Dora B. Montefiore, New Age June 1905
Source: New Age, p. 410-411, 29 June 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I much regret that the writers of the “Life and Labour” column in a recent number of Daily News fell into the old error of classing together women and children in industry – with the avowed object of ousting them both. The subject under discussion in the article I allude to is the increase in the number of women employed in the boot-making and hosiery trade, and the consequent decrease in the number of employed men. For me the inference to be drawn from the statistics quoted is clearly that the only reason for employing these women in the place of men is that they are cheaper; and this is a fact that I entirely and unfeignedly deplore. The constantly-increasing substitution of ingenious and light machinery, which can be minded by women’s labour, brings daily more women into the labour market; and it should be recognised that the best way to help these women to keep up the rate of wages is to organise them in mixed Trade Unions with men, and to enfranchise them politically, as adult workers, on the same terms as men are, or may be, enfranchised. As regards the question of the employment of children in industry, our ideal should be to legislate against the employment of all children. Their place during their growing years is in the elementary or technical school, not in the factory or workshop. The anarchy prevailing now in industrial life is of a piece with the anarchy prevailing in most social and economic questions, and is the result of prejudiced and too often hastily devised sex-legislation; which – because it is not legislation for the people by the people, but legislation for men by men – reacts against those who inspired it, and makes their last state worse than their first. The writers in the Daily News remark: “In the meantime we must so alter the rules of the game that it shall be increasingly difficult to substitute the labour of women and children for the labour of men.” This is the masculine program more crudely stated than is usually the case. Such altering of the “rules of the game” is generally called the “protection of women and children.” Let, however, this interference with women’s labour masquerade as it may, the working woman is slowly but surely becoming an evolved, and conscious being; and is increasingly demanding the right to share in the task of “altering the rules of the game,” and to protect herself in the way which she herself thinks best.
Over and over again this column has been the means of ventilating the question of State pensions for mothers; and now the “Life and Labour” column in the Daily News is beginning fearsomely to lisp in the same accents, though it calls the proposed pension a “birth allowance,” and would only make it payable during thirteen weeks after the birth of the child. On the basis, of a calculation of 1,200,000 births in the year among necessitous families, this would cost the nation £2,600,000 per annum (not so much, perhaps, as the loss on one army store contract), but properly managed, it would be the best laid out money in the Empire. An allowance for thirteen weeks is, however, of, little use for a mother who feeds her child at the breast. She needs during six months good and nourishing food, and for the whole time that she is suckling her child her full State pension should be paid. The mothers of hand-fed babies should have the thirteen weeks’ pension and a free supply of sterilised milk till the child was six months old. We should then be attacking the root of the physical degeneration problem, which lies in the fact that the child of the average working-class family in England is, before it attains the age of six months, either underfed or improperly and ignorantly fed to such an: extent that its physique in after life must permanently suffer. Bad teeth, ricketty bones, chronic indigestion, anĉmia and neurosis, are all the results of improper or under feeding in infancy; and they can be best combated by giving the working-class mother the means and the knowledge that are necessary for the rearing of healthy citizens. Let me also remind the writers in the Daily News that it is healthy women, as well as healthy men, that we need; and that we need them even more as citizens and as useful producers than as soldiers. This reminder seems imperatively necessary in view of one remark in the article on which I am commenting: “Thus we could enable her (the working-class mother) to rear a man fit to go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard.” Surely this sort of remark is entirely out of place in a professedly democratic daily when dealing with vital problems connected with the life and labour of the people?
Mr. Belfort Bax evidently likes neither my “feeble witticisms” nor Mrs. Rowe’s “serious writings” in reply to “the simple points so humbly raised” in his letter of (I think) June 8th. Unfortunately, that letter, after having, as I thought, been answered, was destroyed, so I have not got it by me to refer to. A correspondent, however, suggests that I may not perhaps have made my meaning clear to all, that 75 per cent. of the husband’s wages that I claim for the working woman is, of course, for her to keep house with, pay rent, etc. It is because the married man, under the present state of the law, is not compelled to support his wife and children as long as they remain with him, that I make this claim. If the wife, finding the situation unbearable, appeals to the Guardians, the husband can then be forced to pay for her and their children’s support. I would wish this same result to come about without an appeal to the dreaded machinery of the Poor Law. My former answer, I must remind Mr. Bax, had its serious, as well as its lighter side, so I trust he, will not think I wished to evade meeting his “points so humbly raised,” or desired to crush him utterly with my sarcasm – “and such sarcasm.” The fact of the matter is, that as I looked upon him as past praying for on these questions affecting the other half of humanity, I thought it better, while not ignoring him altogether, to let him down easily. But since I find that his reading of my column was not a solitary instance of back-sliding, but that on his own showing he has indulged more than once in the dangerous practice, I think it now only right to warn him, kindly but solemnly, how easily bad habits are acquired, and how fatal sometimes are their consequences. If he desires to remain a logical, convinced, scientific, and beatific “masculinist” (I presume that is the right nomenclature for those who have evolved and who use the term “feminist”) let him beware how he dallies constantly over a column devoted to women’s interests. Let him at once take the pledge of abstinence from such noxious mental stimulus, and let him as a corrective go in for an invigorating: course of reading in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche; not forgetting to repeat every day the damnatory clause: “The Cardinal Feminist. Dogma of the moral and intellectual equality of the woman with the Man is an accursed thing. He that agreeth with this shall be saved; and he that agreeth not shall be – -!” After he has carried out this prescription for a month or six weeks, I shall be glad to hear from him; and hope by that time the serious symptoms will entirely have disappeared.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.