Dora B. Montefiore, New Age March 1905
Source: New Age, p. 201, 30 March 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Friends from many parts have sent me accounts of the recent Women’s Suffrage meeting at Queen’s Hall, which meeting is of supreme value as indicating the daily increasing political feeling in favour of the removal of our political disabilities. Most daily papers have published Mr. John Morley’s letter in which he alludes to the “retrograde step” which excluded women from work on public bodies that had before been open to them. That retrograde step, he tells us, has opened his eyes to the importance of forcing forward the question of votes for women, which question he had till then been content to watch gradually ripen. We most heartily welcome the active co-operation both of Mr. John Morley and of all our other influential Parliamentary helpers, for it is only by and through them that we can hope for eventual success; but many of us would like to see a more urgent and solid demand on the part of large masses of women, who still fail to take an awakened interest in the subject. The organised working women are strenuous and devoted in their demand for the political power which will help them to protect their industrial interests. The women who pay rates and taxes should not show themselves behindhand in their sense of responsibility, for tax-paying under the English constitution includes the right of control over the way the taxes are spent; and if we women neglect to force upon public opinion our every means in our power this sense of our responsibility we are most clearly neglecting our duty as citizens, and are proving ourselves deserving of the political contempt with which men too often treat us.
Women in the mass scarcely realise what their indirect power is, or under special circumstances might be. As a proof of what women’s power may be, even in time of war, at a period when men pride themselves more especially on the fact that they alone bear all the burdens of the defence of home and country, we should pay special attention to the recent utterances of one of the Japanese Ambassadors, who was interviewed on the subject of possible terms of peace. He is reported as having said that Japan could well afford to go on with the war, and drain the country of men to a much greater extent than was now the case, because in Japan the work of the country was carried on by the women to a greater extent than was the case anywhere else. Whether this condition of things makes for good or for evil in the race, I am not prepared (for lack of data about Japanese industrialism) to discuss; but the fact remains that women’s work, too often in Europe decried, underpaid, and restricted, may be, in times of danger to the State, of supreme and vital importance; and may supplement the work of the soldier in the field quite as efficiently as does that of the Civil Service, or the commissariat. Neither should it be forgotten that these working women of Japan are the mothers of the hardy little soldiers who have proved themselves more than a match for Russia’s Cossack and Ukrainian hordes. It is not work that degrades and destroys motherhood, but bad pay, over-long hours, insanitary and unsuitable slum dwellings, the proximity of dozens of slum public-houses, and an absence of all knowledge and art of living.
I am glad to note that Sir John Gorst has given notice of his intention of moving a reduction by half a million sterling on the education estimate, in respect of children who are attending public elementary schools in a physical condition totally unfit to receive the education. The Government, with its usual tortuous evasions, instead of acting on the Report of the Committee on Physical Deterioration, and on the resolution passed by such a large majority of delegates from trades and labour organisations who met lately in conference at the Guildhall, have decided to appoint another Committee “for the purpose of providing useful and precise information on the, physical condition of children in public elementary schools.” Such “useful and precise information” was already elicited by the late Committee, and can be read by all who are interested in the subjects in the report to which I have already referred. What is now required is not more Commissions and Committees, but the passing by Government of a short Bill empowering the local authorities, which are now the educational authorities, to provide two meals a day for all children attending elementary schools. If members of Parliament and the public need still more details on this most painful subject of the underfeeding of school children, who are compelled by law to attend school, let them read such articles as that in last week’s NEW AGE by a day school teacher, who signs “A.W. Merriman.” The article is a plain statement of hard facts, written without heat or party spirit, and it goes to prove that the food of the average elementary school child fails both in quantity and quality. White bread (from which all the nourishing qualities of the wheat have been extracted) and butter (too often margarine) are in many cases the staple articles of food; with the result that out of a class of 48, 27 boys had decayed teeth and suffered from toothache. Decayed teeth, as we know, mean in the long run dyspepsia and its attendant miseries; whilst in the case of children, whose brains are being taxed in close schoolrooms, a further strain is put on the digestive powers by the fact that the blood, which under the ordinary hygienic conditions that should obtain during the growing years, instead of being allowed by movements and exercise to circulate through and nourish the other organs of the body, is forced to the brain. A well-organised school canteen, in which wholemeal bread, pure country milk supplied by municipal dairies, fresh fruit and vegetables, and meat cooked and prepared so that its nourishing properties are retained, would not only arrest degeneration among the scholars of to-day, but would inculcate a different standard of feeding and of food preparation among those who will be the parents of the next generation.
This, question was forced on me after studying a most interesting map of France prepared by the newspaper Le Matin to illustrate the varying degrees of opinion throughout Paris and the provinces on the momentous question now being discussed in France as to the separation of Church and State. Till now, the State in France has endowed the Roman Catholic, the Protestant, and the Jewish religions, but the question of the withdrawal of these endowments is now under discussion in the French Chamber of Deputies. The Matin, after taking the average results of the voting in the various departments (voting based entirely on the masculine element in the community), declares that certain western regions of France are more or less opposed to separation, and that central and eastern regions are in favour of it. Without, of course, entering into the merits of the controversy, it appears to the unprejudiced onlooker rather a striking assumption that no count should be taken on such a subject (which concerns indirectly, one would imagine, spiritual interests) of the opinion of the women part of the community! It is conceivable that infants, lunatics, criminals, horses and dogs should not be consulted, but that half the adult community should have no say in a question which affects the higher and aspirational faculties of the human being, is surely to deny to that half of the community the possession of those higher and aspirational faculties!
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.