Dora Montefiore Justice 1910

The Midwives Bill and Poor Law Relief

Source: Justice, Our Women’s Circle, p. 5, April 23, 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I want to call the attention of women to the effect that Clause 17 of Lord Wolverhampton’s Midwives Bill may have on poor ho’ — through the automatic action of such a clause, may, with their husbands, become paupers. Under present conditions the law provides that in cases of a difficult confinement the midwife is under a statutory obligation to summon a doctor; but at the same time there is no statutory provision for the payment of the doctor. The law, in fact, is on the same lines as that which forbids a woman working for wages within four weeks of her confinement, but makes no provision for supplying her with the extra food and comfort which she requires at such a time.

Both aws are therefore evaded as often as possible, and the last case of the working-class mother is most ingeniously made worse than the first. In many instances, as regards the Midwives Act, the various Boards of Guardians have, on the suggestion of the Local Government Board, and without legal warrant, been paying the doctor’s fees when he has been called in under the Midwives Act; such fee is entered as parochial relief to the woman and her husband (who, be it remembered, have not personally applied for relief); the relieving officer is sent to make his hateful inquiries, and the names of the woman and her husband are recorded as paupers, are included in the statistics of pauperism, and they incur certain voting and legal disabilities.

The Government is now proposing to make compulsory this most unjust arrangement; and if the clause is not vigorously opposed and defeated will legally brand as paupers thousands of working-class couples, merely because the Board of Guardians will pay the fee of a doctor whom Parliament (and not the man and woman) has chosen to call in. The following extract is from a report of a recent meeting of midwives, and is quoted by Mrs. Sidney Webb in a letter to one of the daily papers: —

“A meeting was held at the East End Mothers’ Home on March 8, at which Miss Paget presided, and there was a good attendance of midwives. The question of doctors’ fees was discussed. The chairman spoke on the question, and then asked the midwives present to give their experience. All agreed that since the Guardians of both Boroughs had promised to pay the fee when the patient was too poor to do so, they had not much to complain of with regard to the doctor; but a great many of those present spoke of the way in which the relieving officer went (in some cases the same day) and worried the patients with questions as to their power to pay the fee themselves. One midwife said her patient hail been so upset by the officer’s visit that her temperature went up, and the midwife feared she would have to send for the doctor again. In one case the father lost half a day’s work because he was summoned before the Board, when he said it was impossible to pay both doctor and midwife out of his weekly wage of 21s., and inquiries were made at the firm where he worked to verify his statement as to wages. If the Guardians are going to pay the doctor in necessitous cases, midwives feel they ought to have a different way of collecting information on the subject.

The worst feature of the case yet remains to be stated. At present, even if the Board of Guardians does pay the doctor, the woman (and her husband) need not, if they knew their rights, give any heed to this officious action. They cannot be forced to accept parochial relief. They need not accept it on loan and they are under no legal liability to reimburse the Guardians at all. They could even successfully restrain the Board of Guardians from entering their names as paupers. The Local Government Board, is aware of this. Now the Government is proposing compulsorily to make these poor People paupers, merely because the Board of Guardians has chosen to pay (not to them) a fee to a doctor whom Parliament (not they) has chosen to have called in.”

“The Less Desirable Class of Women.”

Here is a new and delightfully convincing argument for the anti-suffragists presented to them by President Taft. When addressing recently the delegates of the National Woman Suffrage Association at Washington, he told them that he considered one of dangers of granting female suffrage was women as a whole took no interest in the matter, and the ballot would therefore be controlled by what he called, “the less desirable class of women.”

It would have been interesting to try and extract from the President the information as to what class of woman was in his mind when he spoke thus. One desires to think he has made some sort of study of the question and that his remark was based on documentary evidence. What, then, must be the feelings of the women in the four States of America where the State franchise has been exercised by women for some years? Do they consider themselves as among “the less desirable class of women"?

Then, again, if President Taft turns to the Commonwealth of Australia, where women have polled lately as heavily as 75 per cent. in the recent elections — does that 75 per cent. represent the opinions of “the less desirable” of their sex? and does the 25 per cent. who abstained represent the small minority of “desirable women” in the Commonwealth? The same inquiry may be pushed to its logical conclusion in New Zealand, Tasmania, and Finland, in all which countries women are enfranchised as individuals, and not as representatives of property; is it, we may well ask, “the less desirable class of women” who are agitating in all these countries for social and temperance legislation, or who are helping to return to Parliament Socialist and Labour candidates? From what sources, we would ask, does President Taft collect his information, and on what statistics does he base his theories? It would be interesting also to know whether in America there exists “a less desirable class of men,” and, if so, what effect they have in influencing the ballot.

The State Maintenance of Child Bearing Women.

I desire to call the special attention of comrades to the meeting on Thursday, April 21, at 8 o'clock, at Clifford’s Inn Hall, when Dr. Saleeby is the principal speaker on the above subject. Under capitalism the child of the worker is designated habitually as an “encumbrance”; and industrialism, pressing, as it does, every year harder and harder on the weakest in the community, crushes out the child-bearing working-class mother and her infant, through months of torture and semi-starvation, and raises to an appalling extent the statistics of infant mortality. It is to save the future citizen, and to raise the status of motherhood, that we are agitating for the State maintenance of childbearing women.


Dora Montefiore Justice 1910

The State Maintenance of Child-Bearing Mothers

Source: Justice, Our Women’s Circle, p. 3, April 30, 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The meeting called by the Socialist Women’s Bureau to discuss how best to bring pressure on the Government so as to obtain some measure of organised official maintenance in place of the haphazard and degrading Poor Law relief, lying-in hospital, municipally and charitably provided meals for pregnant and suckling mothers, municipal free milk, and pensions from employers which are the present order of the day, was to this extent a success that it emphasised the very urgent need of such pensions from the point of view of a scientific man who is not a Socialist; and it explained, from the point of view of a woman who has made economic and social questions her special study, how such pensions could be obtained now at an annual cost of five millions a year — a sum which to an enormously rich nation like ours is preposterously small when taking into account what the effect would be on the health and well-being of the race.

Dr. Saleeby, as a Eugenist, has made a special study of the child-bearing mother, and the conditions under which child-bearing and suckling are most favourably carried on, both with regard to mother and infant life, and his verdict is that the woman at such times needs complete rest from manual work, as the marvellous work that is being carried on within her for the formation of a new being makes such calls upon her vitality that she is incapable of other effort. He further demands that the father should be forced by the State to provide suitably for his wife at such times, so that she may be able to take this complete rest from paid work outside, or from exhausting drudgery in the house. But we did not learn from him how he proposed, under the present industrial system, to make the fathers pay what the majority of them do not possess, or how the pregnant wives of unemployed, invalided, or imprisoned men, or how widows and their infants, were to be provided for.

Here Miss Murby stepped gallantly into the breach, and with facts and figures proved that already there were hundreds of thousands of child-bearing women whom Nature or industrial pressure had already deprived of the support of a husband, and then she turned and asked Dr. Saleeby how, given their extreme existing need (according to his own showing) these women and their children were here and now to be provided for?

She then (though acknowledging that until the community obtained possession of the means of life there could be no adequate provision made for those who are serving the State by bringing into the world and nurturing healthy children) was able to prove that by the expending of the comparatively small sum I have already mentioned prenatal and post-natal degeneration can be arrested, and the mother be set free from the harassing and degrading conditions that beset motherhood at the present time.

Dr. Saleeby answered a number of questions after the meeting, some of which were put with the object of demonstrating that he was wrong in his theory that drunkenness on the part of the father was the reason, in most cases, why the wages of the workers were not sufficient for the satisfactory support of wife and children, and there was no doubt the audience as a whole felt that what was as usual wrong with the poor was poverty, and always poverty. The lecturer finally acknowledged, converted perhaps by the well-put economic arguments, of the Socialists present, that what he wanted then and always to emphasise was the biological need of better food and more rest for our working-class mothers; and that if the Socialists could meet that need, he had no objection to the palliative coming through Socialism. It is for us Socialists, therefore, to work on this growing scientific conviction that the race is being destroyed at its source through the increasing pressure of industrial conditions on the weakest links in the social scale — the child-bearing mother and her infant — and to carry forward a continuous agitation on the subject, both nationally and internationally, until such a disgraceful blot on our present civilisation is remedied.

Au Revoir.

I have written this brief account on board, the White Star liner “Arabic” as she lies alongside the wharf at Liverpool, before starting on a trip to the United States. As I know from correspondents who write me from time to time, I have “Circle” friends and comrades in many parts, and I hope not to break the link formed by this column in “Justice,” but perhaps to strengthen it, whilst on my travels, for I hope to learn much about the American movement, and to meet face to face some of those splendid women comrades who write for the “New York Call” and for the “Progressive Woman.” The joy of Socialism is that we find friends and comrades and fellow-workers in every land. So I only leave some for a time to find others; I only turn my back on Socialist work of one sort to plunge into Socialist work of another sort. The gong is sounding for passengers to go ashore, and all is stir and leave-taking. The Bishop of Ontario sails with us; some American girls chatter at the doorway of the library where I am writing; one of them tells the other “she is crazy” to go on the upper deck and wave to her friends on shore. A movement which is not the Socialist movement takes possession of the huge floating town which is to carry us across the Atlantic, and I hasten to finish and seal up my article, and deliver it to the steward — for literary effort is an uncertain quantity on the ocean.