Emigration of Women from Great Britain in 1888
A TOPIC which has for its object the greatest good for the greatest number, may be reasonably considered a subject of paramount interest for consideration.
The migration of a suitable portion of the vigorous manhood and womanhood of the Mother Island, which forms the seedbed and nursery of the race, to the wider spheres of the colonial part of the Imperial Empire, appears so natural and necessary a process, that it is almost in conceivable that it has not been looked upon as a principal factor in the future of Great Britain.
The deputation of the representatives of 170,000 working men, who appealed in urgent language to the Prime Minister in February 1886, for the consideration by the Government of their claims to have emigration and colonization directed and aided by the State, speaks for itself as to the views entertained by the more sober minded of this class with regard to the absolute need and positive benefit of such action.
Practical experience in the work of emigration, extending back over some years, shows that the able-bodied, temperate, capable workman, whether farm laborer or mechanic, though his first experience may be sometimes rough and hard, obtains in the Colonies constant work at remunerative wages, that his hours are reasonable, that facilities for saving and opportunities for purchasing property and land are accessible to all who are persevering and thrifty, and that he gives the greatest proof of his opinion of the country by sending back for his friends and relations, and very frequently paying the cost of their passage out.
But what does emigration offer to women? It may be presumed that the time has come when it is an accepted fact that that woman who most fully develops her capabilities, physical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual, is the woman who best fulfils the object of her existence as a unit in the great human family.
It is of inconceivably little matter by what process she so educates herself, provided always that she accepts the natural duties which surround her as the proper and legitimate school for her primitive education, that no mistaken notion of what she owes to herself limits and mars her, in her relations to those who, in the inner family circle, or the larger circle of a national sisterhood, claim her duty and her sympathy.
Carlyle says: " All true work is sacred; in all true work, were it but hand-labor, there is something of divineness; labor, wide as the earth, has its summit in heaven."
The ideal condition for womanhood would be that in which work, development, recreation, should each have its proper place, each portion of our triple nature reach its highest goal.
The circumstances in which life can be sustained only by excessive drudgery, and in which the idleness of a few must be purchased by the wearisome toil of others, should be so abhorrent to our conceptions of Christianity and civilization, that the conditions which produce this state of things should stir our hearts and nerve our hands to uproot and remove them.
If emigration offers channels through which women may not only obtain for themselves the reasonable possession of such things as make life worth living, but also greatly improve the status of those who remain in the old country, it opens a double door of prosperity.
At the present moment a considerable portion of the women of England are brought face to face with the problem of bread-winning. The ways and means for earning the actual necessaries of existence press hardly upon a larger number of women than formerly.
Women's work is under-paid because the supply is so greatly in excess of the demand, that if one worker drops down in the ranks, another stretches out her wasted hands to snatch at the labor which, drudgery as it is, hardly keeps soul and body together.
" We do not pretend that you can live upon the pay we can afford to give you," said the manager of a West end wholesale linen warehouse; " you must make it up some other way. If you don't take this work, there are a hundred more waiting to take it."
The number of women to whom work is a necessity is very far in excess of that in past years, not only from the evident cause of increase of population, but from the depression in agriculture and trade.
The landed gentry with reduced rentals, the clergy who suffer through depreciated glebe lands and lowered tithes, the farmers whose " good times " are a matter of history, the tradesmen who in the agricultural districts are so largely dependent on rural customers, each and all are suffering, and the womenkind of each class suffer also.
Women who have never contemplated " doing anything in particular," have to face decreased incomes and very straitened means. Before they have reached womanhood, young girls have to leave their homes, their brave independence making them unwilling to burden father or brother.
Every avenue to employment is overcrowded. An advertisement for a superintendent to a Home received 150 answers, and when repeated some years later, many of the number, then increased to 173, had been out of employment since their first application.
A "secretary wanted" brought 92 replies, some of them pitiable in their desire for employment. Lower down in the social scale the surplus of women's labor is still more lamentable, and it is only a too well known and an oft-told tale, that wages are down to starvation prices, that women work from six in the morning to eleven at night and can hardly earn a shilling, and that even work such as this is not to be had regularly.
Can it be necessary that the surplus of three-quarters of a million of women should remain in this country to spend their lives in misery and starvation or worse, when every letter from the Colonies speaks of the ceaseless demand for women as servants?
To many, perhaps, it may be as the revelation of a new gospel, to grasp the fact that emigration of women and children, wisely arranged and thoroughly protected, would greatly affect the condition of the unemployed in England.
Happily, the best openings and the greatest calls from the Colonies are those which affect the largest numbers of workers. The class most wanted are those who are content, by some personal sacrifice of liberty, to earn their living and make their savings out of domestic service.
The demand for household servants is consecutive, perpetual, insatiable, and this because of their absorption into each Colony as the wives of the settlers.
The preponderance of the male population in every Colony requires a very large immigration of women before the country can be settled up to the best advantage under the conditions of family life.
For instance, in Canada in 1881, in a population of 4,344,810, there were 52,898 more males than females; in Queensland in 1882, there were 73,249 males, as against 41,362 females, showing a male surplus of 31,887; and out of 128,258 single adults who emigrated from this country in 1885, no less than 84,577 were men.
These remarks as to the undue male element do not apply to the laboring class only. The well-educated woman who can use her hands, and who adds a practical knowledge of household duties to her accomplishments, will be a far more suitable companion for the younger sons of old England than the smart "young person " whom he is often driven to marry in his loneliness and need for womanly sympathy.
The blunder which has been made by some mistaken philanthropists of sending out our failures is cruel and unpardonable, and severe comments are hurled back upon such bad advisers. The history of a colony is very different from the slow evolution of a race; utility and success are the demigods of a self-made people.
The vigour which created a Melbourne, with its magnificent public buildings and a population of 350,000; Adelaide, with its beautiful square and parks, and its 170,000 inhabitants; Brisbane, with its 50,000 to 60,000 souls, all within half a century, cannot be thwarted or impeded by any imported feebleness.
No living being who needs propping, morally or physically, should be allowed to emigrate; for them the crutches of civilization are needed, and the old country must bear the burden of the improvidence and thriftlessness of her moral failures, as well as of the enfeebled organisms of her overcrowded great cities.
The question which is perhaps the most interesting, and on which absolutely reliable information is necessary, is the number of available openings for middle-class and highly educated women.
From Canada, the result of an inquiry made on this point is as follows: The great difficulty of obtaining servants, and the large amount of work which has to be done by mistresses, points to the possibility of well-educated women, who have had practical experience of domestic duties, getting employment as "mother helps."
In 1886 I received a letter from Montreal, in which the writer stated, " that from force of circumstances mistresses have to pass so much time with their servants in getting through the work, that they would greatly benefit by their domestic duties being shared by persons with whom intercourse would be carried on with advantage on both sides."
This letter goes on to indicate that middle-class women, who have qualified themselves by actual household work, who are good cooks and good needlewomen, and who possess qualities of good temper, industry, and general adaptability, might find employment, if they are prepared to accept a simpler form of life, and to conform to the customs of a new country.
Applications have been received by me from other parts of Canada asking for " mother helps," at salaries of from £20 to £52.
Quite recently, in answer to an inquiry as to an engagement for a capable person in British Columbia, my correspondent writes, " There are comfortable homes (for those of moderate desires and requirements) where such a ' mother's help ' would be the greatest boon, and yet it is regarded as unattainable. About thirty dollars a month would be the highest salary which any one about here would offer."
A well-educated young governess who could ride well, has found life on a ranch, with high-spirited pupils, far pleasanter than schoolroom hours in London; her salary soon permitted her to pay off the loan incurred for her passage.
While, in rather another grade, good accountants are sometimes applied for as managers of hotels, and situations may be obtained as nurses in hospitals, or submatrons in institutions. This statement must, however, be guarded by adding that there must be ascertained vacancies before it would be prudent to leave England.
By arrangement with the Immigration Committee in Montreal, a lady could be temporarily received into the Home there pending negotiations, and by the system of correspondence organized by the Council of the United Englishwoman's Emigration Association, reliable information can be obtained on this matter.
For the members of the Girls' Friendly Society engagements are made through their own organization.
As regards the Australasian Colonies, the words of the President of the Y. W. C. A. in Sydney may be taken as representing the most hopeful view: — " With regard to governesses, employment in Sydney can, as a rule, be obtained only by those who are highly educated and specially qualified.
But there is a greater demand in the country, where governesses are much needed, and where such situations generally afford comfortable homes, though not always, in respect of living, of a style equal to that which is usual in the towns.
It is well also that a governess in the country should be prepared, on an emergency, to make herself otherwise and generally useful."
On the other hand, a thoroughly practical educated girl, who would be a nursery governess in England, if she can make up her mind to emigrate as a child's maid, being competent to cut out and make clothes for the children, as well as to undertake the actual care of them, can get better wages than in England, and in a few years would settle in comfortable circumstances.
It is not generally known that persons paying their own passage-money to Queensland can obtain land warrants of the value of £20, convertible into cash in a year's time—a conversion made in many instances to pay for a trousseau; in others available to repay the loan incurred to procure passage-money.
A scheme for the employment of women has been for some time under consideration, and information has been obtained direct from correspondents in the Colonies, which will assist in developing it.
Many educated and refined women have very considerable taste in dressmaking and millinery; they are obliged to support themselves, they detest and are unfit for the drudgery of teaching, and few have the strength of mind to face going into business in England.
Paris fashions are in as great request in the metropolis of each Colony as in London, but fashions and materials alike have been hitherto somewhat absurdly attached to special shipments and consignments, and it is stated by ladies who have come to England that first-class dressmaking and millinery are much sought after, and most highly paid, whilst extraordinary prices have been given for Paris-made costumes.
It is not inconceivable that a plan might be thoroughly matured by which a lady, who would be both a good financier and an agreeable chaperon, should place herself at the head of a group of well-born women of taste and capability, ready to begin life in the Colonies on the principles of a co-operative and profit-sharing community.
It would, of course, be necessary that these workers should have had skilled instruction, and an experienced forewoman must accompany them.
It is an integral part of this scheme that social life should not be neglected, that the building selected should contain, besides its work-rooms, its show-rooms, its dwelling and sleeping-rooms, adequate recreation and reception-rooms; and that introductions to society should be obtained and received for the residents by the lady at the head of the establishment, who would practically fulfil the part of a mother to her adopted family.
Whatever may be thought of this scheme, the ascertained success of the working woman in our Colonies leaves no room for doubt that the overplus female population in the old country finds its happiness and use in the younger parts of the Empire.
A few instances from the various Colonies need no comment. Prosperity and contentment ring out in their simple details; and though colonial life has its temptations in the greater liberty allowed to servants, no self-respecting woman is the worse for it.
It is absolutely free from the pressure of abject poverty and the hopeless enervation of a profitless drudgery which are here such terrible causes for degradation.
From Queensland a Hampshire girl, who emigrated in 1883, marries, and writes home in 1886 that "they have only got one hundred and sixty acres of land, and that her husband wants her father to come out badly, as he wishes to take up some more land, but cannot do it in his own name for five years; and she adds that they have plenty of ducks and fowls, cats and dogs, four horses, and are going to get some pigs."
E. B., another young person, who was full of complaints, on first landing, that she did not like the situations offered her at ten shillings per week because they " were with emigrants like ourselves, who had come out only a little while ago," and who could not see in this ascertained and rapid prosperity the promise of her own success, changed her tone within a year, when she writes with the importance of a married woman :—" I am housekeeping now for the first time. A. had £2 10s. a week, and they gave me 25s.; but he would not let me stay."
And soon after, in another letter, she says that she and her brothers are sending for the father, brother, and two sisters, and adds :—" You need bring no money with you more than you will want to defray expenses and enough clothing for the voyage, as I will give you all you want."
From New Zealand, B. C, a workhouse girl of sixteen, gets ten shillings a week, is treated quite as one of the family, has a horse to ride, has put £4 15s. in the bank, and naively says that she has had two offers of marriage, but thinks herself far too young to marry at present.
So great have been the domestic difficulties in this Colony that, on news of a vessel being signaled, a servantless mistress drove her dogcart twenty-six miles, without waiting for her breakfast, down to the port; but all in vain, for every one of the 131 servants was engaged and carried off before she arrived.
This lady, a personal friend, quaintly described the importance of her own charwoman and laundress, who, on her late mistress's second visit to the Northern Island, came to offer to let her one of her villa-residences, having gone into a larger one herself on retiring from business.
A letter from an emigrant to Sydney, written at the end of a few months, states that she has put £2 7s. in the savings-bank, and hopes to send some money home very shortly.
In Canada a young girl who went out from a training home in 1886 had, before the end of the year, repaid part of the loan advanced for her expenses. From all parts letters come back telling of happiness and success.
The work is undoubtedly harder and of a more general kind than in the old country, but, provided it is undertaken with a good heart, the result is certain.
But how, it may be asked, does this emigration of women affect the working classes generally? With regard to Queensland, its action is very simple to point out, and, in a more or less degree, the same plan is at work in other Colonies.
No sooner has the young woman passed six months in Queensland, than she can nominate out her friends on a payment of from £1 to £4 per head, according to their sex or age, and the information she acquires on the spot of course enables her to judge what demand there really is for their respective kinds of labor.
The extreme value of reliable knowledge, unbiassed by a selfish determination to keep up wages, is forcibly shown in a letter from a young bricklayer in Queensland, who writes to his mother :—" Don't take any notice of what other people say; it is I, your son, who advise you to come out"
Assuming, then, that the important bearing which the emigration of women has on the whole subject has been sufficiently demonstrated, the question arises as to the safety and supervision of young women on the voyage and on arrival.
Philanthropy is working hand-in-hand with the colonial authorities in this matter. Careful regulations and special quarters on board, under experienced matrons, are provided wherever the boon of free emigration brings the travelers under Government authorities.
Emigration societies engage matrons and secure escorts in those cases of self-paying passengers where their advice is sought; whilst all passing through the hands of careful emigrates have their service characters sent out on a regular list to the colonial correspondents before the emigrants sail.
These correspondents are requested to meet them and have also undertaken the responsibility of receiving them and placing them in situations. The organization is complete enough, when it is inquired into, to establish confidence.
The United Englishwoman's Emigration Association has its associates in most of the counties of England, and its colonial correspondents.
Through the system of the Girls' Friendly Society, its members and their friends have emigrated to the number of over 550 since 1883. This society includes women of all classes. The Colonial Emigration Society, which has been at work for some time, gives assistance by advice and information to all applicants.
Edith Simcox, in her important paper on " Women's Work and Women's Wages," writes:—" There is a clear generic difference between unproductive charity—money given, that is, to meet some particular want, which is spent and done with, leaving just the same want to present itself again next day — and money invested in furthering a movement which gathers impetus as it proceeds, and looks forward to uprooting the very seeds and germs of social distress."
These words apply with double force to money spent upon promoting emigration. The future of our little island depends upon it, for there is no other mode of relieving the misery which underlies the condition of the unemployed and of the under-paid that comes near this in its practical and healthy action.
It relieves misery without pauperizing the recipient, it absolutely prevents recurrence of such terrible calamity in the future, and it does not wait to reform criminals or reclaim penitents after lives which might have been pure and noble are branded with vice or steeped in degradation.
We dare not leave this patching and tinkering-up of spoilt humanity undone. But thousands of lives need never be damaged if they opened where work is well paid, where recreation comes to all, where savings can be easily converted into freehold property.
Child-life in Canada cannot be touched on within the limits of this paper, but it contrasts forcibly in its happy results with the child-life of our great cities.
For the sum of £10, at the outside, orphan and deserted children can be placed in established receiving-homes, whence they are planted out into happy family life, about one-third of them being adopted.
A far smaller sum provides ship-kit and other expenses for the passage of assisted female emigrants to the lands of prosperous workers. The expense may be reckoned as from £1 to £5 per head.
If the pressure upon the masses can be relieved by wisely-directed emigration before this pressure becomes absolutely unbearable, our country may be saved from many of the convulsions which threaten it.
Joyce, Ellen, “Emigration,” in The Woman’s World, Cassell & Company, Limited, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, Volume I, No. 3, January 1888, p.173-176.