Dora B. Montefiore Justice 1907

Misrepresented Finnish Women

Source: Justice, p.8, July 14, 1907;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Dear Comrade – It is not surprising that capitalist papers should misrepresent and belittle the 19 remarkable Finnish women who have lately taken their seats as members of the Parliament of their country; but would it be asking too much of Socialist papers to examine their “facts” on the subject of these women before allowing them to appear in print? “Justice,” at least, is read in Finland, and anything of special interest to that country is sure to be translated into their Social-Democratic papers, so it might be as well to examine “pars” relating to present conditions in Finland, and make some attempt to get names correctly spelt. I am well aware that the ordinary newspaper man in his eagerness for “copy” scorns such details, and too often shows his crass ignorance of the subject on which he is presuming to enlighten the public. When I was in Paris the other day a most amiable young man interviewer (one, unfortunately, among many), came to ask me questions about “Les Suffragettes Anglaises,” and their much-maligned doings. As a result – although I sought to be most restrained and documented in my evidence – a really picturesque paragraph was made up about “Lord Asquith,” and my having been cast into prison as the finale of the siege at Fort Montefiore. But then, as we know, these too clever young men “want our money,” or somebody else’s, and they must give something for the money’s worth; whereas “Justice,” I have always understood, is run by voluntary contributors, hence there is no need for inaccuracy and catchpenny “pars.”

I allude to the following statement in a recent article in “Justice,” signed “Jill”: “The Baroness von Gripperberg, leader of the Finnish women members, opposes the Socialist demand for special protection of women labourers as illogical.” The worst offence against truth, as coming from a Social-Democrat, is the hailing of Baroness Grippenberg (for that, I gather, is the lady meant) as the leader of the Finnish women members. Alexandra Grippenberg is no more the leader of the Finnish women members than Arthur Balfour is the leader of the English men members. The women members in the Finnish Parliament each fall into line in their own party; and, out of the 19 women elected, nine belong to the Socialist Party, six to the Old Finnish Party, and the rest to the Swedish National Party and the Agrarian Party.

In my article in the “New Age” of June 26, I showed what these various parties represent; but unless one has been in Finland, or in touch with Finnish thought, it is difficult to realise how acute are the differences between the various parties, and how wide the cleavage between an Alexandra Grippenberg, the friend and defender of the odious Bobrikoff, and a Minna Sillampaa, a Social-Democrat, or even an Annie Furuhjelm, an advanced Radical. As an illustration of this feeling, at the recent Woman Suffrage Alliance Congress at Copenhagen, the Radical women and Alexandra Grippenberg were not even on bowing terms, so much did the former resent the attitude of the Baroness towards the late oppressor of their country.

Now, as to the Baroness opposing the “special protection of women labourers as illogical,” she can only oppose it (if she does so) inside her party; and there are nine Social-Democratic women members who can oppose her, if they wish to do so. It will be interesting, therefore, to see if women who have for the first time the power of expressing an opinion on the subject, wish to have restrictive legislation applied to themselves that is not also applied to men. This sort of “protective” legislation, we know, includes the dismissal of barmaids, though some of us may think that the least roundabout way would be to let the barmaids stay in a comparatively well-paid employment, and improve the tone of the bars where they have to serve. Anyway it will be interesting to see what Socialist legislation will do for women workers, now they have women members to help legislators frame fair and equal legislation, free from the taint of the interfering philanthropist. Whilst on this subject of the misrepresentation of the Finnish women members, I cannot refrain from referring to a paragraph in the “Labour Leader” of June 28, where my friend Minna Sillampaa is referred to as “Mrs. Milna Sillampaa,” and it is especially stated that “she is the only one who has a husband.” Well, when I was in Finland last year, Minna Sillampaa was unmarried, and as she has not since changed her name I gather she is still in that blessed state. I first taken to see her by a young Finnish girl who spoke German, and who translated what both I and Minna had to say. Minna went out to service when she was nine years old, and, later on, having educated and developed to a great extent, she organised the domestic servants, started a paper for them, and eventually founded a very modest laundry, in which servants who were out of place came to work. It was there I first found her, a grave, thoughtful, sympathetic woman, between 35 and 40 years of age. We met as often as we could afterwards, for she had much to ask, and I had much to learn. It was the domestic servants’ organisation that struck the final “coup” in the general strike that gave Finland her new constitution. When I returned to England, I hoped that Socialists would have been interested enough in their fellow-Socialists in Finland to have wished me to tell them in Chandos Hall, with the aid of lantern slides, something about what was going on in that wonderful little country. But women do not hold the place here that they do in Finland; and accuracy of statement about their doings in other countries does not seem necessary to the ordinary English Social-Democrat. One word I may perhaps be allowed in closing. The capitalist papers, English and French have joined in a dirge about the lack of beauty among the Finnish women members. I have never hitherto observed that beauty among men was an essential attribute of either English or French members of Parliament but I have observed that press photography does not bring out what little beauty one may possess. But when I find one capitalist paper suggesting that the fight for equality may have eliminated all trace of feminine beauty, I paused to wonder if the newspaper fledgling, who hit on this brilliant suggestion, had ever observed the tens of thousands of women in his own country who, in the struggle for daily existence, had lost almost all trace of not only beauty but of humanity. It these lines should ever meet his eye, let him go and look at some of the women cleaning entrails for ten hours a day for 10s. a week at Deptford slaughter-yards; or at some of the battered women specimens of our swarming slums. The sight may supply him with new thought, and matter for a different sort of “par” But I doubt if a capitalist editor would take it!