Lily Montagu, girl’s work and youth work.Lily Montagu (1873-1963) Lily Montaguwas one of the founders of the National Organization of Girls Clubs (now Youth Clubs UK) and a key figure in the development of Jewish youth work. A short biography prepared by Jean Spence.

Lily Montagu, (1873-1963), belonged to a wealthy and well connected Anglo-Jewish family and was brought up in unquestioning Jewish Orthodoxy which demanded responsibility from the rich towards the poor. Her father, Samuel Montagu, who became Liberal MP for Whitechapel in 1885, was an active philanthropist at a time when migrants fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe were creating new Jewish communities in East London. Montagu’s philanthropy was firmly within the moralistic tradition of the English Poor Laws and his daughter subsequently expressed her distaste of his approval of the investigative methods of the Charity Organisation Society. (Montagu 1913; Rooff 1972; Tananbaum, 1997). She believed that visiting the poor and club members should be on the basis of friendship, not of investigation.

The conditions suffered by the immigrant Jewish community involved both material and cultural difficulties. As a consequence of the type of work which was available, and in order to enable the men to pursue their religious duties, much of the responsibility for earning a regular income within the sweated labour market of East London fell upon women and young people (Marks, 1990; Tananbaum, 1997) who found it increasingly difficult to sustain religious observance. At the same time, the visible difference of the immigrant from the host community disturbed existing anti-Semitic prejudice and created fear and discomfort among the Anglo-Jewish establishment who had only recently (1858), won full citizenship rights.

Established Jews like the Montagu family worked to maintain Judaism but also to anglicise and assimilate the new community as quickly and smoothly as possible in order to deflect anti-Semitism (Marks 1990; Tananbaum, 1997) and Lily’s initial efforts to work with poor Jewish young people, providing lessons for a small group of girls and organising Children’s synagogue services in English, took place in this context.

It was fashionable at the end of the nineteenth century for upper middle class young ladies to engage in social work in poor urban areas and this clearly influenced Lily Montagu’s endeavours, but she was pursuing purposes which went much deeper than fashion. She was influenced by a visionary dream (Levy, 1968) and motivated by deeply held religious conviction. Her two novels suggest that she endured a period of indecision between the only avenues open to her – conventional, middle class Jewish marriage, or dedication to a single life of service to her community (Montagu 1901, 1902). She chose the latter.

Lily Montagu’s youth was troubled by deep anxieties about her faith and the purposes of her life. She became uneasy about an absence of true religious feeling within the formal ceremonies of Orthodox Judaism. This was exacerbated as she realised the difficulties which maintaining orthodoxy presented to working class families, especially women. Industrial hours and housing conditions made ritual observance practically impossible and people were abandoning a faith which could not adjust to their living conditions. Young people were increasingly open to the temptations of inter-marriage and to proselytising Christians (Montagu 1901, 1902). The popularity of the children’s synagogue services which she started at the age of seventeen, provided her with evidence of the irrelevance of the traditional synagogue service to many women and young people; her contact through club work with girls from Eastern European families informed her about anti-female practices within their religious traditions, whilst the influence of Claude Montefiore, a family friend with liberal religious sentiments, convinced her of the need to pursue a ‘living Judaism’.

Her article, The Spiritual Possibilities of Judaism Today, (1899) marked the start of her religious career as a founder and minister of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London and of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in 1926. Her connection with the West Central Jewish Club, which began when she was eighteen, was a lifetime’s commitment, but her religious ministry became the dominant part of her adult life and identity. Her voluntary social work was simply subsumed into this.

In one publication (undated), Lily Montagu identifies Lady Battersea, assisted by Miss Emily Harris, as the founder of the West Central Jewish Girls Club. Its originated as a Sabbath class for girls. Lily and her cousin were invited to organise ‘happy Sunday, afternoons’ at the rooms where the girls met in Devonshire St. and it only fully became a ‘club’ when the group moved to 71 Dean St. in 1893 with the explicit purpose of attracting more girls. By this time Lily Montagu was ‘Hon. Sec.’After a period there and in 8 Frith St., with growing numbers the club moved to 8a Dean Street in 1896 where it remained until 1913 when the decision was made to build a new club in Alfred Place. (Montagu 1941)

The years of Lily Montagu’s youthful struggles, which she informed with disciplined self education, coincided with a period of intense political activity in the metropolis. The match girls’ and the dock workers’ strikes, ‘new unionism’, and the organisation of socialist groups, must have impacted upon a home involved in the Liberal politics of the East End. Simultaneous debates about women’s suffrage and rights, about sexuality and sexual danger, and the fears engendered by the Whitechapel murders (Walkowitz, 1992), centred class and gender politics within Lily Montagu’s developing consciousness.

At school she had become a close friend of Margaret Gladstone, later wife of Ramsay MacDonald, who introduced her both to club work and to membership of the Women’s Industrial Council, influencing her ‘to see the connection between so-called philanthropic and industrial work’ (MacDonald 1912,:15). Though Lily Montagu retained her allegiance to the Liberal party, she was seriously influenced during the last decade of the 19th century by the ‘socialist’ ideas which were discussed in middle class society, particularly regarding the positive values of trade unionism in deflecting anarchistic and revolutionary tendencies among the working classes.

Her involvement in the National Union of Women Workers and the Women’s Industrial Council, which met in 8 Dean St., reflected her political commitment. This activity was not insubstantial in the early years of the twentieth century in contributing to public awareness of the iniquities of sweated labour, in raising concern about the conditions of female labour, in educating girls about their rights under the Factory Acts and in uncovering abuses of these Acts. However, her own assessment of attempting to pursue this work in the club environment was not very positive:

I must admit to my deep regret that with a few exceptions our girls have not identified themselves closely with trade organisations. Certainly, one girl did much useful trade union work here and then went to the U.S.A. where she has attained considerable success as the head of a communal centre in which organised labour plays an important part. Another did much lecturing on industrial subjects. Perhaps, however, because of persecution, most of our parents are individualistic, they have had to fight for their places in the world of industry; they have had to win for themselves the right to work for their living; so their strength has spent itself, and they have been inclined to teach their children to get on with their work, mind their own business and leave other people to get on with theirs, saying: “What’s it got to do with you?” Again and again we have tried to inculcate a wider point of view and to explain the advantages of belonging to unions. The results have been rather sporadic and not very successful.

(Montagu 1941, p64).

Her attempt to marry club work and industrial reform provides an early example of the progressive possibilities of youth work with working class girls. It was from her activity in the Women’s Industrial Council that the Clubs Industrial Association, later absorbed into the National Association of Girls Clubs, was formed, with herself as the Honorary Secretary. She was thus the key figure in the foundation of Youth Clubs UK. It was partly through the medium of this organisation, in its previous identity as National Association of Youth Clubs that the movement for work with girls and young women was able to spread so successfully during the late 1970s and early 1980s .

Although Lily Montagu attempted to create cross-class friendships through her work, the political organisations which she joined were essentially organisations whose very strength lay in their ruling class based networks of power, and her class analysis was limited partly because she relied upon personal experience to develop understanding. She considered the significance of the exploitative conditions of industry from a distinctly female perspective. Her sympathy was partly founded upon an empathetic understanding of the tensions in women’s lives between private responsibilities and public expectations and she was always particularly alert to gender inequality and injustice.

In her paper ‘ The girl in the background.’ (Montagu, 1904) she systematically explored the importance of the adult female role, the difficulties which beset working class girls whose environment militated against the achievement of a high ideal of womanhood, the iniquities of unequal pay and poor working conditions in causing girls to undervalue themselves, and the possibilities of using club work as a strategy to address these difficulties. In this article, she also criticised her fellow philanthropists:

They peep down the abyss in which the underfed, the ill-housed, and badly clothed work out their life’s drama, and then they turn their energies to surface polishing. They try to make their girls conduct themselves well in the clubs, and interest them and amuse them as best they can during their evening’s leisure. But they are inclined to ignore the industrial life; they like to forget the grim truth that if girls work for less than a living wage, in a vitiated atmosphere, they are not likely to become the strong, self controlled women whom we desire the clubs to train…(Montagu, 1904: 249/50)

In pursuing problems raised by the industrial and social conditions endured by girls, Lily Montagu subsumed class questions within the ‘Woman Question’. She explained problematic female social and sexual behaviour as the consequence of environmental conditions which were perverting the higher nature of women and she set out to improve these environmental conditions through intervention in the public and private domains of girls’ lives. Involvement with the WIC was directed towards improving the industrial environment. Religious and club work was designed to influence private lives. She encouraged collectivity and interdependence between people, but remained convinced of the value of personal development. She believed that girls could achieve their true female nature if they were encouraged within a nourishing environment. They would then exert influence which could only be to the benefit of society in general. The achievement of female potential was not intended to disturb the sexual division of labour. Lily Montagu persistently defended the centrality of women’s role in the family as wife and mother and never sought to analyse or question this position although it was not her personal choice.

In seeking to counter the environmental effects of poverty, she attempted to provide a club environment for Jewish girls which was aesthetically attractive. She wished to offer members the means whereby their appreciation of art and nature could be enhanced. This included contact and friendship with ‘ladies of culture and refinement’ (Montagu, 1904) as well as a programme of education sponsored by the London County Council. The purchase of the Green Lady Hostel in Littlehampton, bought jointly with Mrs. Pethick Lawrence, who became a leading suffragette, to provide a seaside retreat for female factory workers was an integral part of her efforts to ameliorate the debilitating environment endured by working class women.

The West Central Club and Synagogue in Alfred Place, into which Lily and her sister Marian invested their personal legacies, was designed by architect and fellow youth worker Ernest Joseph. Lily Montagu always used the word ‘beautiful’, when she referred to this club which was destroyed by enemy action with the loss of 27 lives in 1941:

Ernest Joseph knew that …[our girls] deserved a good education and plenty of recreation to which youth has a special claim. Above all, they needed to exchange friendships with those who, more fortunate than they, had all the advantages of a full life. In fact, they deserved a beautiful Club.

(Montagu, 1962)

The interwar years were ones of consolidation of the work of the West Central Club and its associated Day Settlement introduced in 1919.Lily Montagu became increasingly focused upon her religious activity and active in her role as JP sitting on the Juvenile Bench. In 1923, she persuaded Nellie Levy, whom she had trained, to resign her work with the National Organisation of Girls Clubs to take over the leadership of the West Central. This precipitated the admission of boys and men to membership, thus removing the basis for Lily’s identification through gender and friendship. During this period she increasingly adopted the persona of the Club Mother. In this role, she was able to maintain her idea of friendship whilst at the same time resolving tensions and differences in class and gender, and by now, age relations between herself and club members. In the role of Club Mother she was able to legitimate her class authority and occupy an approved female role which was both powerful and benevolent.

After the disaster of 1941, Lily Montagu as President, and her sister Marian maintained their contact with the West Central Club and Settlement through its various moves until it eventually settled in Hand Court, Holborn but religious commitments and ageing gradually lessened her practical involvement. In an interview in 1959, she said that in modern conditions she could not see a future for clubs but ‘ there is no reason why we should be unhappy about the future, since the best people will always look for the best in life and get together in search of it’ (Rose 1959). Throughout her life Lily Montagu was committed to values rather than institutions whose purpose was only to serve those values. The lesson remains valid for community and youth work.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Celia Rose for talking to me and pointing me to the Lily Montagu Archive in the Jewish Museum, Finchley. An earlier version of this biography appeared in Youth and Policy, No. 60, Spring 1998

References

Levy, N.G.(1968) The West Central Story and its Founders, The Hon. Lily H. Montagu CBE, JP, DD and the Hon. Marian Montagu, 1893 – 1968. London.

MacDonald, J. R. (1912), Margaret Ethel MacDonald, London: George Allen and Unwin.

Marks, L. (1990) Working Wives, Working Mothers. A comparative study of Irish and East European Jewish married women’s work and motherhood in East London 1870-1914, Irish Studies Centre Occasional Papers Series no.2, PNL Press: London.

Montagu, L.H. (1899), The Spiritual Possibilities of Judaism Today, in Jewish Quarterly Review. London.

Montagu, L.H.(1901) Naomi’s Exodus (A tale), T. Fisher and Unwin: London

Montagu, L.H.(1902) Broken Stalks, R. Brimley Johnson: London

Montagu, L.H. (undated- possibly 1903), The West Central Jewish Girls Club, Chapter XXII in book of unknown title. Photocopy in archive of The Jewish Museum Finchley.

Montagu, L.H.(1904) ‘The girl in the background’ in Urwick, op. cit.

Montagu, L.H. (1913 Samuel Montagu: First Baron Swaythling, Born December 21st 1832, Died January 12th 1911: A character sketch. Truslove and Hanson Limited:London.

Montagu, L.H. (1941) My Club and I: The Story of The West Central Jewish Club, Herbert Joseph, London.

Montagu, L. (1962) ‘The West Central Community’ in Magnus, C. L, E.M.J.: The Man and his Work, Published for Private Circulation on behalf of the Ernest M. Joseph Memorial by Valentine, Mitchell London

Rooff, M. (1972), A Hundred years of Family Welfare: A Study of the Family Welfare Association (Formerly Charity Organisation Society) 1869-1969, Michael Joseph: London.

Rose, S. (1959) ‘All About Eve’ in Jewish Youth, AJY.

Tananbaum, S. L (1997) ‘Philanthropy and Identity: Gender and Ethnicity in London’, in Journal of Social History, Vol. 30 No. 4, Summer

Urwick, E.J. (1904) Studies of Boy Life in Our Cities, J.M. Dent: London

Walkowitz, J.R. (1992) City of Dreadful Delight: narratives of Sexual danger in Late-Victorian London, Virago: London.

Lily Montagu: Additional Bibliography

Bunt, S. (1975), Jewish Youth Work in Britain: Past, present and future, Bedford Square Press, NCSS, London.

Conrad, E.(1953) Lily H. Montagu: Prophet of a Living Judaism, The National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods: New York

Conrad, E. (1963) Lily Montagu’s Life and Work, In Liberal Jewish Monthly, Memorial Supplement: Lily Montagu, 1873-1963,March 1963. London.

Conrad, E. (ed), (1967) In Memory of Lily H. Montagu: Some Extracts From Her Letters and Addresses, Polak and Van Gennep, Publishers Ltd: Amsterdam.

GOP, (Girls Own Paper) (1880), Vol. 1,( Mrs. G.S. Reany of Reading), The Working Girls of London, p.574

GOP, (1880-81), Vol. 2,(Dora Hope), The Girls Own Club, p. 564

GOP, (1885,) No 6, (Anne Beale), Three Social Evenings, p86

GOP, (1886-7), No8. (Anne Beale) Our Tracterian Movement, p 206

GOP, (1895), (Mary Canney) The Story of a London Factory Girls Club, p221

GOP,1892, No14, The Princess Louise Home p589

Haldinstein, D (ed.)(1927) The Club Link: The Magazine of the West Central Jewish Girls Club September, Vol 1. No. 5: London

Lazarus, O. (ed) (1941) The Club Link: Magazine of the West Central Jewish Club, December. Vol. 1 No. 8: London

Levy, N.G.(1968) The West Central Story and its Founders, The Hon. Lily H. Montagu CBE, JP, DD and the Hon. Marian Montagu, 1893 – 1968. London.

Liberal Jewish Monthly, (1963)

MacDonald, J. R. (1912), Margaret Ethel MacDonald, George Allen and Unwin:1912.

Mappen, E. (1985) Helping Women at Work: The Women’s Industrial Council 1889-1914, Hutchinson:

Marks, L. (1990) Working Wives, Working Mothers. A comparative study of Irish and East European Jewish married women’s work and motherhood in East London 1870-1914, Irish Studies Centre Occasional Papers Series no.2, PNL Press: London.

Montagu, L.H. (1899), The Spiritual Possibilities of Judaism Today, in Jewish Quarterly Review. London.

Montagu, L.H.(1901) Naomi’s Exodus (A tale), T. Fisher and Unwin: London

Montagu, L.H.(1902) Broken Stalks, R. Brimley Johnson: London

Montagu, L.H. (possibly 1903), The West Central Jewish Girls Club, Chapter XXII in book of unknown title. Photocopy in archive of The Jewish Museum Finchley.

Montagu, L.H.(1904) The girl in the background in Urwick, op. cit.

Montagu, L.H. (1913 Samuel Montagu: First Baron Swaythling, Born December 21st 1832, Died January 12th 1911:.A character sketch.Truslove and Hanson Limited:London.

Montagu, L.H. (1941) My Club and I: The Story of The West Central Jewish Club, Herbert Joseph, London.

Montagu, L. H. (1943) The Faith of a Jewish Woman, G. Allen and Unwin, London.

Montagu, L. (1962) ‘The West Central Community’ in Magnus, C. L, E.M.J.: The Man and his Work, Published for Private Circulation on behalf of the Ernest M. Joseph Memorial by Valentine, Mitchell London

O’Day R. and Englander, D.(1993) Mr Charles Booth’s Inquiry, Life and labour of the People in London, Reconsidered., the Hambledon Press: London and Rio Grande.

Pethick, E. (1898), Working Girls Clubs, in Reason, W. (ed.), University and social Settlements, Methuen & Co. London.

Pethick-Lawrence, E. (1938), My part in a changing world, London, Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Pelling, H. (1963), A History of british Trade Unionism, Penguin: Harmondsworth.

Rigal,Rev. L. (1978), A Brief History of The West Central Liberal Synagogue. London.

Rooff, M. (1972), A Hundred years of Family Welfare: A Study of the Family Welfare Association (Formerly Charity Organisation Society) 1869-1969, Michael Joseph: London.

Rose, S. (1959) All About Eve, in Jewish Youth, AJY.

Stanley, M. (1890), Clubs for Working Girls, in Booton, F. (ed) 1985) Studies in Social Education, Vol. 1. 1860-1890. Benfield Press: Hove.

Stedman Jones, G. (1971) Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society, Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Tananbaum, S. L (1997) Philanthropy and Identity: Gender and Ethnicity in London, in Journal of Social History, Vol. 30 No. 4, Summer.

Urwick, E.J. (1904) Studies of Boy Life in Our Cities, J.M. Dent: London

Walkowitz, J.R. (1992) City of Dreadful Delight: narratives of Sexual danger in Late-Victorian London, Virago: London.

WIN (1895 -1918), (Women’s Industrial News), Journal of the Women’s Industrial Council. London.

Jean Spence teaches community and youth studies at the University of Durham

© Jean Spence 1999.

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