Southern Cross Society.
Wellington. J. H. Clayton, Printer, 43 Lambton Quay1895.
At the Inaugural Meeting of the Southern Cross Society.
I have been asked to state the objects and aims of this Society. These I will first state generally. The Society has been organised for the purpose of educating women, not women of any one class or opinion, but women from all classes and of all shades of opinions, to take a wide view of the questions of the day and to do all in their power to advocate reforms that will tend to benefit women, to promote their independence and equality and make life and the conditions of living easier and better for those women who have to depend upon their own exertions for their livelihood. Such in general are our aims, but to prevent confusion I shall just say a few words in explanation of each of the objects involved in our programme:—
1. The Education of Women in Political and Economic Principles.—I am sure we all feel that we require education in politics. It is only lately that women have obtained a voice in politics, and one can scarcely expect that we can be qualified to understand the science of politics and political economy without study and thought any more than one can expect to learn a foreign language by hearing the language spoken, or learn music by listening to the organ grinder. But I have been asked: What does economics mean? Does it mean economy in house-keeping? Well, yes it does, but applied as it is in our programme it means "political economy; the science of the production, distribution and exchange of wealth," and this includes a consideration of the application of the money or wealth of a country so as to procure such a distribution as will promote the well-being and industrial efficiency of the members of the community. I think we should get a goo 1 book on political economy, read chapters on the various subjects of general interest, and then we might be able to understand the political and economical questions of the day. It is absolutely necessary that we have a firm grasp of the elements of political economy before we venture to criticise the policy of any Government, take up any line of action, or adopt any particular views. We should not condemn what we only know by hearsay to be a wrong, and it is absurd for us to declare we are for or against any policy when we are in a mist as to wherein the faults or fallacies of such a policy consist.
As to Section 2.—The Promotion of Purity of Administration Both of the General Government and of Local Bodies.—To be able to give an opinion on this subject we must understand the working of institutions and we must not be too ready to jump to conclusions and find fault with any administration without good and sound reasons. Again, we should make ourselves conversant with the methods of Government, and if we find the laws have been broken by such abuses as appointment by favoritism or the dismissal of good officers in any department of general or local Government, so as to make place for friends of the powers that be, we may then be called upon as a society to make our voice heard in protest.
Clause 3.—To Insist Upon High Character as an Essential Qualification for Election to any Public Position.—In this clause I consider our strength and power as women will have the very best and fullest scope for action. But here again caution will be necessary. If we do not wish to brand ourselves as uncharitable or narrow-minded, we must have good and sufficient reasons for objecting before we take action. We women have, I think, in our hands the power to raise the standard of uprightness and purity of character in men. If we could devise any method by which we could make our influence felt in tins direction we should be able to strikeout the second clause of our programme as accomplished. Once we succeed in securing men of high character and purity of life to all our public positions, we need have no fear that the administration of Government will be disgraced by any abuses We of course can make a move in attaining the end which we desire, when the occasion arises, by urging the rejection of anyone whom we know to be unworthy, and, when we have the power, by choosing the best candidate. In that way and that way alone, I think we will improve the tone of public life, and men who are not able to bear the light upon their characters or actions will soon find it wiser to retire. We must make it known that no matter how clever a man may be we shall not accept him as the Women's candidate, unless his page break private and public reputation is such as to command respect and reflect credit upon his supporters.
Clause 4.—To Secure for Women Equal Remuneration with Men for Equal Work.—This clause I fear will be the source of a good deal of trouble to us. Many friends disagree with this, insisting that it is better for women that men should command higher pay, that it would be to the disadvantage of women if employers had to pay as high for their work as for the work of men, and that many employments now open to men and women would at once be closed to the latter if they demanded equal wages. I think we must make ourselves conversant with the opinions of leading men of the day upon this point. For my own part 1 consider this clause would be beneficial to women as it would tend to show how far and in what directions women are competent to compete with men. Where women succeed in doing the work equally well, and only if they do so, they are by right entitled to equal pay, and where women are found unequal to cope with men it is better that they should fall out of competition, and take up another line of work in which they would be more successful.
Clause 5.—To Advocate the Improvement of Laws Particularly Relating to Women.—This clause relates to such laws as the divorce law, laws pertaining to the rights of mothers over their children, to the lights of property and social conditions. I think we will all agree that in making men stand upon an equality with women in the divorce law we are only insisting upon justice and right in this matter; and in all social matters it is necessary for the protection of the weaker to put more rigid restrictions upon the stronger. We should study the laws that are brought before Parliament and make our influence felt in promoting justice and the cause of purity and right in our land. I think there is no need to take up the line that all women are angels and all men brutes, when we advocate our right to insist that men shall be judged by the same standard of purity as women, and that what is sin in a woman is equally sinful and reprehensible in a man, and must involve the same punishment. We have too long excused the stronger sex, and blamed and punished the weaker, when we all know that, if the stronger were subject to equal punishment, it would act as a lever to keep them in the right path.
No 6. Clause.—To Obtain the Extension to Women of the Right to Undertake Such Public Duties as the Society May Consider Suitable and Becoming to Women.—This clause I find has been the cause of much misapprehension, and many friends have thought we intended to support women as candidates for Parliamentary honors. I may as well emphasize the fact that not one of the originators of this movement is in favor of the candidature of women for seats in Parliament. We all agree that women require some years of education in politics before it would be becoming for them to come forward as politicians. Certainly I think if women were equally well qualified with men they have a perfect right to stand if they wish to do so and I consider it absurd to say women should not stand for Parliament because they should look after their homes and families, and it is not suitable for women to sit in the House and go home at all hours. I think any woman who was qualified to sit in the House, would be very well able to take care of herself and go home without any fear at any time. Do not professional nurses go through the streets at all hours to attend their patients? I never heard of one being molested in any way. Do not brave, noble women belonging to sisterhoods go everywhere quite safely, and are they not treated with respect, and honored by all men with whom they come in contact? We all know that strength is not and has never been our weapon. True virtue needs no bolts and bars. No one would expect girls of eighteen to stand for Parliament. Men never aspire to a seat till they have come to years of discretion. Neither will women. It is very well for women with homes and children to object to women in the House. There are hundreds of women who can never have husbands and children to look after, whose energies might be devoted to helping on the cause of right, justice and good government instead of spending their lives in utter uselessness and becoming a prey to nervous diseases for the want of some object in life. Women need never fear that unsuitable women will come forward, and I don't think we need trouble about objecting to women standing for Parliament till they wish to do so; and when the time comes for a woman to undertake the responsibilities and she has the necessary ability, I hope we will not be narrow-minded enough to reject a woman who is qualified for a man who is not suitable. Our object is to have women on Hospital Boards, Education Boards, School Committees, Char table Aid Boards and any other position for which women are equally suitable with men. I think we need to go slowly and find really suitable women as candidates, women without domestic responsibilities, who have time and ability to attend to the duties required. It is difficult to get women to come forward, but there must be many who would willingly have some real object in life; and we must try and instil into the minds of such the hope of doing good, and enthusiasm for the good work.
No 7.—To Improve the Administration of Charitable Aid.—This is or has been our stumbling block. We do not intend or wish to organise any form of charitable aid. We consider there are too many societies dispensing charity. All seems to be in confusion. page break People who are unworthy in many cases receive assistance, and those who are in want are not even known. Our idea is that there should be something done to prevent the constant overlapping of charitable aid societies, and ensure the deserving poor receiving necessary help without the publicity that is humiliating to them. If a central board with district boards and visiting committees was organised all cases would be properly investigated and no one in need would be over-looked. Of course we would wish women to be district visitors, and members of the different boards. Waste would be done away with to a great extent and unauthorised collectors and distributors would not be required. It would be much easier to raise voluntary subscriptions if the donors were certain that their gifts would be expended for the benefit of the worthy and deserving. Our idea is to endeavor to have a scheme of this sort tried in Wellington but not to collect or distribute as a society. We shall wish to have a voice in the election of visitors and members of the Board.
No 8.—To Promote Temperance.—To insist upon the licensing laws being rigidly carried out, and the members of the licensing committees being of a reliable character. I don't know whether the members agree with me, but I certainly think that one of the most vital causes of intemperance, amongst our growing youths, is the employment of barmaids. I think it should be against the law for women to dispense drink. Many young men just go to the bar for the sake of a chat with a pretty girl and don't like to come away without taking something. They would never dream of going into a bar if a man was serving. We, as women, can discourage the habit of drinking intoxicants by girls and men, by quiet example, and perhaps do much that will tend to help our cause in the end. Individually, I should like to see the sale of drink prohibited, but whatever our views on this subject may be we can have no difficulty in agreeing to support any proper means for the advancement of temperance reform. Unfortunately, temperance is through hereditary, mental and physical weakness, utterly impossible to many. Those we can do our utmost to persuade to adopt total abstinence and make the laws such that it is a crime to give drink to men and women who are thus made unaccountable for their actions and a menace to their fellows.
Clause 9.—To Afford Facilities for Meetings for the Study and Discussion, of Social Political, Economical, Educational and Literary Subjects, and Generally to Carry on Suce Useful Work as the Society May Consider Suitable.—I think this clause explains itself, and I shall just say a few words in conclusion. We do not wish to be considered a society for the suppression of mankind. We only desire that the women of the colony should have equal rights with men, and not be debarred by law or prejudice from living the fullest and free life that they may be qualified by education to live. Women need not be compelled to exist on the charity of brothers and relations, if they can earn their own living and make such wages as are necessary to comfortable existence. Women wish to take part in the life and work of the Colony. I don't think there is any need to fear that women will allow public functions to interfere with the discharge of their home duties.
We shall be most happy to elect gentlemen as honorary members and accept 5s as a fee from those who wish to join us. Money will be required for our room etc., and women like we will permit men to assist us in providing the necessary funds. We shall also be most happy if any of our gentlemen friends will address us from time to time, and let us benefit by their greater experience and wisdom. We are only beginning to use our wings and must sometimes rest upon branches of the tree of knowledge and experience that has taken centuries to come to maturity, or we may get some bruises that will take some time to heal. We shall insist upon our right of equality, not forgetting that in unity of thought, hope and aim our strength lies. We hope that by obtaining equal rights, we shall instead of making life harder for men, make it much better, and that they will see that the recognition of our mental equality, will tend to make those who are destined to become wives and mothers more pleasant and agreeable companions. Homes will be more happy when the wife is able and willing to take part and advise her husband in every department of his work and share his aspirations as well as his daily cares and sorrows.
"And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time,
Sit side by side, full summ'd in all their powers,
Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be,
Self-reverent each and reverencing each
Distinct in individualities
But like each other ev'n as those who love."