Notes from One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women’s Suffrage Movement by Jill Liddington and Jill Norris

p. 92 “one winder could keep half a dozen weavers busy. Yet there seems to have been something rather distinctive about the women in the winding room. It was generally considered that they formed a select group (although their wages were usually lower than those of women weavers) because their winding room was far quieter than the weaving shed, and they did not have to resort to lip reading. Selina Cooper worked in one of the winding rooms at Tunstall’s mill in Brierfield and impressed this point on her daughter: …’Used to talk, used to chat all the time they were working”…the list of winders who went on to become active suffragists is impressively long… Selina Cooper and Ethel Derbyshire were two of the most outstanding. Others include Violet Grundy, Secretary of the Ancoat Winders’ Union formed with the help of Eva Gore-Booth and Sarah Dickenson in the 1900s and Annie Heaton, a winder from Burnley, active in the Women’s Trade Union League from 1893 and one of Esther Roper’s earliest suffrage organisers.”

p 93 “Women weavers comprised by far the largest group in the mill, nearly a third of all employees and two thirds of all women workers. In all they totalled over 150,000 strong. The typical Lancashire mill girls were weavers, in shawls, clogs and ‘laps’ pieces of cloth from cut ends to protect clothing from loom friction, oil and grease, while from their leather belts hung the tools of their craft, scissors, comb and reed-hook… Alice Foley… “At first I was highly terrified by the noise and the proximity of clashing machinery… It was .. stifling, deafening and incredibly dirty.’ It was dangerous as well. A weaver would be in charge of two to four looms, and each minute of the working day the shuttle would be thrown by the picking-stick across each loom no fewer than 200 times a minute. Accidents – including scalpings and amputations – often happened, and were reported in the local newspapers. One typical report about the death of a 15-year-old girl in Oldham read: ‘Whilst doing something at her loom her hair was caught in the working and her neck dislocated. She was not missed until the works had been closed, and when seach was made about 7 o’clock her dead body was found under the loom.”

p. 85 |”In 1884 the local grouping of weavers, escpecially strong in Blackburn and Burnley, joined together to form one united union, the Northern Counties Amalgamated Association of Cotton Weavers. .. the Association grew at a great rate. Within four years there were 40,000 members, representing one in four weavers. Three years later, in 1891, this had grown to 65,000, of whom two out of three were women… no other trade union anywhere had anything like its massive number of organised women workers.

p. 96 “completely equal pay in the weaving sheds was a myth. Nevertheless, women could earn far more by weaving than they could for any other job open to working class women, and the men and women weavers were paid at much nearer equal rates than in any other trade.

p. 99 “The Lancashire cotton unions, however, were still run by men who were neither socialist agitators nor idealistic visionaries. They were hard-headed men whose skills were of rapid calculations to fractions of a penny to assess a member’s earnings … They were not overtly political, and, along with the miners, tended to drag their feed over the cause of independent labour representation in parliament… In 1901 the only cotton union affiliated to the Labour Representation Committee was the tiny Colne Weavers’ Association, already well known for its unusual socialist tendencies.”

p. 104 “the National Union of Teachers, heavily dominated by the minority of men, had little interest in the particular grievances of its women members. It saw no reason to campaign against the differentials between men’s and women’s wages (men earned about 30% more) .. the union only finally accepted the principle of equal pay in 1919, and even then the women were accused of rushing the issue through while men teachers were in the forces”.) Women teachers acted timidly over the question of the vote: although some teachers did eventually form their own Franchise Union, individual branches of the NUT were usually opposed… In the Wigan branch, for instance, a resolution on women’s suffrage was debated, but ‘despite the fact that three fourths of the members present were ladies, not a single supporter of the resolution was to be found.

p/ 137 “To Guild members … it seemed vital for women to take up their opportunities to stand for local elections, both in their own right and as valuable political experience. If women could prove themselves capable of sitting on local School and Poor Law Boards, surely it strengthened their claims to the parliamentary franchise.

At first women met with prejudice and some hostility. ‘Men bitterly resented this advent of women in their special preserves,’ one Lancashire Guildswoman and Poor Law Guardian remembered. When Sarah Reddish came top of the defeated candidates in the Bolton School Board elections in 1897, it was expected that she would be co-opted on to it, as was usually the case. But because she was a woman, the Board refused to consider her. Happily, the Bolton electorate voted her in at the next election.”

p. 138 “Such women had considerable effect in humanizing the administration of the harsh Poor Laws, particularly in working class areas where previously few women had been eligible. Mrs Bury found that ‘before women sat on our Board all girls with sad histories had to come alone before a large body of men. Now, after I had pleaded with the Board and got a resolution passed, the women Guardians and matrons dealt with the cases in a separate room. Mrs Pankhurst, who was elected to the Chorlton Board of Guardians in 1894, found equally intolerable conditions: the girls working in the workhouse were not provided with nightdresses or underwear because the matron had not liked to mention such indelicate matters in front of the men on the Board.”

p. 144 “a petition to be signed exclusively by women working in the Lancashire cotton mills. This would show the rest of the country how powerful the demand for the vote really was among industrial women. It was a radically new tactic for a regional suffrage society to adopt… the petition was unequivocal: … ‘in the opinion of your petitioners the continued denial of the franchise to women is unjust and inexpedient. In the home, their position is lowered by such an exclusion from the responsibilities of national life. In the factory, their unrepresented condition places the regulation of their work in the hands of men who are often their rivals as well as their fellow workers…’

The petition was launched with maximum impact on 1 May 1900 with an open air meeting in Blackburn… seemed the obvious place: with no fewer than 16,00 women working in its weaving mills, it had a stronger tradition of women’s work than anywhere else in Lancashire. The earliest weavers’ unions had been established there, and women members had early acquired a reputation for militancy after the part they played in the 1878 strike.”

p; 146 “The summer of 1900, reported the Englishwoman’s Review, was ‘quite an experience’… ‘Canvassers in 50 places … were soon at work … going to the homes of the workers in the evening, after factory hours.. Some employers allowed petition sheets in the mills, and others allowed canvassers to stand in the mill yards with sheets spread on tables so that signatures could be got as the women were leaving or returning to work”.

p/ 205 “On 23 October 1906 Mrs Pankhurst led a demonstration to the opening of Parliament in protest against the omission of women’s suffrage from the Government’s programme. Scuffles broke out and 10 women were arrested and imprisoned. .. Working class suffragists recoiled from such behaviours. They felt that they had nothing in common with people who could donate £100 to WSPU funds or whose response to a crisis was to write to The Times. .. The radical suffragists wrote to Mrs Fawcett to make this point: although they had supported the interruption of a Liberal meeting in the interest of free speech, militancy for its own sake merely alienated all the support they had so carefully built up among the textile workers. .. Their letter is phrased a little primly, but it does reveal the dramatic class differences that now existed between the suffragettes and the radical suffragists: “Our members … it is not the fact of demonstrations or even violence that is offensive to them. It is being mixed up and held accountable as a class for educated and upper class women who kick, shriek, bite and spit. … It is not the rioting but the kind of rioting.”

p/ 222 “In 1911, it decided to show the strength of its support outside the maelstrom of London politics by organizing a massive pilgrimage that would converge on the capital from all corners of Britain an present a petition signed by 80,000 women demanding the vote. To thousands of members in the mushrooming suffrage societies the pilgrimage entailed considerable personal commitment and physical stamina. Few Lancashire women could spafre the time to walk the 200 miles … the only woman from her suffrage society who walked the whole distance was Emily Murgatroyd. ‘It took her about a fortnight. And they got hospitality …’ Mary Cooper explained. ‘and blisters on their feet. She was a real character, and very active physically. Emily’s weaver wages – then about 23s – were badly needed at home… ‘I had to save up money to leave with my mother,’ she said ‘because she couldn’t manage to get along without it. When I went away on suffrage work I always left a pound at home.’ Married women coming back from demonstrations or pilgrimages knew that the weekly wash waited for them. ‘Working housewives,’ commented Hannah Mitchell, ‘faced with this accumulation of tasks, often resolved never to leave home again.”

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