Dora Montefiore Justice 1910

Our Women’s Circle

Source: Justice, Our Women’s Circle, p. 5, April 2, 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

As I am writing for women all over the country I know they will expect a word about the Conference, which came to an end on Sunday with two splendid public meetings at the Public Hall, Canning Town, and the Stratford Town Hall. They will find detailed reports of the proceedings in other columns, so I shall only here allude to two points — one of commendation and the other of criticism — and shall put the pleasant one first. There is little doubt that the soul of Socialism is evolving, and is beginning to do the dynamic work of the soul, which is to move the body. That work was manifest to all comrades at our Easter Conference, when the wonderfully trained Marxian choir of Welsh miners came from their native hills and valleys to give us comrades in London a rare aesthetic and spiritual treat, culminating in the singing of the “International” as I have never heard it sung before in our country. That song is the lapping, linking flame of class solidarity, which is rapidly spreading round the world, as the workers and the downtrodden in every land awake to consciousness and join in its thunderous strains. As I listened to the words “Unites the human race,” a sentence from the speech of Professor Lester Ward, delivered last year at the annual meeting of the “Plebs” League, came into my mind: “What do we hear all over the world? Nothing but the subterranean roar of that great mass of mankind, infinitely larger numerically than all the other classes put together; that class is rumbling, and seething, and working, and coming to consciousness; and when they do come to consciousness, they will take the reins of power in their hands, and then will have been abolished the last of all the social classes.” We delegates also felt all the charm of a very real welcome expressed in the detailed and refined arrangements for the commissariat; in the beautiful flower decorations of the hall, and in the provision of stationery for our use at the tables. Our East End women comrades undertook a large share in the organisation of this welcome, and the success of their efforts made us feel that this evolving soul of Socialism was going to owe much of its resistless and compelling force to the revolutionary spirit of the “eternal feminine.”

Now for a word of criticism. I much regretted that in a long agenda of 75 items no room could be found by the Standing Orders Committee for the one item which interested specially the wives and mothers who are working in the Socialist ranks. The item I allude to is “State Pensions for pregnant and nursing mothers.” Every condition of present-day industrialism is making it daily more and more difficult for working-class parents to ensure sufficient food, housing, clothing, and medical attendance for themselves and their children. In the interests of the future race the mothers and infants must not be kept waiting, otherwise physical and mental deterioration, begun under pre-natal conditions, cannot later on be arrested. It is only the mothers of the race who realise, perhaps, what this intense and increasing economic pressure is on working-class mothers; and there was a desire that the question should be brought forward and discussed by men and women comrades at our yearly Conference. We women have sent up a resolution on the subject to the Copenhagen Congress, and hope to make it an international demand, for, as Helena Simon, a German writer, says in her book, “Schule and Brot”: “The child must not be kept waiting. There must be no ‘to-morrow’ when this question of the protection of infant life is spoken of .... Where must this protection begin? Certainly long before the birth of the child.” Don’t’ forget these two quite recent cases, my women comrades, one reported in the “Star” of March 24, and the second, which occurred on Good Friday! The mother of little, Edward Brewer, aged 41/2, had been deserted for 18 months by her husband, a motor-car driver. She had three childre, the youngest six months. She had applied for parish relief, but the Guardians only offered her the House, which meant separation from her children; so the four continued to starve in silence. One day the mother went out to try to get some food from the children’s grandmother — also a poor woman. Little Edward, during her absence, stood in front of a small fire, and, looking up the chimney, asked Father Christmas to send down some food, as he was so hungry. The flames caught his clothes, and the mother returned to find the poor little fellow so badly burned that he died soon afterwards. The capitalist papers report the second case as “An Out-of-Work Tragedy.” A man of the name of Turner lost his work two weeks ago at the Godstone Gas Works because he had a weak heart. He returned home the other day, after deciding with his wife that they must give up their cottage at Godstone and go into rooms at Reading, where he might be able to get casual work, to find his six weeks-old baby dead in the garden, murdered by its mother, who afterwards cut her own throat, and who before dying made a statement “that she had been very hungry, and had had no breakfast.” Now, these things happen every day, because the capitalist system under which the means of life are produced and distributed is breaking down at every point; and I maintain that in the economic chaos ensuing none feel the actual pressure more than do the temporarily helpless pregnant and suckling mothers. There are two lives involved in these tragedies of motherhood; two lives suffering the lingering, sickening pangs of slow starvation. Why should the motherhood of England wait? Let the women of England answer!

Labour Exchanges.

According to one of our dailies, 41,024 have applied for work at the Labour Exchanges, and 5 per cent. of those who have registered have found work; whilst out of 3,338 women who registered 169 obtained situations. The figures speak for themselves; one more evidence that our present production of wealth for profit, and not for use, is completely played out.