messages, first to the electors, secondly to candidates, and thirdly to women on this most momentous question; and when asked by an interviewer if a candidate refuses adhesion to the cause, what would be her further message to him, she replied, out of the wisdom and experience of three and seventy years: “Then in the name of decency, let him refuse to allow his Committee to appeal to women to canvass for him, or to do any of the ‘unwomanly’ work of electioneering in order to secure his election. If a woman must not defile herself with politics, even to help her country, do not ask her to do the dirtiest work of politics – canvassing and electioneering – merely to help to the attainment of a candidate’s own personal ambition.”
My readers will remember that some weeks ago I mentioned the fact that the Inland Revenue Office had sent me a final notice about my non-payment of income tax, which I refuse to pay on the plea that “taxation without representation is tyranny.” On December 8th goods to the value of the tax to be extorted were removed from my house, and they will be sold at public auction on Friday, December 15th, at Elsden’s Auction Rooms, Railway Approach, Shepherd’s Bush Station, at 6.45 p.m. I have, through letters to the daily Press, given publicity to this action, as this passive resistance on the part of women to the payment of taxes is the only logical form of passive resistance. Men have practically agreed to allow a minority to be governed temporarily by a majority, and they are at liberty in the meanwhile to do their best to turn the minority into a majority, and thus give the other side a show. This is what is exactly going on now in politics; the Liberals (among whom are the rate-paying passive resisters) have in the past been in a minority; they hope now to be in a majority, and can, if they so choose, do away with the educational grievances which they have been passively resisting. If they decide to legislate for these grievances, the Conservatives, who will then be in a minority, will have just as much right to “passively resist” as had the Liberals in the past; and the whole principle of the agreement of the minority to be governed by the majority will be undermined. But women, under the existing state of the law, can never be either in a political majority or minority; therefore their turn never comes; and a show of passive resistance to tyranny on their part is as legitimate a form of agitation as is the general abdication of organised work by the unrepresented Russian people. I trust that all men, and women suffragists who are able to do so, will attend the sale, on the 15th inst., and join in the protest against a government of force which exacts the duties and obligations of citizenship from more than half of the population without granting them its privileges.
I am often asked by practical politicians: – “Do you, then, consider this question of the enfranchisement of women of such supreme importance that you put it in front of all other questions?” And I reply: “Yes, for us women it is the supreme and most important question and we are bound to concentrate on it; even to the point of importunity, if we intend to get it carried.” It is not that we fail to see the wide and far-reaching importance of other questions, such as those of Free Trade, of the land question, or of Home Rule; but each of these possesses its special and ardent supporters who are concentrating on them, in the same way as we women are concentrating on Women Suffrage. I make these remarks now, as, since the notice of the distraint on my goods for income tax was published in the Press, I have had a mass of communications from men voters, who are specialising and concentrating on various questions (all of immense importance and interest), who seem to look upon me as a side-tracker, diverting the attention of the public from other and more important issues. As an instance of this lack of understanding of our women’s point of view, I take the communication of a gentleman interested in the taxation of land values, but who is too modest to sign his name. He tells me he “appreciates my courage, and is in complete harmony with my wishes, but until land values are fairly taxed, my energies, he fears, will be expended to a large extent in vain.” He encloses a budget of pencil-scored leaflets on the Taxation of Land Values, evidently hoping to convert me to a principle in which I already firmly believe. In reply I would ask him, how should I, an unrepresented woman, be helped by a change in the basis of taxation, if I still had no voice in the spending of the taxes raised from land values, instead of from income, houses, or from food? Our position as women is not that we object loyally to pay taxes for the carrying on of good government, if at the same time we are recognised as free and reasoning citizens, having interests and responsibilities needing direct representation; but we object to be classed politically with irresponsible infants, criminals, and lunatics, whilst at the same time we are mulcted fiscally with adult and responsible voters. We desire to prove to the Government that they cannot have a thing both ways; and that if they persist in keeping women in the irresponsible category already alluded to, they must expect passive law-breaking, and active disturbances at political meetings until the grievances of women are redressed. Don’t let us forget that the franchise question was considered of such supreme importance for a few men that a terrible and disastrous war was undertaken by their fellow-countrymen. For that war, I, and thousands of other women, have, against our consciences, been forced to pay. The enfranchisement of the woman Outlander in England need cost neither blood nor treasure if those who criticised the late war while in opposition will bc be true to their trust and will prove themselves Liberals and Reformers in earnest.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.