Dora Montefiore Justice 1910
Source: Justice, Our Women’s Circle, p. 5, March 12, 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
In connection with the Divorce Laws Commission which is now sitting to collect evidence on which to base legislation for the reform of our divorce laws, it is interesting to note that our comrade, Cunninghame wrote in the “New Age” of July 11, 1908 “Man had his children and his money protected, and his wife became his money slave, and has remained so to the present day. She will remain so until the marriage laws are changed; divorce (charter of liberty to women) made easy, and the dual contract, made soluble at the will of both, or either party to it, instead of being, as it too often is, a lifelong chain. By these means, and by legitimisation of all children and the abolition of the degrading custom of making breach of promise an actionable thing, women’s true freedom will be attained.” As has been observed, in the evidence given before the Commission there has been a universal consensus of opinion that the vulgar law giving damages in breach of promise cases should be abolished, and that equity before the law for men and women in divorce cases should be established; but I must criticise my comrade Cunninghame Graham’s remark that “divorce made easy will be a charter of liberty to the woman.” To the woman with a dower or a settlement — yes; but to the woman without economic independence, and who in many cases will have children to support, it will be a jump from the frying-pan of degradation into the fire of hardship. To those who realise that economic conditions are at the root of social conditions, the evidence given by lawyers, and which the capitalist papers call “startling,” is only one more object-lesson in the rottenness of the social garment which legislation is called upon to patch. Mr. Edward Heron Allen, a lawyer who has considerable divorce practice, tells how our present divorce laws “are an elaborate blackmailing machinery.” A wife is asked to consent to a separation; she refuses. A few months later she receives a letter from a solicitor, informing her that divorce proceedings are being instituted against her, and naming either a coachman, a gardener, a clergyman, or a doctor as co-respondent. She is also told that if she is not guilty she can deny the accusations upon oath in court, and her evidence will be published in the press. Rather than submit to the horrible ordeal of denying in public and of being cross-questioned about an action of which she is completely innocent, she agrees to the separation, whilst the imaginary co-respondent is often mulcted of a large sum in blackmail rather than have his life and career ruined by appearing even on such a charge. Our comment as Socialists is that a rotten economic system leads to a rotten code of public and private morals!
Friends and correspondents send me from time to time very interesting cuttings and comments; so that I have before me at the present moment quite a little collection of recent facts about the doings of the modern woman. In Berlin they have a woman policeman, Fraulein Margaret Dittmer, whose work consists in acting as the guardian of youthful delinquents, waifs, and children who are ill-treated by their parents. The former are committed to her charge to deal with as she sees fit, either to place them in reformatories or to restore them to their parents after she has investigated the circumstances. The waifs she places in orphanages; and in cases of parental cruelty which have been proved in court it is Fraulein Dittmer’s duty to visit the homes at irregular intervals to prevent the offence being repeated. The woman policeman dealt with 604 cases during her first year of service.
A woman lawyer has made her appearance in the High Courts of Edinburgh and conducted a case through counsel with much gravity and success. A young Irish girl, Miss Ina G. Richmond, has just been appointed manager of the Magherafelt Gasworks at Dublin. She worked for some time in the post office, and became an expert in telegraph and postal work. Later on she studied manufacture and distribution.
At a lecture on the emigration of women which I attended last week I heard a woman describe how she farmed a three hundred acre farm in Canada, and was taking out with her next month four other trained young woman, to help her in the farm work and eventually to start on their own account. I put in a plea at the close of the lecture that women should only be officially helped to emigrate to those colonies where they had the decency to enfranchise women politically; and I discovered later on, in the course of conversation with the woman farmer, how contemptibly Canada was behaving in the matter. Although that colony is crying out for women to come and help the men make “homes,” yet at the same time the authorities give grants of 160 acres to every man emigrant, but make the women pay for their land, and refuse to give them a single acre!
Women in China are also awakening, like the men, from their long slumber, and the following is an extract from a Chinese woman’s journal. “O, ye two hundred millions of Chinese, our sisters, listen! In China it is said that man is superior and woman inferior; that man is noble and woman vile; that man should command and woman obey. . . But we are not under the domination of man. The nature of man and of woman is the universal sense of heaven. How, then, can one make distinctions and say that the nature of man is of one sort and that of woman another? For the celestial principle has neither form nor figure.”
A very old friend of mine, writing from the country, tells me in her letter about a laundry, she started some years ago — partly because she found so much difficulty in getting the household and personal linen washed without chemicals, and partly because she was surrounded with poor women in an agricultural district, whose husbands were so badly paid that the women were thankful to have the offer of regular work — which meant, to them, being able to buy better food for the children. The writer says: “The laundry goes on. I do not think the game is worth the candle, and ladies are terrible people to have to deal with. Of course, I think it would be the same with any business; the one who pays would always be the one to cut down the earner. But I never thought the class I belong to would condescend to such smallnesses. I am sorry for poor women who have to battle alone. Laundry work is priced so low that to pay a decent wage to women, to enable them to keep themselves, it is impossible to make anything out of it. I don’t wonder that only the worst class take up the work. I have great difficulty in getting the class of women I like, and the work is beautifully done, but there is no excuse ever made for wind, weather, illness, or any of the many accidents that may occur. No word of praise to the women, but heaps of grumbles, usually without any foundation, as the ladies themselves acknowledge afterwards.” My friend does, not realise, and she would not believe me if I told her, that she and her women are engaged in a hopeless struggle against the prices that can be charged when linen is washed and got up by machinery. Hand laundries are, unfortunately for linen, one of the decaying industries; and her lady patrons want to squeeze the wages of the human being down to the scale of prices earned by the machine. Municipal laundries, as one of our women contributors has pointed out, are the only remedy, and women, through the use of the municipal vote, should agitate to get them established in every borough.