The National Council of Women of New Zealand
The present meeting of delegates from the various Women's Societies in New Zealand, may be considered a favourable and fitting opportunity for organising and forming a Woman's National Council for New Zealand.
Some time ago I received a letter from Mrs Eva McLaren, foreign corresponding secretary of the Inter-National Council, requesting me to allow myself to be nominated as president of a Woman's National Council for New Zealand. At first I declined as I was afraid my health and domestic responsibilities would prevent me from fulfilling the duties of the position in a satisfactory manner; but when I was informed that Mrs Sheppard had consented to become corresponding secretary, and undertake the more arduous part of the work to be done, I wrote to Mrs McLaren accepting the office of president pro tem. Of course after the New Zealand Council is organised, the delegates will be called upon to confirm the nominations of the Inter-National Council, or elect a president and corresponding secretary of their own choosing. I shall now give you a short sketch of the initiation of the idea of an International Council of Women composed of delegates from national councils, which are in their turn composed of delegates from the many and various women's societies, engaged in political, social, professional, religious and industrial work. Twelve years ago Mrs Cady Stanton of the United States during a visit to Europe, proposed that a convention of women, with the object of organising those in favour of the enfranchisement of their sex should be held in Washington on the fortieth anniversary of the famous first Women's Rights Convention, which was held in Seneca Falls. New York. Miss Susan Antony expanded the idea so as to include the co-operation of all women working for educational, religious, philanthropic and political progress. In the year 1888 the first convention was held in Washington, U.S., at which Mrs Wright Sewall proposed a plan for the formation of National Councils in every country, which should meet every three years, and be composed of delegates from women's societies. These national councils should be affiliated to an International Council, which should be composed of delegates from the National Councils, and should meet every five years. The National Councils were intended to concentrate the power of existing organisations without multiplying the number of such organisations. The nineteen societies of American women which were represented at the Convention, and the delegates from various societies in seven European countries, were favourable to the idea, and appointed a committee to prepare formal constitutions for the permanent bodies or councils. Before the delegates separated the constitutions were accepted and recommendations adopted that the officers of the National Council should issue an address to the women of the United States explaining the objects of the new organisation, and those of the International Council should take measures to "secure the co-operation of women in all countries (irrespective of race or creed), in this movement tor the promotion of sisterly understanding, sympathy and love."
The constitution committee in their report expressed the opinion that such an organisation would be of much benefit in increasing the sum total of womanly courage, efficiency and esprit de corps; that it would tend to widen the horizon by bringing together women of the most diverse views on all subjects who would thus be able to appreciate the fact, that, though they were opposed radically to one another in religion or politics, they were at one upon the common ground of unselfish devotion to the advancement of humanity and the social and moral improvement of the race.
The meeting together of women of all classes who had been brought up under the most diverse conditions, could not help showing some good results. Many living alone in country districts, and confined perhaps to one small village during the whole of their lives, would, no doubt, be astounded by the wider and more enlightened opinions that they would hear expressed by women who had seen the world, and had dug deep into the funda- page 2 mental truths that govern the social, political, and religious thought of the day. By such discussions as were held each one gained a broader and truer plane of vision which was thus expressed in the feeling embodied in the preamble of the constitution of the permanent National and International Councils:—" Sincerely believing that the best good of humanity will be advanced by greater unity of thought, sympathy, and purpose, we hereby bind ourselves together in a confederation of workers committed to the overthrow of all forms of ignorance and injustice, and to the application of the golden rule to society, law, and custom."
The first meeting of the International Council was held at Paris in 1889 in connection with the French Exhibition. I have no report of what was done; but understand that the meeting was so successful that the delegates were encouraged to continue further organisation on the same lines.
The first meeting of the Federated National Council of Women of the United States was held in Washington in 1891, three years from the time of its organisation, and at that meeting Mrs Potter Palmer, President of the Board of Managers of the Columbian Exposition, on behalf of that body, extended a cordial invitation to the National Council to hold the proposed World's Council of Women in Chicago, at the time of the Columbian Exposition. This convention, which was to be called the World's Congress of Representative Women, was to meet for the purpose of holding a Memorial Congress in celebration of the progress of women throughout the world since the discovery of America in 1492. The National and International Councils appeared at this Memorial Congress simply as representatives of one feature of women's work and progress, namely, that of their ability to organise women's work and make their power effectual. The success of this congress was mainly due to the organised work of the National and International Councils that preceded its convocation.
At this meeting of representatives from various European countries to the International Council, delegates were appointed to organise National Councils in their respective countries. As a result of the work done by these delegates National Councils were formed and affiliated to the International Council in Canada, France, Germany, Belgium and Finland. Steps are being taken to form a National Council in Denmark by those interested in the Danish Women's Association, a Society which has done much work with the object of securing the rights of property to married women. Miss Margaret Windeyer is working in New South Wales with the object of forming a Council, and Mrs Sheppard and myself have been authorised to initiate the movement in New Zealand. I hope that we shall succeed in federating the numerous and vigorous women's societies in New Zealand into a Council which will be strong and powerful to advance the progress of our country, and help on the women of other lands to the attainment of the fuller freedom that we have gained. The British National Council has appointed Lady Henry Somerset president, Lady Francis Balfour vice-president Mrs Bedford Fenwick secretary, Miss Louisa Stevenson treasurer, and Mrs Eva McLaren corresponding secretary.
The British National Council held a most enthusiastic meeting on June 27th at which Lady Henry Somerset made an eloquent and vigorous speech, in which she pointed out the wonderful power for good that a National Council would have in England, and the advantages that such an organisation would have as an educating force.
Mrs Croby, the founder and President of the "Sorosis" the first women's club in New York, advocated the co-operation of women which pointed in the direction of absolute unity. She explained how the "moral and social regenerative force of a great body of women becomes almost infinite and practicably irresistible."
The British National Council is to be hostess on the occasion of the next meeting of the International Council which will he held in London in the summer of 1898. Many national councils are expected to he represented, amongst which I hope the delegate from New Zealand will take a prominent position. The officers of the International Council are President, the Countess of Aberdeen; Vice-President, Mrs Wright Sewall; Treasurer, Baroness Alexandra Grippenberg, Finland; Corresponding Secretary, Mrs Eva McLaren; Recording Secretary, Madame Maria Martin, France.
It is unnecessary to enumerate the advantages of belonging to such a wide reaching confederation of women as is represented in the National and International Councils, composed as they are of representative women of all nations holding the most diverse opinions, but bound together by sympathy in the earnest desire to further the advancement of women's work, and to promote the cause of freedom and social progress and the sisterhood of humanity.
I shall now read the form of constitution of the British National Council, and its aims and objects as specified by the secretary, Mrs Bedford Fenwick, at the meeting held in London on the 12th December of last year.
|1.||To unite all organised societies of women for mutual council and co-operation, and in the attainment of justice and freedom for women and for all that makes for the good of humanity.|
|2.||To encourage the formation of societies of women engaged in trades, professions, and in social and political work, in connection with which no organised union exists.|
|3.||To affiliate with other national councils of women for the purpose of facilitating international conference and co-operation.|
|1.||All organised societies of women in sympathy with the national policy and which shall be invited by the Executive Committee to send representatives.page 3|
|2.||Distinguished women who shall be termed councillors. The honour of life membership to be conferred upon such by the council.|
|3.||Representative women workers, who may be invited to take a seat on Sectional Committees by the Executive Committee.|
Each society affiliated to the National Council shall pay an annual subscription of £1 for each of its delegates, and shall be entitled to one delegate for every 1000 members or fraction of 1000 members. It is proposed that the National Council of women shall be organised in four divisions.
Each division would be divided into as many sections as might appear desirable.
Each section would be composed of delegates from the societies engaged in the special department of work represented by the section.
The sections would meet as often as might be necessary to consider matters relating to their special work, and pass such resolutions or take such action thereto as might appear to be advisable.
As each section would in time doubtless represent all the chief workers in its department, any resolution which it passed after due deliberation would certainly have the greater effect and influence both with the public and with everyone engaged in its sphere of action.
Such is a clear statement of the aims and object of the British National Council of Women and the form of its constitution.
It will be seen that each section is a unit which concentrates the efforts of all the societies engaged in special work of its department of woman's work, and this has the effect of intensifying the work of such societies and making the work done more practical and wide-spread. Each society would by their representatives in the section be made acquainted with the work done in similar societies and thus prevent much waste of energy by the constant overlapping of efforts which at present exists.
In the industrial section, for instance, which would consist of women representing all the organisations of women's labour, much might be done by extending the scope of work hitherto undertaken by women, and many new branches of work for which women are suited might be started and carried out to a successful issue by co-operation. For instance, such work as dairy-farming, fruit and vegetable growing and poultry rearing, as well as flower growing and bee-keeping, all of which would be most suitable, desirable and healthy occupations for women, would be encouraged and facilitated by the meeting of women in council and the discussion of ways and means by which such occupations might by co-operation be made productive and established as branches of women's work. Meetings of delegates from Trades Unions, such as tailoresses' or factory unions, would be of much benefit to women in organising and regulating the wages and payment of operatives, and would bring together women who fully understood the difficulties of employers as well as the requirements of the employees, and would tend to a more equal adjustment of obligation and responsibility. Of course the employers' societies would be represented as well and would be brought into contact with the representatives of the workers thus learning the requirements and grievances of the latter from the wider range of national as opposed to individual interest.
The professional sections would comprise delegates from societies of women engaged in medical, nursing, teaching, artistic or dramatic occupations, or any other professional work in which women might be engaged. The professional sections would undertake the work of securing legal status for women and greater equality and justice in the matter of remuneration and position, than are granted to women in the professions at the present time.
The political sections would undertake the revision of laws particularly relating to women and children and to the advancement of the political equality and influence of women. Amongst these the equalisation of the divorce laws and the improvement of the laws relating to illegitimacy, the rights of property and probate would be considered. In relation to this section I may explain that so far as the laws relating to illegitimacy, rights of property and probate are concerned the laws that have been passed in New Zealand fulfil all the requirements of justice both to women and children. We still require improvements in our divorce laws and some amendments in the laws relating to seduction and the raising of the age of consent, as well as the repeal of a law which is an insult to our women and a menace to the morality of our youth; a law that is not based on the equality of the sexes nor on any sanitary foundation.
The social sections would include the representatives from all societies interested in social reforms and progress, and in religious and philanthropic work. The work undertaken by this section would comprise all civic, domestic, and hygienic reforms and improvements, and would be the one in which women would be able to utilise their hereditary and special training, and effect most beautiful results. In the discussions on domestic reforms women have a wide field in which to advocate such improvements in domestic arrangements as would tend to economy both in material and in labour. The study of domestic science and the laws of health by women would have the effect in a very short time of diminishing our death rate from fevers and infectious diseases, and adding to the efficiency of our bread winners by the improvement in quality and nourishment of our food. By co-operation we could effect most beneficial results in the various page 4 branches of household management, such as cookery, sewing, nursing, and the rearing of children, which would revolutionise the present conditions by which numbers of women are degraded into leading lives of domestic drudgery and children are brought up or rather dragged up under such unfavourable circumstances that they cannot possibly develop either mentally or physically into healthy members of society. Numbers of women representing various classes of society would by discussion and interchange of ideas be able to help one another to some better solution of problems, that individually they are powerless to grapple with or take effectual measures to solve. Such work as is undertaken by the philanthropic societies in connection with religious denominations and temperance unions and friendly societies would be classified with the social sections. Amongst the subjects to which I hope the New Zealand National Council, when formed, will first give its attention is that of training our boys and girls in the study of physiology in relation to temperance and morality. It is of no use crowding our statute books with laws for the protection of our girls and for the enforcement of morality, if we do not at the same time train our young people to understand the duties and the responsibilities that they must fulfill towards each other. Fortunately women of all classes are beginning to realise the injustice of punishing wrong-doing and sins committed in consequence of ignorance. I think the feeling or sentiment of responsibility will now rapidly develop, and that in the near future we will consider that fathers and mothers are deserving of punishment if they neglect to have their children of both sexes educated so as to have accurate knowledge of the pit-falls into which they may in the future fall, and the inevitable penalty of their wrongdoing. I hope to see medical lecturers appointed to all our public schools not necessarily in the junior classes, as all the knowledge that is required by young children is at present given in many schools by the teachers. In the senior classes where more special and absolutely necessary instruction is required a medical man or woman should deliver carefully prepared lectures. It is of no use saying that parents should instruct the children, as in nine cases out of ten—or I might say ninety-nine out of a hundred—parents need as much instruction as the children in the know ledge that is required, and if competent to impart the necessary information would not do so. Ignorance and false sentiment, by allowing our children to grow up in ignorance of the human form divine and the laws governing the whole of the future happiness and health of the race, have too long perverted the pure stream of the knowledge of the springs of human affection. Now that women are awakening to a clearer understanding as to their duties to the coming generation and appreciate the need of its moral as well as material welfare, they should demand the abandonment of all false sentiment and adopt the wiser plan of guarding against ship wreck by placing buoys and danger signals upon all the sunken rocks of human weakness and temptation. The sentiment that has been oft repeated, though seldom understood, and so has remained a mere quotation, "To the pure, all things are pure," must help to guide our minds to solve the problem of how to make our children profit by our knowledge without the necessity and attendant misery of learning wisdom by sad experience, and by fatal mistakes. Knowledge is power, but ignorance is certainly not innocence. Innocence is the light which radiates from a pure mind and gentle soul, which knowledge but strengthens and concentrates in love and sympathy towards the sinner. Ignorance is with idleness the source of every evil thought and base action which degrade our fellow creatures.
The National Council exercises no control over either the sections or societies which are affiliated with it, nor is any resolution that has been passed by the Council necessarily binding upon the sections or societies that they represent. At the same time any resolution that was carried by the Council would voice the opinion of the largest number of societies of women, and would thus carry more weight than any resolution passed by the most powerful society in the country. If our women could be made to realise that by co-operation, organisation, sympathy, and charity we could mould ourselves into such a powerful army that we could overcome the most indomitable foe, we should have no difficulty in storming the ramparts of prejudice and winning our battle for justice, home, and humanity. We must first overcome the foes that are in ourselves, and for which we are not so much to blame as the conditions of selfishness, jealousy and dependence that we have been satisfied to submit to. We have our chance, and must show how we can make the best use of it by being true to our better selves, throwing off our petty failings as we have done our bondage, and advancing as a united band, strong in our determination to conquer our world and to overcome ignorance, prejudice and crime. In the National Council women of all classes and of all shades of opinion on religious, social and political questions, would meet together and discuss all subjects from every point of view. Enthusiasts in the cause of political equality would meet others who were equally enthusiastic in the cause of industrial independence, and who believed that their remedy was the only one that could accomplish the advancement of women, and the abolition of misery and degradation. Those too who held to "prohibition" as the cure for every evil, would meet women who blamed our unsectarian education for all the crime and sin that surrounds us. They might be much surprised when they found there were some women who blamed the apathy of the ministers of religion for much of the immorality and vice that we deplore. It might startle others to find that clergymen who acknowledge that they cannot find suitable or qualified Sunday school teachers, page 5 and who lack the ability to make Bible lessons sufficiently attractive to interest children, expect to shift their responsibility upon the shoulders of the already very much overworked and underpaid state school teachers, who would be obliged to undergo a course of religious teaching themselves before they could be qualified to teach their classes so as to satisfy the clergymen and parents of all sects, and prevent the children from taking part in sectarian warfare after school hours. Other women who believe that the true spirit of Christianity has its shrine in the human heart, and will not rule the world until the ministers of religion cast aside their dogmas and disagreements and preach with one voice, truth, justice, purity and brotherly and sisterly love, may be surprised to find how very little difference there is in the fundamental truths that underlie all their most cherished convictions. They will find that the meetings and discussions will have the effect of widening the horizon for all parties, and showing that there are many ways and means by which to promote the advancement of social reforms, and to improve the position of women. They would find that though divided as the poles in their opinions they could act as one when the broader issues by which women could be raised to independence were put before them. "Co-operation amongst women for the advancement of their social domestic and industrial status, and for the promotion of all that makes for the good of humanity," is a noble aim for which to strive. Women can if they would rule the world and make their power felt in every sphere of life but they will not. They must have their own small triumphs and their own pet comforts, and so they fail.
The National Council has been formed with the object of drawing together all classes of women with the common aim of promoting the advancement of women, and the enlargement of the sphere of women's work. There is no class and no individual opinion to be considered. The Councils are composed of societies of individuals and each individual representative acts as a society, thus helping to broaden the scope of work, and make it possible for the societies to cooperate upon the higher and broader plane of national progress and national interest. Every woman who belongs to any society, will without regard to class or creed be represented in the council by the representative of the society to which she may belong. Each society will by correspondence with the societies belonging to the same section be made conversant with the work done and requirements of women all over the world, and will thus be brought into touch with the noblest and best thinkers and workers amongst the women of the day. Advice and assistance will be given to those who may be struggling to redress wrong and help in the advancement of women's work and the establishment of greater freedom and complete equality for women in every country.
Mrs Bedford Fenwick remarked in the speech she made at the meeting in London in December, that the sex question was to be avoided in the formation of a National Council; but that all women must recognise that it was their duty to be loyal to their sex. Mrs Fenwick went on to say that if we had grievances against men we must remember that they were our fathers, brothers and sons, and that we mothers were to blame for not moulding them into a higher type, and that when women taught their sons the beauty and goodness of justice, truth and honour, the equality of the sexes before the law would soon be obtained. "Women should be loyal to their sex," Mrs Fenwick says. Perhaps by co-operation amongst women and the meeting together in council of women from all classes, the sense of justice and equality will be so far expanded that women will understand better how it is that they must be loyal to their sex, and treat those who are in conditions which make them more apt to fall into temptation as sisters and not as a class set apart from them by their lapse from virtue. It is the want of charity, and the cruel indifference of women that makes one hopeless of obtaining justice for women and raising the standard of honour and purity amongst men. When we consider that it is the conditions and circumstances of life that are the causes of our vice or virtue, we should rouse ourselves to work so as to make it impossible that anyone should suffer unjustly the penalty of their misfortunes or hereditary weakness. Equal justice and equal responsibility with conditions that make happiness and virtue possible to all women must be the aim of the united sisterhood of humanity. It is not to men we have to look for the raising of our sisters, as it is not upon them we have to cast the blame of the degradation of women; but to the conditions of society that have made women helpless and dependent, and to the callousness of those women who are always ready to cast stones at their fallen sisters, and to pride themselves upon their superior virtue, when very often the only merit in that virtue is the lack of temptation. Women must be loyal to their sex if they hope for equality or the advancement of the cause of justice and humanity. It is to the women, to the mothers and sisters we look to raise the standard of social, moral and political purity. Religious denominations with their constant warfare and their disobedience to the Master's command to "love one another," have perhaps failed to help on the cause of human progress as they might have done. We must recognise the need of love and tenderness towards the weak and by organisations which will bring the abuses and wrongs under which women suffer before those who have the power and the will to redress them, we shall help to hasten the good time when men will be brothers all, and women will have the right and the opportunity to develop all their powers and lead the life that is best suited to their needs and to the physical growth and mental development of their children, and the advancement of the race.page 6
I hope the formation of a National Council for New Zealand will be agreed to, and that the delegates from the societies of women represented at this convention will lay before their various societies the advantages that would accrue to their particular branch of work and to women's work in general by affiliation with the National Council. We New Zealand women have now political power; but we must bestir ourselves, and show that we are governed by high aims and unselfish motives, and that we can lay aside all petty disagreements and work together for the sake of justice, home, and humanity. A house divided against itself cannot stand; so we women must be united, and with one hope and one mind resolve to sweep wrong and injustice from our fair land. and by co-operation and mutual sympathy make our country one in which friendship and perfect trust between all classes will be developed and consummated by the attainment of industrial social and political reforms.