Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts.

Woman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers online

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The Organization of Women Workers. 279

stance, returns are sent in parochially by branches in con-
nection with Nonconformist congregations, equally with
Church workers, to the diocesan centre, of which the wife
of the Bishop is the President.

In the direction of technical education and the classes
for arts and handicrafts, which appear likely in future to
form part of the educational system established by the law
of the land, women have been not only pioneers but organ-
izers. The Cookery School in Kensington, the Laundry
Schools grafted upon cookery and other domestic arts in
Liverpool, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, the numerous local
societies for the same purposes in the Midlands, now known
as the "National Union for the Technical Education of
Women in the Domestic Sciences," were all founded, drafted,
and carried on to their present stage by women. In count-
less other benevolent experiments for befriending the work-
ing and artisan class, such as the society for bringing beauty
into their homes, the Recreative Evening Association, the
Happy Afternoons Society for teaching games to the Board
School children, the numerous guilds for writing letters,
supplying amusements to the friendless or the aged in
workhouses, in ways too numerous to mention, English-
women have been devoting their time, their means, yea, their
very selves, to the ministry of others. By rent-collecting they
have worked a reformation in the crowded rookeries of the
poorer populations of our cities, and through the medium of
the " College by Post " highly cultivated girls have initiated
a system of intellectual tuition which is raising thousands
of their less-favoured sisters to a standard of education which,
unassisted, they could never have hoped to attain.

That Englishwomen possess the faculty for organization
is further shown by the extraordinary success of the Needle-
work Guild, which, conducted on the simple plan of " circles "
(one worker undertaking to find five others, each willing to
supply two garments yearly), last year accumulated no less
than 14,040 articles. The punctuality, precision, and method
required to create and collect the gigantic heaps of carefully
sorted garments which were on view last November in the
palatial precincts of the new Imperial Institute, strikingly
illustrated the business power of ladies, belonging in a

280 Woman's Mission.

great measure to the " upper ten thousand " of Great

The Parents' National Educational Union is, perhaps, the
exception which proves the rule ; for the remarkable way in
which parents of both sexes have been willing to listen to
lectures on the subject of bringing up their children, and to
appropriate the hints of Miss Charlotte Mason, the enthusiastic
educationalist, whose name is probably not unknown in
Chicago, would seem to falsify the statement that organization
is unknown in Englishwomen's work. Perhaps only a spinster
without a mother's natural prejudices and predilections in
favour of her offspring and her educational methods, could
possibly hold a position sufficiently independent to be listened
to as she has been.

In the Royal School of Art Needlework, which arose
from the twofold desire of its distinguished foundress, Lady
Welby, to revive a lost and beautiful art, while also minister-
ing to the needs of reduced gentlewomen, and in many
similar efforts both in London and the provinces, English-
women have shown that they can organize and carry to
successful issues enterprises combining sound commercial
principles with the tenderest philanthropy. Classes for the
instruction of village lads in wood-carving, beaten brass work,
and other profitable and educational arts, have been started
simultaneously by voluntary workers, of whom the majority
are women, throughout the United Kingdom ; and they will
be ready to avail themselves of State assistance when the
County Councils and the Art and Education Departments
of the Government have completed their schemes of aid.

It will be obvious from what has been said so far that
although the women workers of Great Britain, as a rule, work
first and organize afterwards, they have largely availed them-
selves of the organizations which in this old country of Eng-
land lie ready to their hands. The Mothers' Union, the
Girls' Friendly Society, and the Women's Help Society have
fitted their machinery into the framework of the Established
Church. The Metropolitan Association for Befriending
Young Servants avails itself of the organization of the Local
Government Board ; and the associations for the care of girls
associations scattered throughout the provinces are the

The Organization of Women Workers. 281

counterparts of the M.A.B.Y.S., as the name of the last-
mentioned society is abbreviated, plus committees of

Workers in prisons and at prison gates place themselves
at the disposal of the magistrates and the governors of the
gaols. Women's work among soldiers builds homes close
to the barracks, and Miss Weston is almost as well known by
sailors in Her Majesty's men-of-war and the Merchant Service
as their own log-book. The Workhouse Visiting and Infirmary
Nursing Societies adopt the divisions of the Local Govern-
ment Board, and carry on their work upon the lines and
districts of the County Unions ; while the Women's Liberal
Societies, the only ones conducted exclusively by women,
also naturally work upon the Parliamentary divisions of the

It might be thought that no chain could be light enough,
and no centre comprehensive enough, to hold together even
in the slightest of relations, so numerous, so heterogeneous
so independent a mass of institutions as are maintained by
the women of Great Britain for the benefit of their kind.
There seems, however, a prospect that from the annual
conferences of women workers which have arisen out of the
local unions lately formed in so many districts, may sound
forth the key-note that shall resolve these many changing
chords into one harmonious anthem of " Peace upon earth,
and good will to men." At Bristol, in November, 1892, all
doubts as to the permanent success likely to attend these
conferences were finally set at rest. The reports of the
papers and speeches delivered at Barnsley, Birmingham,
Liverpool, and Bristol will satisfy any reader that the time
is ripe for the foundation of "The National Union of
Women Workers." This union now offers that focus at the
centre, and that medium for communication and fellowship
at the circumference, the need of which has been so greatly
felt since the number both of workers and of institutions
has so largely increased. In future, with its annual con-
ferences, its Metropolitan Central Bureau, local unions, branch
offices, and corresponding members scattered throughout Great
Britain, the C.C.C. (as from the name of its executive, the
Central Conference Council, it is familiarly called) will afford

282 Woman's Mission.

the happiest and simplest organization for the encouragement
and assistance of individual effort that can be imagined. This
paper cannot be more fitly closed than by quoting the answer
of its foundress and honorary organizing secretary, Miss
Janes, in answer to the question, " What do you expect will
be the immediate outcome of these conferences ? " and, I also
may add, practically the whole question of united organized
effort among the women of Great Britain and her colonies.
She says, " Hearts have been quickened, prejudices removed,
good methods described, a high standard fearlessly proclaimed
and warmly assented to, vision widened, insight deepened.
We have found how true a harmony may exist between those
who differ, where there is a real desire to see truth and follow
it ; we have learned how ' in quietness and in confidence ' our
strength lies ; we have felt the influence of the spirit of
wisdom and of love. We have met friends face to face, we
have had our hearts stirred within us as they have reasoned
of righteousness, temperance, and the judgment which will
surely come if we omit to build the life of home, and country,
on the only sure foundation. We have come a step nearer
to our desired end the realization of our solidarity the
greater economy of our forces through more united plans of
action, the truer understanding of causes, and the better
adjustment of means to ends."

The choice of subjects discussed at these conferences will
of itself be an indication of their practical nature, and of the
earnest spirit in which their promoters applied themselves to
their task.

Some sixty-three papers have been read at the four con-
ferences held in 1889 at Barnsley, in 1890 at Birmingham, in
1891 at Liverpool, and in 1892 at Bristol; and they were
listened to with unflagging interest by many thousands of
women, while perhaps some hundred women speakers took
part in the after discussions. Verbatim reports of all the
proceedings have been largely sold that of the Birmingham
Conference being still in request, so that reprints have been
required. This may be in part owing to the valuable
appendix, which gives the titles, prices, and publishers of
over seventy publications bearing on the subjects which had
been under discussion.

The Organization of Women Workers. 283

At the last three conferences an especial meeting has
been devoted to subjects of interest and suitability to young
girls ; and the number of the audiences at the " Young Ladies'
Meetings " has only been limited by the size of the room
600 and 700 at Birmingham and Liverpool, and 1500 at

At Liverpool the novel feature of a " Working Women's
Meeting" was introduced with great success. The hall,
holding 1500 persons, was crowded to excess. Addresses
were given by the wife of one of our most distinguished
Bishops, the wife of an eminent Nonconformist, and other
ladies representing widely different views ; but all united in
uttering faithful and loving words of sympathy and counsel
to their less favoured sisters. Between each address all
united in singing hymns, and there were no signs of flagging

284 Woman s Mission.


" IDLENESS alone is without hope ; " by useful labour the
lives of the most wretched can be ennobled and rendered
happy. This is the moral to be pointed by this paper on
"Woman, the Missionary of Industry," and is amply con-
firmed by the records of the work of Mrs. Morrogh Bernard,
Mrs. Rogers, and Miss Roberts among the Irish peasants,
of Mrs. Arthur Hanson among the Turkish refugees at
Constantinople, and by many other deeply interesting reports *
I have had the honour, as President of the Section of the
Philanthropic Work of British Women, of sending to the
Chicago Exhibition. Woman, both from nature and circum-
stance, has been generally a silent worker for the benefit of
her fellow-beings ; doing good by stealth ; making many
a "nook of God's creation a little fruitfuller, better, more
worthy of God," many " human hearts a little wiser, man-
fuller, and happier ; " and, especially in our age, in the van
among the captains of the world, battling with evil in all its
multitudinous forms. But although in this great work, and
this great conflict, women have borne their full share of the
heat and burden of the day, their services until quite recently
have received but scant recognition. Even now scarcely a

* Many other records of the beneficent results of the work of individual women
in aiding the poor to help themselves, are dealt with in the papers by Mrs.
Gilbert and Miss Petrie ; and I would like to direct special attention to what is
said respecting the work of Miss Maude among the labourers in Somersetshire,
of the Duchess of Sutherland, Lady Grisell Baillie Hamilton, and Miss Ferguson
in isolated country districts in Scotland.

Woman the Missionary of Industry. 285

tithe is known of what woman has done and is doing to
bring brightness and hope into the dark lives of dumb
millions of toilers. It will be accounted to the honour of
the American people in the future that they were the first to
give a national recognition to the moral and material effects
of woman's work and influence for good in the world. For
the first time in the records of National and International
Exhibitions, an attempt has been made at Chicago to give,
what I may term, a dramatic and impressive representation
of what women have endeavoured to accomplish in every
branch of philanthropy, literature, science, and art. " How
far that little candle throws its beams " will be uppermost in
the minds of visitors to the Women's Building ; though but
a glimmer of the shining light of woman's philanthropic work
is reflected there.

Of the devotion and self-sacrifice of the women who are
everywhere about us labouring with unfailing patience and
faith to bring light into dark places, it is impossible to speak
without emotion. Theirs, in truth, is no " May game, but a
battle and stern pilgrimage ; " and only in the knowledge of
the good they have wrought lies their reward. Through the
efforts of Mrs. Bernard, Mrs. Rogers, Miss Roberts, and Mrs.
Hanson, as well as of thousands of others, idleness has given
place to industry, squalid poverty to prosperity, ignorance to
enlightenment. And no feature of the single-handed work
of women is more striking than the wisdom and discretion
with which it is generally conducted. Inspired by a large-
hearted benevolence, and warm sympathy with the poor and
suffering, the majority of women workers in philanthropy
have not allowed their feelings to obscure their judgment.
They recognize that

" The truly generous is the truly wise."

To enable those who would otherwise be destitute to help
themselves is more truly generous than to give alms. In the
one case those in distress are made self-reliant, independent,
and useful members of the community ; in the other degra-
dation and demoralization are too often the result.

The difficulty of adequately representing the philanthropic
work of women in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and

286 Woman s Mission.

Ireland will be best appreciated by those most intimately ac-
quainted with the subject, and it is with the object of bringing
some of the difficulties home to the minds of others that I
have undertaken in this paper to give a brief outline of what
four women, whose names have hitherto been comparatively
unknown, have been able to accomplish by their individual
efforts. The story, which shall be told as far as possible in
the words of the reports kindly sent to me in response to a
special request, illustrates at once the vast importance of the
philanthropic work quietly carried on by thousands of in-
dividual ladies, of whose very existence the public has no
idea, and the impossibility of obtaining even an approxi-
mately accurate report of what British women are doing for
the welfare of humanity. Not only is the record of the work
of the four ladies I have already named, deeply interesting
and instructive, but, owing to exigencies of time and space,
it must be taken as representative of the noble results achieved
by thousands of other silent workers.

We all remember those gloomy days in the eighties when,
by the failure of the potato harvest, thousands of Irish pea-
sants were brought face to face with starvation. It was
the Duchess of Marlborough, aided chiefly by women, who
organized the relief fund for holding the famine at bay. In
the still more gloomy days that followed, when men were
forced to sit with folded hands whilst their wives and children
were lacking bread, it was women who first brought help. In
every part of Ireland there are traces of their work. Many
a village in which a few years ago misery and want were
chronic, is now the centre of a flourishing little industrial
community. Such undertakings as those of Mrs. Bernard,
Mrs. Rogers, and Miss Roberts have brought fresh life and
hope to Ireland ; and what these ladies are doing at Foxford,
at Carrick, and among the " Rosses," others are doing else-
where, from Cape Clear to the Giant's Causeway.

Mrs. Morrogh Bernard has long done yeoman's service in
the cause of philanthropy. For many years she was the
Superior of a convent at Ballaghaderin ; and whilst there she
took a warm interest in all movements for improving the
condition of the peasants. The National Schools which, as

Woman the Missionary of Industry. 287

Mother Superior, she had under her direction, were models
of good management The girls she trained were as a rule
bright and intelligent, and she fitted them so far as in them
lay to do good work in the world. Unfortunately, for many
a mile around Ballaghaderin, there were more hands to work
than there was work for them to do ; more mouths to be fed
than there was food wherewith to feed them ; for it is in the
centre of one of the so-called congested districts, where a
failure of the potato crop always means famine. The soil is
so poor that it hardly defrays the cost of cultivation, and in
those days there was no industrial employment of any kind
in the neighbourhood. Thus, when their school-days were
over, the peasant girls had to face a painful alternative.
They either had to leave their friends and country, without
having received the training necessary to render them suc-
cessful emigrants, and to guard them against many privations
and dangers, or they had to linger on at home in hope-
less idleness, with semi-starvation for a companion. Mrs.
Bernard was keenly alive to the suffering this state of things
entailed on the poor among whom she lived. It was heart-
breaking work for her to see the girls she had so carefully
trained wasting their lives, a burden on those of whom they
should have been the support. There was work enough in
the world that wanted doing, she was sure, if only she could
put them in the way of doing it. After much anxious
thought, she resolved to try to organize a woollen mill, to
provide not only profitable occupation for the women and
girls in the neighbourhood, but also technical training for the
children under her care.

Whilst she was pondering on ways and means, it chanced
that the bishop of the diocese paid her schools a visit As
he was passing through the class-room, one of the children
asked him to give " handsel," and " get the Reverend Mother
a hand-loom." The child added that her mother had "a
grand one at home." The bishop consented, and the loom,
a veritable heirloom, full of years and moth-holes, was pur-
chased for thirty shillings. The loom was harnessed at once,
and the head weaver of the Manchester Technical School
devoted his Christmas holidays to teaching the nuns and
their pupils how it was to be served. It was soon evident,

288 Woman's Mission.

however, that Mrs. Bernard could not put her scheme into
execution at Ballaghaderin, and she felt that she would have
to find some more suitable site for her mill.

One day she was at Foxford, about twenty miles from
Ballaghaderin ; and whilst standing on the bridge across
the Moy, she noticed the tremendous force with which the
torrent there comes rushing down the rock-side. Such a
water power as this was the very thing she wanted ; and
there and then she determined to buy a piece of land
close to the stream for her mill. She resigned her post as
Superior of the convent, and accompanied by a little band
of Sisters of Charity, set out for Foxford, April 25, 1891.
She was convinced that the wisest course would be to start
a school for peasant children first, and then, when that was
in working order, a mill. The plan was to begin with the
infants in the junior school, and gradually educate them with
a view of introducing them to mill life after they had
acquired a knowledge of the woollen industry, in a sort of
woollen kindergarten. When they had been fairly instructed
in religious and secular matters, these children were to be
sent to the technical mill as half-timers, at the usual
standard ages, and continue to receive education and training
until they could be sent out as finished mill-workers. Then
they would take rank as skilled workwomen, and as such
would have little difficulty in earning an honest livelihood.

On the land Mrs. Bernard bought at Foxford there was
an old corn store, which she speedily had transformed into
a class-room, and in it, on August I, 1891, she opened
her school with eighty-four pupils. So far her work had
been comparatively easy. It was in the organization of the
mill that the real difficulty lay. The woollen manufacture
is a very complex business, one in which it is by no means
easy, even for those specially trained for the work, to succeed.
Neither Mrs. Bernard nor her companions had any technical
knowledge : and we can hardly wonder, therefore, that the
announcement of their project was greeted with prophecies
of failure. The undertaking seemed hopeless ; but the nuns,
true to their motto, Caritas Christi urget nos, never wavered
in their faith that Providence would help them on their way.
Mrs. Bernard and one of the Sisters set out in search of

Woman the Missionary of Industry. 289

information. They visited mill after mill, bent upon learning
every detail of the industry they wished to establish.

" It was a curious sight to see veiled nuns studying the
various machines used in the woollen trade, and taking
copious notes of the many processes through which the wool
passes before it becomes finished cloth." At best it was
weary work for them, for the more they went into the details
of the business the more perplexing did it become. Probably
they never realized all the difficulties they would have to
contend against until they went on this journey. Just when
things were at the darkest, however, there came a gleam of
light Nothing daunted by the discouragement she met
with, though sorely troubled, Mrs. Bernard appealed for
advice to Mr. J. C. Smith, the managing partner of a firm
noted for the beautiful woollen fabrics it turns out. This
gentleman was keenly interested by what she told him of
her plans ; still, he had little faith in women as organizers,
and strove earnestly to persuade her to try some other and
less intricate method of doing good. But when he found
that, in spite of his warnings, Mrs. Bernard persisted in her
project, he drew up for her the plan of the technical mill as
it now stands, and gave her the full benefit of his experience
in arranging how the work was to be done.

The months that followed were a great anxiety for Mrs.
Bernard, for it was a serious undertaking this starting of a
woollen mill in a wild district. In addition to all her other
cares, she had financial difficulties to struggle against. She
had but scant means at her disposal, building and machinery
were a heavy expense, and she soon found herself compelled
to borrow money. Even in those days, however, before it
was properly started, she had the happiness of knowing that
her scheme was proving a blessing to her poorer neighbours.
Numbers of the peasants were kept busily employed all
through the dreary winter the first time for many a long
year. " Gradually the plans were carried out ; the mill-race
was completed ; a powerful turbine water-motor of the latest
modern construction was placed in position ; and in due
time all the woollen machinery was ready. Mr. Burdett-
Coutts, M.P., and Mr. Wrench as representative of the Con-
gested Districts Board, were present when the first start was


290 Woman s Mission.

made. It fell to the lot of Mr. Burdett-Coutts to draw forth
the beautiful soft fleece from the first bag ever opened at
Foxford, and as a souvenir of this little ceremony he has
since had some hand-looms set up in the mill for the Sisters."
During the last two years the state of things at Foxford
has been transformed. Since Mrs. Bernard began her work
there, the place has quite lost the desolate look which used
to distinguish it, and is now full of life and cheerful bustle.
In addition to the mill she has built two large schools. In
the upper school, more than a hundred girls are being care-
fully trained to use not only their heads but their hands ;
whilst in the infants' school, an equal number of children are
being fitted for their future duties as half-timers at the mill.
They all take delight in their work, and seem to feel real
affection for the little balls of wool they are being taught to
handle ; and when the time comes for these two hundred
girls to leave school, each one of them will have, literally at
her finger-ends, a profitable calling. Already some forty girls

Online LibraryAngela Georgina Burdett-CouttsWoman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers → online text (page 27 of 49)