Dora Montefiore

From a Victorian to a Modern

Work for Adult Suffrage and Visit to United States

On returning to England from my speaking tour in Holland, I took up work for the Adult Suffrage Society and later on, at the request of Miss Bondfield, the president, became honorary secretary. Our executive meetings were held at the headquarters of the Shop Assistants’ Union in Gower Street, and some of my co-workers at that period were Mr. Macpherson, Miss Keogh, Mr. Shaw, Miss Ward, Dr. Rose and Miss Vance. Branches of the Society were being formed in different parts of England. Sir Charles Dilke was our leader and special help in Parliament, and we had the backing of the Social Democratic Federation and of the Independent Labour Party, who both had on their official programme “Adult Suffrage.” Several demonstrations and large public meetings were held during this period; one especially interesting, when Clara Zetkin came over from Berlin to speak for adult suffrage, she having been the leading woman in Germany to advocate in her paper, Gleichheit, the enfranchisement, more especially, of the working woman. As our militancy had at last begun to open the eyes of men who had the power to help us, that women must not be left out of the next extension of the franchise to men, it seemed to me the right moment for us to press forward urgently the claims of all women, so that no class should remain unprotected by the vote, which connoted citizenship. Being also on the executive of the S.D.F., I was able to prevent the demand on their programme for adult suffrage being only a pious resolution; and when in August, 1907, I attended, as a delegate from the S.D.F., the Socialist International Congress at Stuttgart, I represented to the women’s part of the Congress the Adult Suffrage Society and explained what was the difference in outlook between the English Women Suffrage Societies, which were asking for the vote for some women, and the Adult Suffrage Society, which asked that when the promised manhood suffrage was granted, womanhood suffrage should be included. At this Socialist Congress I saw for the first and only time Frederick Engels and De Leon, the Socialist Labour Party leader from the States. I had read much of the writings of this latter, and always looked upon him as one of the clearest and most deeply thinking of the contemporary Marxists, so I was more than pleased to make his acquaintance. My special work at the Congress was on the colonial question, and I learned much from hearing the interpretations of Continental comrades, as to how these colonial questions had to be approached. Our proletariat being necessarily, and to some extent unconsciously, fellow exploiters with our bourgeoisie of our coloured colonial dependencies, were not class-conscious on this point, and I have often found it a difficult and troublesome task to get them to realise that their fellow workers of a different colour are used to keep down the white workers’ wages, and that in consequence, the cause of the exploited coloured workers is, in the last resort, the cause of the white workers. At the Women’s Congress some of the English comrades, led by Miss Macarthur, wanted to object to my credentials from the Adult Suffrage Society, because some of the members of its executive were not Socialists, but Clara Zetkin and Herbert Burrows stood by me, and eventually overruled the objection, which they realised was only an attempt to prevent the case for adult suffrage in Great Britain being presented to the Congress. However, it was presented, and by me, and one of the British Votes for Women organs subsequently stated that “Mrs. Montefiore spoke against Woman Suffrage.” In connection with this episode, Miss Bondheld later on wrote me the following letter:—

122, Gower Street, W.C.
29th August, 1907.


Are you at home? Could you give me a date on which you would he prepared to report on the International Congress to a general meeting of members? It should not be till after the T.U.C., as many of our London members are delegates there (26th September). I am most anxious to know what really happened! Also I am in a difficulty about a lecturer for the Fulham S.D.F. on 4th September, 9 p.m., at Lockhardts. Could you go? Subject: “Adult Suffrage.” Miss Engall is away on holiday, and I am trying with ill success to deal with the correspondence. Can we meet to talk over things? I return from Halifax on the 22nd. Could you have dinner with us at 13, Edward Street, on the 3rd September?

With kind regards,
Yours faithfully,

On leaving Stuttgart I had appointments to speak on Adult Suffrage at Vienna and at Budapest. The Suffrage friends who had invited me to come and speak made me the guest of their organisation the whole time I was in Budapest. I held two meetings, both extremely interesting; one in a hall where I spoke in English to an educated audience, most of whom understood my language. A judge of the High Court presided, and entertained me afterwards at a supper party; and the second meeting was on a Sunday in the open air, when I spoke in German to an audience of over 2,000 people. A small platform had been erected which accommodated myself and a police inspector, who took notes of all I said and if he at any time had considered that my speech was contrary to what the laws of Hungary allowed, he could have stopped me and declared the meeting closed. But his presence did not intimidate me, and I stumbled along in what must have been quite imperfect German, for it is one thing to carry on a conversation in German, and quite another thing to speak one’s thoughts on a most technical subject in the open air. After my meetings. I spent some very pleasant days among kind friends in Budapest and the surrounding country, visiting among .other places a model prison, quite one of the finest and most humanely thought-out institutions of the kind I had yet come across; for since my experience of an English prison I had made a point, wherever it was possible in the course of my travels, to visit the prison; and get some idea of the prison systems prevailing in the different countries. This particular prison had wide, light, unbarred windows, there was no solitary confinement, the prisoners working in shops under quite excellent conditions; and the food which I tasted as it was being prepared for dinner, was excellent in quality. I also, when visiting the home of an old Hungarian nobleman outside the town, was shown over a sugar factory in the neighbourhood, and watched the process of the crushing of the sugar beet. I then asked to see some of the homes of the workers, and found they consisted mostly of one room with mud floors; facing each “Home” were the pigsty and the pump for the water supply. The peasants went barefoot, excepting during winter, when both men and women wore long high boots. I should imagine, from the state of the roads in summer, that they would be almost impassable in winter.

On returning to England my work for the rest of the year consisted of meetings for Adult Suffrage under the auspices of the I.L.P. or for the National Socialist Women’s Committees, which had been formed under the auspices of the S.D.F.; and early in 1908 I note my diary records, “Marched with S.W. Ham women from Oxford Circus to Marble Arch. where we held a demonstration and carried a resolution for Adult Suffrage” (29th January). Then on the 12th February, when unemployment and great attendant suffering were rampant in the East End: “Went with W. Blatchford to Canning Town, where Mrs. Knight met us and showed us four dreadful homes, just specimens of what were the sweated conditions of the workers in that district. One woman was making knickers at 15d. a dozen, lined and finished, finding own machine and thread. A consumptive woman who had six children, four of whom were helping her in her trade of match-box making; and so on.” Later on, in July, I helped daily for weeks in the candidature of Herbert Burrows at Haggerston. On another occasion I took Mrs. Knight over to Paris on a flying visit to speak for the French suffragists at the Salle de la Sorbonne. We had a great reception, I speaking in French and she in English, which I translated for her. On the 10th September, 1908, the Clarion Scouts got up a demonstration for the amelioration of the conditions of the Hoppers; I was asked to help to lead the demonstration and to speak from Tower Hill. We met on the Embankment at 12.30 and marched with the demonstrators past Westminster, through the Strand, Fleet Street and Queen Victoria Street to Tower Hill, where we met the “Hunger Marchers” with the van they had pushed through England; and held a great meeting, addressed by Jack Williams, Hillyard and myself.

During the winter or spring months of these years I used to visit my socialist friends, Professor Herron and his wife at the Villa Primola in Florence, and find there rest and intellectual refreshment for the carrying on of my constant propaganda work. Nothing could exceed the charm of the home life in the Florentine villa, which was surrounded with gardens, old vineyards and orchards. Tradition told that Savaranola, during his stormy life, had more than once taken refuge there, and as it stood high on the road to Fiesole, one could imagine him watching from the terrace the morning mists roll away from the bed of the Arno, much as the corrupt mists of superstition have had to roll away from the minds of men and women before the morning rays of science. The Herrons’ two little boys, Rand and Georgino, though of American parentage, had been born in Florence, and it was planned were to pursue their studies in Italy, and I used to watch them from year to year as the little family group grew ever nearer to my heart. Mrs. Herron was a delightful pianist, and gathered round her on their Thursday evenings musicians from many lands. Then came like a bolt from the blue, sudden sorrow; a terrible operation, followed a year later by the death of my dear friend, and the break up of the lovely Italian home. Since then, in 1925, Professor Herron has died, and Rand, the elder boy, has come of age, and is studying at the Florence University. Thus old and tried friends pass away, and when as years increase, one stretches out a hand for understanding and sympathy, one is met either with the cold fleshless shadow of a dead hand, or with the warm, loving hand of youth, which, however, cannot (neither should it) understand or sympathise with an older generation. Once the Blue Peter shows that our long voyage is near at hand, those on shore who have still their little hour of work before them can only wave farewells.

In 1910 I went over to the States on a lecturing tour, travelling in the old “Arabic” (which was later on torpedoed during the war), and having among my fellow passengers Ella Wheeler Wilcox and her husband. We sat at the same table and I found them very pleasant and kindly fellow passengers. We landed at New York at 10 a.m. on the 2nd May, and both Mrs. Wheeler Wilcox and myself were immediately surrounded by a hovering crowd of interviewers, who insisted on our going on to the upper deck to be photographed. This landing, interviewing and customs business (a most minute and prolonged affair) prevented my enjoying the coup d’oeil of the entry into New York, to which I had been looking forward. I was met by a journalist friend, Mr. Barron, who drove me to the Brevoort Hotel, where I had engaged a room, and the next day attended a reception at the Astor Hotel, where Lawrence Irving, his wife and I were to speak on the Woman Suffrage question. This was the beginning of a series of speeches I made on the same subject, sometimes indoors and sometimes out of doors, in New York, Chicago, Mihwaukie, Boston and Buffalo. On the 6th May the City Federation of Women’s Clubs had a luncheon party at the Astor Hotel, at which I was one of the guests of honour, and had to make the usual after-dinner speech; and the next day I attended a very different sort of banquet, given by the Women Garment Workers’ Trade Union to Hilquit and some other socialist lawyers, who had defended the trade union members in a recent fight with the employers. Professor Herron had given me introductions to socialist friends in New York, and on the 11th May I attended a reception at the Rand School, founded by Mrs. Herron’s mother, when I spoke for fifty minutes and answered many questions. On the 13th I left for Chicago, where I stayed at the Chicago Commons Settlement, 180, Grand Avenue, of which Settlement Dr. Graham Taylor was the head. I was very fortunate in finding a vacancy there, as it was the centre of the Italian emigrants’ quarter, and I was thus able to see much of the Settlement work carried on by the College men and women both there and in other districts. As the greater part of my first week in Chicago was to be devoted to attending the Socialist Convention, which opened on the 15th, I was not able to undertake any speaking engagements till the 27th, but I was enabled, during the interval, to make the acquaintance of some of the best known and most intelligent socialists throughout the States, who gathered in Chicago for this Convention. On the first day I was very kindly asked to give a short greeting to Convention, though I had no mandate from any Socialist body, and was given a place on the floor of the house—that is, I was free to speak during any of the debates; but as I was there to observe and learn, I did not take advantage of this privilege. Unterman, Spargo, Victor Berger, Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, Theresa Malkiel, Josephine Conger, and Professor Hoxie and his wife, with hosts of other good comrades all gave me charming welcomes, and real hospitality, either at their homes or at gay luncheon and supper parties. One of my visits to the Chicago University stands out full of pleasant memories, when I was shown over the buildings that were exact copies of Magdalen with its hall and tower, and of Christchurch, all the gifts of American millionaires. At all the Universities I visited in the States the Women’s Hostels were a great feature with their fine old furniture and eastern rugs in their common rooms, their flowers, palms and well filled libraries. I was told everywhere: “You must not go back without seeing Maddison University; that is the most up to date, and one of the most beautiful.” So I continued to see all I could, always keeping in mind Maddison; and in the end I arrived there.

Professor Hoxie told me an amusing story about a recent visit to their home of two leading Fabians, whose psychology is embalmed in one of Mr. Wells’s novels. After they had retired to their room on the first night of their visit, the Professor and his wife sat talking for a few minutes in the sitting room, when they heard the visitors’ door quietly opened and two pairs of boots, a heavy and a lighter pair, were dropped out. Now in the States no hired girl or man ever cleans anybody’s boots, and both of the hosts knew that those boots just cast outside the door would, unless unhired help intervened, be found in exactly the same state on the following morning. So the Professor and his wife exchanged amused glances and a smile of understanding; he crossed with noiseless footsteps the passage, took up the two pairs of boots, retired into the back premises, and a quarter of an hour later placed two shiny pairs of well brushed boots outside the visitors’ door. This manoeuvre was repeated every night while the visit lasted, and on the day of departure the lady visitor expressed appropriately her thanks for hospitality, and added in best cultured tones: “I had always understood that the servant question was in the States the great difficulty, but you appear to have no such difficulties in your household.” And there is little doubt that they recorded in their voluminous notebooks that this subject of domestic difficulties had been evidently exaggerated.

Hull House Settlement was another great point of interest, though Miss Addams was away at the time at St. Louis, so I had not the pleasure of meeting her. It is one of the very fine old “Colonial” houses left stranded in a network of slums, which has been converted into what is almost the show Settlement of the world. Its beautifully proportioned dining-room, its auditorium, billiard rooms and outside restaurant are all redolent of the money lavished upon it by millionaires, who are always prepared to spend freely on philanthropy, on reforms that will keep present competitive conditions where they are, and prevent the workers demanding radical upheavals. I visited the Crane Day Nursery and roof school for tubercular children patients; and the Children’s Court, where the hall where the children and their parents waited for their cases to be called up, was painted gaily with bright and pleasant scenes, and had nothing about it suggesting a law court. I went into the building where the children lived who were under observation. A lady was at the head of this establishment, and I was told she had immense influence over the children, even over the bigger boys, who were what in Australia we should call of the “larrikin” class. The children during detention were doing all-kinds of handicraft work and some of the clay modelling I saw, done by children who had never had the chance before of handling clay for artistic purposes, was quite remarkable, and showed what undeveloped talent we have, only awaiting equality of opportunity, to express itself.

Whilst at the Settlement I spoke at the Montefiore School, which was originally founded as a Jewish school, but as the Italians have swamped all that quarter of the city, it is now an Italian school. A very good portrait of Sir Moses hung on one of the walls. I also saw at another school a wonderful kindergarten May festival attended by the children from all the kindergartens in the district. The little mites listened to fairy tales, danced round a maypole, and lunched demurely off crackers and honey candies. Then each child had a coloured paper garland hung round its neck, and a long stemmed American Beauty rose placed in its hand, and as they moved in complicated figures about the room, it seemed to be transformed into a real garden of flowers and dear children. Again I was told that the roses came from the hot houses of millionaires, who always respond to the appeals of the Settlements. On leaving with much regret Grand Avenue and the kind friends I had made there, I went to stay with a nephew and his wife near the Lake; and on the 3rd June attended a wonderful reception given to Mrs. Flagg Young in honour of her having been placed at the Head of the Secondary Schools in Chicago. It was the first time a woman had achieved such a success and the stage of the auditorium was almost knee-deep in the flowers and roses, which were strewn at her feet. What I did like in the States was the beautiful large-hearted hospitality they showed to visitors, and the responsive honour which they offer to outstanding talent or genius. By the 6th June I was in Milwaukie, where they had a Socialist Mayor and several Socialists on the School Board; among these latter, Victor Berger and his wife. I had letters here to the Head of one of the Settlements, and my intention was to stay there during my Milwaukie visit, but Professor and Mrs. Peckham most kindly invited me to stay with them, and after two or three days I found myself in their very charming home. Professor Peckham was at the head of the Public Library, and both he and his wife were scientists, and had together written a monograph on “Spiders,” which has an honoured place in the literature of science. I had scarcely settled down there when I was rung up from the Synagogue by the Rabbi, who wanted to know if I would speak on Sunday from his pulpit on Woman Suffrage. “I beg your pardon,” I replied, “it would be Saturday you mean, would it not?” “No,” he answered, “ours is a modern congregation, and we have our services on Sunday, as it is more convenient for business men.” I then explained that I was not a Jewess, though I was proud to have married into the Montefiore family; and that I therefore felt I had no standing which would enable me to address in a Synagogue a congregation of Jewish worshippers. He then asked if he might call round and try and persuade me, as I did not perhaps understand the position of these modern Jewish congregations. I asked my hostess if she would have any objection to the Rabbi calling on me, and as she had none, he came round within the hour. I had had, meanwhile, the time to think things over, and I felt more and more that as I was booked to speak several times in Milwaukie on Woman Suffrage, any members of the Jewish Synagogue who wished to hear me could come to my meetings. What I wanted to avoid was being used as a “stunt turn,” and I had to call up all my tact and savoir faire, to avoid hurting the feelings of Rabbi Hirschstein who, it appeared to me, was wanting to “bill” me in that sort of way. However, I got out of it at last, and we parted, I believe, quite good friends. Whilst in Milwaukie I visited various schools and high schools, and in neither did I see any poor-looking children; the equipment of the schools was everywhere excellent, and a cafeteria, where good cheap meals were supplied, was attached to the high school. I was also privileged to attend a meeting of the school board, and spent a day at the Downer School, a very beautifully situated girls’ secondary school.

On the 10th June I moved on to Maddison; here the Principal of the University, Mr. van Hise, met me at the station and drove me round the town, which is built on undulating ground between two lakes, each over four miles long. The University buildings are all inspired by Greek architecture, with colonnaded fronts, and the effect of these fine masses of architecture, crowning grassy knolls, and reflected in the shimmering lakes was quite delightful. After lunching at the Principal’s house, in a hall exquisitely panelled with oak and beechwood, and with windows overlooking the lake, I visited the various branches of the University, the Agricultural College, and the University Extension Department—a very highly developed branch—and later on watched the young men and women students as they strolled up from the lake where much boating was in progress, and noted the very natural and unselfconscious camaraderie that prevailed among them.

The next day saw me back at my nephew’s house in Chicago, where I was booked for more suffrage meetings and where I again experienced the very kindest hospitality in being made an honorary member of the Women’s Athletic Club, a most perfectly equipped club for rest and pleasure, on Lakeside. On my way back to New York I was able to visit Buffalo and Niagara; and after fulfilling more speaking engagement at New York, I went on with friends to Schenectady where I heard Debs make a wonderful speech, and after attending the Socialist Convention in that town, made my way over to Boston, where I was welcomed by Mrs. Corinne Brown. It was in Boston that I had a curious experience, which shows the difference in psychology between the American man and the Englishman in treating what is one of the ramifications of the sex question. I had spoken at one meeting in the afternoon, and was due to speak at another in the evening. Mrs. Corinne Brown and her daughter went with me, and we wanted to get a meal between the two meetings. Having fixed on a restaurant that looked attractive we went in, sat down and began to order a meal. “I am sorry,” said the waiter, very politely “but we can’t serve you ladies.” “Can’t serve us! Why not?” said Mrs. Brown, who was in her own country, and was offering me hospitality. “No, I’m sorry,” said the waiter, looking now quite uncomfortable “But why? Tell me why?” exclaimed Mrs. Brown who was naturally quick-tempered, and who was puzzled by the waiter’s manner. “Because we are not allowed to serve ladies who are unaccompanied.” This appeared to all three of us to be quite beyond a joke; so we asked to see the manager of the restaurant, who was just as polite as his waiter, but who repeated the formula “We cannot serve ladies who are unaccompanied.” “But after all, what does it mean?” I now butted it “Here are two ladies at this table who are grandmothers and yet, if a boy of eighteen, let us say, happened to be with us, we could be served with dinner, but without him we cannot have food put before us?” The manager bowed in acquiescence: “That is the position, ladies.” We looked at one another and burst into peals of laughter. There was nothing else that could meet such a situation. “I suppose,” I said as a parting thrust, as we prepared to leave this inhospitable restaurant, “that the ‘accompanied ladies’ are of such doubtful character that their escorts don’t care to be seen escorting them; so you have to close your doors to all decent women.”

Just as my meeting was coming to a close that evening, a young reporter whom I had known in New York came on to the platform and whispered to me hurriedly: “I have been kept at another meeting and could not get here in time, can you lend me any notes, or tell me something of what you have said?” “I will tell you nothing,” I answered, “but if you will wait till the meeting has closed I will give you a story for your paper.” And I did give him the whole story of our “diner manqué”; while his paper the next morning came out with illustrations of the restaurant, and of the English suffragist and her friends, who had been refused dinner there. It gave something to dull Boston to talk about.

On the 2nd July I left in the “Arabic” for England, and on the 28th October I left for Sydney, where my son, having finished his engineering studies, had already settled. As this period of my life contained some of my most active work for Socialism, I will leave the story of it to another chapter.

Next: Chapter X. Work in Australia