a course on the history of radical women 1914 – 1979 starting on 27 February 2018

A course on the history of radical women 1914 – 1979 at the Working Class Movement Library, Salford, starting on 27 February 2018


I am  delighted to be presenting this course again at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford,   which has a rich archive on women’s  history in the C19th and C20th.

This is a  10 week course which  will begin on Tuesday 27 February  2018  and run from  11am to 1pm. It  will introduce course members to  some of the key movements and events which shaped and changed women’s lives in the twentieth century.


The course  will include the following:

  • Women’s anti-war movements in the First World War
  • Women Councillors in Manchester  in  the 1920s eg Hannah Mitchell
  • The first women MPs such as  Ellen Wilkinson who was born in Manchester
  • Women’s unemployed marches in the 1930s
  • Women volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
  • The Women’s Parliaments held during  the Second World War
  • The work of  Joan Littlewood and  Shelagh Delaney, writer of A Taste of Honey
  • The emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s


No prior knowledge is necessary to enrol on the course which costs £60 (free to people on JSA or Universal Credit).

I have been researching and writing about radical women  for many years.  I have  an MA in the History of the Manchester Region, and  am the author of a number of books, including “Up Then Brave Women”: Manchester’s Radical Women 1819-1918.

For more information and/or  to book  a place  on the course please contact me, Michael Herbert  : redflagwalks@gmail.com



“repeated discourtesies” : the bitter split over votes for women on Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Council in September 1904.

In this article I will be examining in detail the  argument  and acrimony over the question of votes for women  on Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council (MSWTUC) in the autumn of 1904   which led to the two Organising Secretaries – Sarah Dickenson and Eva Gore-Booth  – resigning their posts,  and  then immediately establishing a new body, the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades and Labour Council.

Whilst the spilt has been  previously discussed by Jill Liddington and Jill Norris  in their book One Hand Tied behind Us (1978), more detail can now be added since the  discovery of the complete  minutes of the Council which have  now been placed on this dedicated website.

The Manchester and  Salford Women’s Trades Union Council

The Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Union Council (MSWTUC)  was set up in 1895 to organise women workers into trade unions. At this time trade unions were (with a few exceptions, particularly the Lancashire weaving trade) organisations of men, who were either indifferent to or opposed to women workers joining trade unions. True the Women’s Trade  Union League had been set up in 1874 by Emma Paterson  to organise  women  into trade unions and had won the right of women  to attend the Trades Union Congress, but its success was quite limited, with its membership in the hundreds rather than thousands.

The first meeting of the MSWTUC took place on 5 February 1895 in Manchester Town Hall.  Most of those who attended  – such as Julia Gaskell and C P Scott –  were not trade unionists but  part of the progressive Manchester middle-class, often linked to the Liberal party. It was agreed that the objects of the Council should  be-

1) To promote new and encourage existing organisations amongst women workers.

2) To collect and publish information as to the conditions under which women work with a view to influencing public opinion and promoting legislation for the improvement of their conditions of labour.

3) To endeavour by all legitimate means to improve such conditions by obtaining for women workers fair and uniform wages, shorter hours, and sanitary workrooms.

It was also agreed to appoint two Organising Secretaries to carry out the day to day work  of organising among working women. These were Sarah Welsh (later Dickenson) (1869-1954)   and Frances  Ashwell (later Ashwell-Cooke) (1852-1926).  They started work in  the third week of April at  salaries  of £50 and £70, respectively.

The MSWTUC took offices in Room 3, 9 Albert Square, opposite Manchester Town Hall,  at an annual rent of £20 (the building is long since demolished).  The first work done by Sarah and Frances  was to look into pay and conditions in the  umbrella-covering, shirt-making,& corset-making trades. Over the next five years they helped establish or support  unions for  Cap Makers,  Cigar Makers, Fancy Box Makers,  Folders and Sewers, Shirt makers, Shop Assistants, Tailoresses, Upholsteresses,  and Women  in the Bookbinding and Printing Trades.

In the Annual  Report  for 1900  the Council noted:

In the work of organising women, it must be remembered that special difficulties have to be encountered,  besides the ordinary difficulty of convincing the workers of the force and essential  morality of combination. The tradition of women’s  dependence dies hard and still goes far to shut their eyes to the possibility of self-reliance enterprise, whilst a narrow education works directly against the spirit of trade-unionism.

In spite of these and other drawbacks the situation presents some very encouraging features,   notably the growing enthusiams of a few very able women, who in some cases have come forward as union officials, and in whose enlightened effort and  influence among their fellow workers lies the great hope of progress in the future.

In 1900 Frances left to get married and was replaced by Eva Gore-Booth.


The key personalities involved in the split

1. Amy Bulley

Amy Bulley  was born on 20 April 1852.  She attended Newnham College  1873-1874, joining her two sisters. She and Mary  Paley were the first women to sit for the moral science tripos.  Although Amy  passed, she was not awarded a degree because she was a woman. In 1876 Amy  became as assistant mistress at Manchester High School for Girls. From 1877 to 1883 she was Secretary of  the Manchester and Salford College for Women in Brunswick Street. In 1894 she co-authored a book  with Dorothy Whitley, Women’s  Work. She became a  member of the MSWTUC in September 1895 , and was chair from 1897 to 1906.


2. Sarah Dickenson (nee Welsh)

Sarah was  born on  28 March 1868 in Hulme, Manchester. She  left school aged 11  to work in a mill  and  in time  became  an active  trade unionist. In February 1895  she became the Secretary of the Manchester and Salford Federation of Women Workers which had been  formed in  January 1893 by an amalgamation of the Shirt and Jacket Makers’  Association (formed in 1889)  and other trades. Sarah was then living  at 52 Hereford Street, Ordsall Lane, Salford.


3. Eva Gore-Bo0th

Eva was born in Lissadell, County Sligo  on 22 May 1870 into a prominent Anglo-Irish family, the Gore-Booths. She enjoyed a conventional upper-class upbringing,  but from an early age was entranced  both by nature and by the delights of novels and poetry. The poet William Yeats was an occasional visitor to the great house who,  after the deaths of both Eva and her sister Constance,   wrote a bitter-sweet poem in their memory, whose opening lines recalled those long-ago visits:

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

The turning point in Eva’s life came in 1896 when she was on holiday  in Bordighera, Italy. Here she met Esther Roper from Manchester, sent there to rest by friends who feared for her health through overwork.

Esther came from a working-class family which had risen socially when her father, Edward Roper, a factory worker, who was active in St Jude’s Sunday Schoool  had become  a missionary. Esther was born in 1868 in Chorley. Her parents returned to Nigeria,  leaving Esther in the care of her Irish grandparents,  and later a school for the children of missionaries. Her aunts  were weavers in Manchester and her uncle a glass blower. Her parents returned in 1874 and her father died in 1877, aged just 39. After his death she lived with her  younger brother, Reginald, and her mother in Broughton.  Her mother died in 1889, aged 43.

Assisted by the Missionary Society, Esther attended Owens College where women were only admitted for the first time  in 1883. She enrolled in 1886,   graduating with a BA in 1891 in the second division. She was given a prize for English Literature, and also studied Latin and Political Economy.

Women were then taught separately in premises on Brunswick Street. With a number of other women, Esther founded Iris, a newsletter for women at Owens, named after the messenger of the Gods. After graduating she  maintained  connection  with the College, particularly the Women’s Debating Society. She was also involved with the University Settlement , a charitable  organisation  set up in 1895 and  based in the Roundhouse  on Every Street and also  Ancoats Hall. (It’s still going in Beswick, by the way, now renamed “Manchester Settlement.”)

In 1893 she went to work for the Manchester Suffage Society (from 1897 the North of England Society)   and  revitalised it, taking it out of the genteel drawing rooms of the enlightened middle-class and on to the smoky, cobbled back streets of  Lancashire mill towns.  She drew in seasoned  campaigners such as Sarah Reddish, Selina Cooper  and Sarah Dickenson,  who had  years of  experience in the trade union and Co-operative movement, and who, like Esther,  believed in  the absolute necessity of linking the fight  for women’s right to vote with the struggle for better working and social conditions.

This  working class suffragist campaign had been forgotten, until Jill Liddington and Jill Norris brought it  back into public view in 1978 in their inspiring book One Hand Tied Behind Us. They named them the “radical suffragists” to distinguish from the more conservative  middle class women who formed the majority on  the North of England Society.  Bertha Mason, in her history of the suffrage movement, writes:

 It was the appearance on the scene of action of this new and important force, the organising of which was carried out by Miss Esther Roper, Miss Gore Booth, and Miss Reddish, herself at one time a textile worker, which was chiefly responsible for the wonderful revival of interest in the question of the enfranchisement of women which marked the early years of 1900. There can be no doubt that this active and enthusiastic demand on the part of a great army of women who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow,” and not merely their own bread, but in many cases the bread of relatives dependent on them, made a deep impression on Parliament and caused many who had hitherto treated the agitation as an “ impracticable fad” and ” the fantastic crochet ” of a few rich and well-to-do women, to enquire seriously into the why and wherefore of the movement.

In 1894, in order to boost support for another Bill in the Commons, the National Society decided to launch  “a Special Appeal” to be signed just by women and from all classes. In Manchester the Society directed its appeal to the factory women of Lancashire and Yorkshire.  Esther took  on two working-class women to assist with  the work; Hannah Winbolt from Stockport, who had worked as a handloom weaver in the silk industry for many years, and had been converted to the cause of suffrage by Lydia Becker; and Annie Heaton, a mill worker from Burnley, who had worked with Annie Marland  the year before on trade union organising for the Women’s  Trade Union League. Esther wrote that “the women were visited in their homes as well as factory gates and a large quantity of women’s suffrage was given away.”  They held both public meetings and open air meetings in different parts of Manchester.

On 25 June 1894  a crowded meeting in support of the campaign in the Free Trade Hall, organised by the Manchester Society,  and supported by a number of other organisations,  including the Lancashire and Cheshire Union of Women’s Liberal Associations,   Manchester and Pendleton Cooperative Guilds,  Manchester Women’s Christian  Association  and Manchester and Salford Federation of Women Workers. It was provided over by Lady Lyttleton,  with  a formidable array  of women  on the platform including Lady Somerset, Millicent  Fawcett, Elizabeth  Wolstenholme Elmy,   Mrs Pankhurst,  Enid Stacy and Alice Scatcherd. Antoinette Stirling sang two songs. while  there was  also an organ recital and songs, by Mr Burgin, the Australian  tenor. Mrs Lyttelton  said that what women  did with the vote when they got it was no business of theirs, they were there simply to demand that women should no longer be debarred from the rights and duties of citizenship.

Esther told Eva of her work  in campaigning for votes for women.   Eva decided to leave her comfortable home and way of life in Ireland and move to Manchester to  work with  Esther, sharing a  house at 83 Heald Place, Rusholme.  Eva wrote a poem in 1904 about their meeting called “The Travellers”.

Was it no strange that by the tideless sea

The jar and hurry of our lives.should cease?

That under olive boughs we found our peace,

And all the world’s great song in Italy?


Is it not strange though Peace herself has wings

And long ago has gone her separate ways,

On through the tumult of our fretful days

From Life to Death the great song chimes and rings?


In that sad day shall then the singing fail,

Shall life go down in silence at the end

And in the darkness friend be lost to friend

And all our love and dreams of no avail?


You whose Love’s melody makes glad the gloom

Of a long labour and a patient strife.

Is not that music greater than our life?

Shall not a little song outlast that doom?

Within months of her move to Manchester Eva was addressing branches of the local Independent Labour Party and Women’s Co-operative Guild on the necessity of women’s suffrage and was soon recognised as an activist in her own right. She went on to  the Executive of the North of England Society,   became a regular speaker at  the Manchester Women’s  Student Debating Society,  and was also  involved in the University Settlement in Ancoats.  The Settlement had been founded in 1895, inspired by the work of Toynbee Hall in the East End of London, with the aim of bringing culture into the industrial district of Ancoats.  She ran a drama class with Alice Cooke and Elizabeth MacGowan, which staged their first performance of The Merchant of Venice on 28 June 1899.  Louisa Smith (who became an active trade unionist) later lovingly recalled those classes:

We were a class of about sixteen girls. I think we were all machinists and we were rough….We called ourselves the Elizabethan Society because we had no scenery: as we said among ourselves, we had no assets, but we enjoyed every minute of the rehearsals. We were very raw material but keen on acting; she showed such patience and love that we would do anything to please her and she got the best out of us. After rehearsals we would give a show of our own, an imitation of what we had seen or imagined.  If any of us were feeling seedy or worried about business or home she could always see, and showed such an understanding sympathy that we came away feeling we had a real friend. I remember one of the girls was very delicate and truly not really fit to fight the battles of life, and Miss Gore-Booth cared for her and sent her little delicacies, and took her to her own doctor, and in a hundred and one ways she cared for us We thought she was a being from another world. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say we worshipped her, but she never knew it, she was so utterly selfless… She took us on picnics, and they seemed to be different picnics from any I had ever  been to, so jolly and free, no restraint about them. She was also very keen on women’s rights and trade unions. She persuaded me to join… She was always sympathetic with the downtrodden, and worked and lectured might and main, interviewing Members of Parliament, etc., on their behalf till conditions were mended. She was very frail and delicate herself, but full of  pluck and determination, and would stand up for people she knew to be unjustly treated, even though the world was against them, and with all so sweet and gentle that one could not help loving her.

Sylvia Pankhurst described Eva  as  “tall and excessively slender, intensely shortsighted, with a mass of golden hair worn like a great ball at the nape of her long neck, bespectacled, bending forward, short of breath with high-pitched voice and gasping speech, she was nevertheless a personality of great charm”.

Eva started for work for the MSWTUC in June 1900. The Council noted that Eva “brings to her task considerable acquaints with the condition of working women’s lives.” and that the function of the Council “was to  bring trade-unionism  within the reach of  scattered individuals  working in unorganized trades, and to draft them  off into their own unions.”

Sarah  Dickenson later remembered Eva thus in a letter to Esther:

I met her first at your office when she came to Manchester, and my first impression of her was her charming and interesting personality. When I knew her better I found how very genuine she was in all her dealings and discovered all the beautiful traits in her character. The friendly way that she treated all the women trade unionists endeared her to them. If she was approached for advice or help she never failed. She is remembered by thousands of working women in Manchester for her untiring efforts to improve their industrial conditions, for awakening and educating their sense of political freedom, and for social intercourse.

Over the next few years  Eva and Sarah worked very hard to encourage women to set up and join unions. It was rarely an easy task. A section in the 1903  Annual Report report described the problems:

For however severely trade grievances may be felt, the first steps in organisation are always difficult. The timidity of inexperience is hard to overcome, and people naturally fear to jeopardise their week’s earnings. Innumerable meetings are held by the Council, sometimes so small that they are not in themselves worth recording and much personal canvassing and persuasion has to be used before a sufficient number of workers can be gathered together and enough enthusiasm aroused to induce an adequate number of more progressive to take up the responsible positions of officers, committee and collectors.

One of the difficulties they encountered in getting women to go to meetings was solved by starting a Tea Fund in 1902 to buy tea, sugar, milk and cake:

It was found that the tea was a great convenience, as many of the women live in outlying districts, they are naturally anxious to hurry home to tea when their work is over and it is both inconvenient and expensive for them to come back to meetings in the evening. We are glad to say that the tea had good results in introducing a social element that promoted good fellowship and a friendly spirit among the members, and the attendance has largely increased.

The most successful women’s union established by Eva and Sarah was the Salford and District Association of Power Loom Weavers, set up in April 1902 which soon had 800 members As well as trade unionism the women workers were also interested in politics and the suffrage campaign, sending a resolution just weeks after their establishment to a meeting at the Free Trade Hall called to protest against the imposition of a corn tax. The women’s resolution not only protested against the tax and the fact that it would fall most heavily on women “the worst paid workers in the country, ” but also objected to the fact that their exclusion from the franchise prevented them “from making an effective protest at the Ballot Box.” Nellie Keenan was the first Treasurer of the union and later became  its Secretary.

Eva was in demand as a speaker, addressing the May Day demonstration in Gorton Park in May 1902 and a meeting in the Secular Hall, Rusholme later that same month on “The Industrial Position of Women”. In 1903 Eva became the MSWTUC representative on the Education Committee of the City Council and was later appointed onto the Technical Instruction Committee.

4. Christabel  Pankhurst

Christabel Pankhurst  was born on  22 September 1880, daughter of Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst.  She attended Manchester High School for Girls  with her two sisters. After the death of her husband Emmeline took a job as registrar of births and death with Christabel acting as her deputy. Emmeline also started an arts and crafts shop at 30 King Street called Emerson’s.  Christabel worked in the shop but did not enjoy it, as her sister Sylvia recalled:

…she detested Emerson’s. She arrived there as late as she could each morning, took  a couple of hours off for lunch, and got away as early as possible in the afternoon, stifling her thoughts by a constant succession of novels. As the registrarship necessitated attendance only during a couple of hours in the morning and evening, Mrs Pankhurst was able to give the greater part of the day to her shop. Whilst Christabel  was still in Switzerland she had engaged assistants, and had arranged for her brother Walter to keep the books, which he did as labour of love, having retired from business for ill-health. There was no obvious place for Christabel  to fill and Christabel had no desire to make one. Mrs Pankhurst was satisfied to have her daughter beside her, and if she had any regret that Christabel  sat in the dark little office all day with her head in a novel, she did not  say so.

Christabel  became friends with Esther Roper  and Eva  Gore-Booth and Esther in 1901 after meeting Esther at a meeting of the Women’s Debating Society. She was swiftly drawn into their activities, joining Eva’s poetry circle at the University Settlement, going on to   the Women’s Trade Union Council, speaking at a number of meetings on the suffrage question,  and accompanying the two women on holiday to Venice. Her sister Sylvia recalled that at this time Christabel adored Eva and when Eva suffered from neuralgia, as often happened, she would sit with her for hours, massaging her head. To all of us at home, this seemed remarkable indeed, for Christabel had never been willing to act as the nurse to any other human being.” At Esther’s suggestion Christabel began studying law at the University of Manchester, graduating in 1906 with first class honours. According to Sylvia, Mrs Pankhurst was quite jealous of the time that Christabel spent with Esther and Eva.

In October 1903 Christabel and her mother established the Women’s  Social  and Political Union to campaign for votes for women. In 1905 this turned into the militant suffragette movment.

The radical  suffragist campaign

Esther continued the  North of England Society’s suffrage  campaign amongst working women. Heartened by the success of the Special Appeal,   the suffragists resolved to launch a petition to be signed only by women working in the cotton mills of Lancashire in order to demonstrate the support for the vote amongst women workers.  In 1900 there were 96,820 women members in the textile unions and 69, 669 men.  The petition said  that “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 fellow workers…”

The petition was launched on 1 May 1900 at the annual May Day meeting in Blackburn, which was attended by thousands of working women. It was such a success that they had to organise further meetings on 2 and 3 May.

Esther followed this up by appointing five organisers – Mrs Hogson Bayfield, who was active in the Women’s  Co-operative Guild; Sarah Reddish, also active in the  Women’s  Co-operative Guild;  Mrs Ramsbottom, Katherine Rowton, a Poor Law Guardian;  and Mrs Green, also active in the Women’s Co-operative  Guild. The women fanned out across Lancashire by tram and train,  visiting every group of women textile  workers they could find.  The Englishwoman’s Review reported that the method of canvassing has been “chiefly that of 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 the signatures could be got as the women were leaving or returning to work.” They also spoke at meetings  of the Weavers’ union  and Cardroom Association  and also addressed   several dozen open-air meetings

On 19 March 1901 a deputation of 15 women cotton workers, led by  Sarah Reddish, went to London to  present  the petition   to Parliament and meet  with a small number of sympathetic MPs,   including C E Schwann from Manchester and Herbert Whiteley from Ashton-under-Lyne.  Sarah Reddish said that though she was no longer a factory worker she had been one for a period of over twenty years  and now she was an official of working women’s organisation.  She said that the petition had been signed by 29,359 women “all of whom were factory workers.” “Some of them had children to keep and some were sole supporters of their families, and all expressed themselves strongly on the continued refusal to grant of  Parliament  to grant the franchise to women. Women  shared the burden of the nation, and they felt they ought to have a voice in the making of the laws.” Sarah Dickenson said that “women were engaged in making the wealth of the country and ought to have a voice in its management. Many Lancashire women were keeping homes, and even worthless husbands, and yet the latter when it became a matter of voting had the only voice in the affairs of the nation. It lowered the status of the women greatly  to be so treated in the matter of the franchise…The working women of Lancashire were determined  to try and try again until they succeeded in securing justice.“

On 18 February  1902 the suffragists presented another petition to Parliament  signed by  33,184  women  wool workers from  Yorkshire and 4,292  silk workers from  Cheshire.  In the Commons the eighteen members of the deputation  met a dozen MPs. Miss Agnes Close from Leeds said the deputation and those they represented had worked very hard,  and she hoped the members would do all they could to move forward the object they desired – which was the removal of the disability under which women  now laboured in Parliamentary and municipal matters. They thought it only right that women should have a vote in parliamentary and municipal affairs on the same basis  as men.

Mrs Winbolt (Stockport) said that she was born, reared and had lived all her life in Cheshire; and as one who had helped with the petition she appealed for the direct vote for women. What they wanted was that the womanly mind of the country should be brought in. They did not want to pull down the men but pull them up. She had been in the textile trade for forty years and she could tell them that they had suffered both in the silk trade and the cotton trade through women not having the Parliamentary vote. If she had time she could enumerate many cases where women were placed at a disadvantage because they had  not a direct vote as to who should  represent  them in the House of Commons. (applause). All they asked for was fair play; they did not want more, and certainly they did not feel that they would like to take any less.

Esther Roper wrote  a leaflet The Cotton Trade Unions and the Enfranchisement of Women

 If it’s necessary, as the men say it is, for men to be directly represented in Parliament, how much more necessary must it be to women, the only entirely unrepresented workers, to have the protection and power of a vote. The women’s best chance of winning their own enfranchisement is through the Cotton Trade Unions of the North. Here they have the  power because they are more numerous than the men…Therefore, let  all women  having the great power of the Cotton Unions  in their hands, help themselves, and the millions  of women  workers  who are poorer  and less able to help themselves than they,  by making  women’s suffrage a Trade Union  Question. The Cotton Trade Unions can and must secure the enfranchisement of the women workers.

 In the spring 1903 Selina Cooper, Sarah Reddish, Katherine Rowton, Esther Roper and  Eva Gore-Booth fanned out across the Lancashire cotton town speaking to  branches of the weavers’ unions and asking  them to ballot their members on the issue of making suffrage a trade union issue. The tactic  was successful with branches in Bolton, Clitheroe, Colne, Nelson, Hyde and Haslingden  all voting “yes”.

The support being gathered by the radical suffragists amongst the cotton trade unions was not being echoed in the nascent Labour Party, the Labour Representation Committee. It seems also  that they were facing some disquiet  from within the North of England  Society  about their campaign amongst working class women and felt that a separate organisation would  enable them to more open about their links with the trade union movement. Accordingly  in the summer of 1903  they set up  the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile Workers’ Representation Committee (TWC)   with an office at 5 John Dalton Street.

The Secretaries were Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper, the Treasurer was Sarah Reddish from Bolton.  The Committee comprised:

Mrs Aldersley, Nelson

Mrs Clara Staton,  Bolton

Miss Foley, Bolton

Mrs Mary Atkindon, Brierfield

Mrs Sarah Thomas, Nelson

Mrs Harriet A Mills, Member of Education Committee, Accrington

Mrs Sara Whittaker, Accrington

Miss Louise Smith, Manchester

Miss Mary Carr, Hyde

Mrs Sarah Dickenson, Manchester

Miss Katherine Rowton, Manchester

Mrs Ruth Dewhurst, Oldham

Mrs Alice Hibbert, Roggersham

Miss Nellie Keenan, Secretary of the Weavers’ Union, Salford

Mrs Violet Grundy, Secretary of the Winders’ Union, Ancoats

Miss Isabel Forsyth,  Secretary, Bookbinders’ Union

The TWC therefore brought  suffragists together  with women  with experience of organising  in the trade union and co-operative movement.

In their first pamphlet  Women  Workers and Parliamentary Representation, Eva wrote that  “amongst those who have for their present idea, in industrial matters, a fair day’s wage for a fair’s day work, the low payment of women remains  one of the great problem’s of our modern civilisation.” After describing  “the wretched houses, insanitary and over-crowded, that disfigure our great towns, the children going hungry to school, the old people left penniless,  and uncared for, the numbers that sleep out every night of the year, these and many other  evils are the direct result of poverty,  she  concluded that,  “Trade unionists  must agree that there is something radically wrong with the present position of women in the labour market.”

In February 1904 the TWC issued a circular calling for the immediate enfranchisement of women  workers.

The relatively low wages of women  workers …are a matter of common knowledge  and in many cases they sink almost to vanishing point. The women  chainmakers of Cradley Heath (skilled workers and intelligent citizens) are – hundreds of them – earning at tbe rate  of 5s a week, sometimes even 2s 6d  for the difficult and hard labour. Thousands of women in the Staffordshire  Potteries receive  a wage of 8s to 12s a week. In many ases womne do the same workas men  for much less money.  A striking example of this occured  lately in an engineering firm in Manchester. Women  were put on work  at a process which had been done by men  at at the rateof £1 a week.; these women are being paid from 8s to  12 s a week for the work.

Among national school teachers all over the country the men  teachers are being paid nearly double,simply for being men, without any regard for their merits or qualifications as teachers. 

The TWC  manifesto, published in July 1904, explicitly linked class and suffrage, noting that the labour movement had formed the Labour Rrepresentation Committee (from 1906 the Labour party)  to campaign for its demands.

 …the position of the disenfranchised working women, who are by their voteless condition shut out from all political influence, is becoming daily more precarious. They cannot hope to hold their own in industrial matters, where their interests may clash with those of their enfranchised fellow-workers or employers. The conclusion has been forced on those of the textile workers who have been working unceasingly in past years to secure the vote for women, that what is urgently needed is that they should send their own nominee to the House of Commons, pledged to…secure the enfranchisement of the women workers of the country…What Lancashire and Cheshire women think today England will do to-morrow.

A public row over suffrage

It was the establishment of the TWC and its public campaigning for  votes for working women which I believe led to the crisis on the MSWTUC in the autumn of 1904 . The  fact that both Sarah Dickenson and Eva Gore-Booth were members of the TWC  led some of the public perhaps understandably  to confuse it  with the MSWTUC. This did not go down at all well with  Amy Bulley.

Her position on women’s  suffrage was made plain in a flurry of  letters  between her and  local suffragists in  the Manchester Guardian in the spring of 1904. The first letter, published on 15 March,   came from Manchester suffrage pioneer Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, who had been campaigning for votes for women since 1866. She urged support for a motion on women’s suffage being moved by Sir  Charles McLaren,  and ended  her letter  by stating that, “Not until  justice is done to the mother-half of the human race  can humanity truly show to what dignity and nobility it can truly attain, and whoever denies and delays  this justice is an eneny to the progress of the race.”

Amy  Bulley replied at  some length on 23 March, noting that while there has been a majority of 114 for  McLaren’s motion  and  there seemed to be increased good will shown to the movement:

…the women’s forces require to be set in order, and in drastic fashion if a solid victory is to be achieved. I venture to assert that the leaders of the women’s suffrage  movement have never gone to the root of the question or placed their demand on the right basis. Instead of establishing it on a broad democratic basis they have clung to a property basis which is in reality obsolete, and which even it were a living force, would not fit the case for women. There  is no enthusiasm today for limited franchises, and no party is willing to make sacrifices on their behalf. Practical politicians of all shades are opposed to increasing the complexities of the present situation. Represenation is still based nomianlly on property, but the lodger and service franchises have destroyed its character, and public opinion has virtually outgrown the conception. The mind of the country moves faster than its enactments, and it is not too much to say that the theory is now tacitly accepted that a man is fit to exercise the franchise, unless he belongs to the migratory, the pauper or the criminal class.  To the public mind thus attuned comes the women’s demand that certain of her sex who happen to possess technical property qualifications should be admitted to the franchise. But the conditions fit women so ill, not having been devised for them, that a franchise on this basis  would be little  less than a mockery and in consequence  no political party will have anything to do with it. 

It is playing with words to ask, as recent Bills have done, that the franchise may be granted to women “on the same terms as those on which  it is or may be granted to men” (I quote from memory), for these terms applied to women would work quite differently. So long  as property qualifications, however diluted, form the basis of enfranchisement the wives and mother sof the working classes and the majority of those of the middle-classes would be excluded.  We should have a “widow and spinster” franchise, with a sprinkling of property owners, and those who would employ devices, such as buying a cottage, to secure the vote. ..

Take the notable gathering of women in  the Free Trade Hall last November, some 4,000 strong. The majority were members of the co-operative movement, shrewd, sturdy, common sense  women, mother of families, and with an interest in public affairs and a wholesomeness of mind and character which  hardly any other class in the country could equal. Yet most of these women would be shut from any scheme of enfranchisement which women  have yet publicly advocated.  they have no “property” qualification, neithe rhave the factory women  of Lancashire to whom the North of England Suffrage Society, wisely  forsaking drawing rooms, have directed their efforts. Men  will trust women  more broadly or not at all, they will not enfranchise a small limited class, for they realise that the womnen  who need it most are precisely those who have no property or social influence.

Perhaps stung  by this lofty dismissal of their  efforts amongst working women in Lancashire and  Cheshire  Esther Roper responded  to Amy Bulley  in a letter  published on  26 March:

Stating the case for adult suffrage as against the present voting quailification, Miss Bulley, has, I venture to think, confused  two issues (1) the abolition of sex equality and (2) the widening of the existing basis of representation. The first of these two is the present object of all women’s suffrage  organisations, labour or otherwise. The second will only be gained by men and women  together, after their positions have been equalised by the removal  of the distinctive and wholesale sex disability under which all women suffer at present.

We see no symptoms  at present of a strong movement for manhood suffrage  amongst  men of any party. ..The present  state of  women’s  labour and their crying economic need will not allow of our waiting for the settlement of this question until men  are educated on a practical agitation for universal suffrage. In speaking of working women’s  position in this matter, I think Miss Bulley has overlooked the great importance to them of the lodger qualification. Many thousands of textile workers  in this district alone at present  fulfil the neccessary qualification by paying at the rate of 4s a week for rooms (exclusive of  rent for furnuture).  Thousands also of teachers, journalists, clerks, typewriters, and secretaries would benefit by this franchise. 

Amy swiftly put pen to paper, and her reply was published on 29 March:

I recognise clearly as Miss Roper that “the abolition of sex disability” and “the widening of the existing basis of repressentation” are two different issues.  My contention is that the first can only be obtained through the second… the ultimate aim must of course be adult suffrage, and Miss Roper rightly points out that there is no “strong agitation” for it at present.  The reason however is not far to seek. The present franchise almost amounts to manhood suffrage, but is iuncertain and irregular in its operation. Any man may qualify for a vote, and almost any man may lose it at any time through an accident or a technical objection. Working men  feel these hindrances keenly, and their demand will probably be for a simplification of registartion which will  enable them to keep a vote when they have got it. This can hardly be  put ino practice except through a measure of manhood suffrage and where will the women be then with a request for limited franchise… 

On one point Miss Roper misunderstands me. I said nothing about “the vital importance of the franchise to women  wage-earners.”  The study of labour questions has led me to attribute womem’s  industrial to economic rathe rthan political questions, but the question is too large for discussion. Still the possession of the franchise would probably prove a lever in the hands of working women and I should be glad to see it in use.

A final  letter   from Amy  appeared in the Manchester Guardian  on 6 April  which was nothing less than a  condescending public put down of  Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy:

The Women’s Suffrage Bill for which Mrs Elmy worked so hard in 1870 was not out of place at a time when a series of limited franchises for men were being conceded one at a time. The impulse which led to these partial enactments has long been spent, the tide has ebbed for good. The next tide to rise will be towards manhood suffrage, so much  I think nobody denies.  Would it not be wise for the Women’s Suffrage Party to set their sails to ride on the flowing tide? I do not propose to trespass further on your space with regard to this subject.

It’s clear that Amy Bulley regarded the suffrage campaign  as misguided and a waste of time and energy.

The  Events of the Split

The events which led to the split  were sent in motion when Amy wrote a  letter to the Manchester Guardian, published on 11 July 1904,  disclaiming any connection between the MSWTUC and the growing campaign for votes for women:

There seems to be some misunderstanding with regards to the aims  and obectives of the Manchester Womne’s Trades Council   It has been erroneously stated that the Council is concerned with the movement  for the enfranchisement of women, and leaflets  written on behalf of  a women’s suffrage society in the textile districts  have been  attributed to our initiative.

Allow me to state decisively that the Women’s  Trade Union Council does not concern itself  in any  way with women’s suffrage  or any other political question. Our object is solely to organise women their trades for the improvement of their industrial condition, giving them the weapon with which working men improved their long befor ethe acquisition of the vote. The opinion of individual members of the Council on the suffrage question is not even known to me. Miss Eva Gore-Booth, one of our organising secretaries, has taken some share in propaganda connected with women’s suffrage but her action in this regards is entirely unconnected with the work of the Council. I should regret exceedingly if the industrial organisation of women  in this  district, which is urgently needed, were confused with an agitation of  qute adifferent aim.

Amy signed her letter as chair of the MSWTUC, but  it seems she wrote the letter off her own bat as there is no discussion recorded in the  minutes  of the MSWTUC on 7 June. We do not know whether she spoke to Eva prior to sending the letter to the newspaper, but it was a very public repudiation of her own employee.

It   led to Christabel Pankhurst  to respond in a letter to the Manchester Guardian  (which I have not been able to trace) and then  bring forward a resolution  on suffrage which was initially discussed at a Special Meeting  of the MSWTUC on 26 July. Those present  were Amy Bulley (chair),  Margaret Ashton, Emily  Cox,  Christabel  Pankhurst, Mr. Johnston and  Mr. Herford

Amy Bulley explained that the meeting had been called in consequence of  a difficulty that had arisen through Miss Gore Booth’s women’s suffrage work.  The Daily News had published a paragraph confusing leaflets written by her and  published by the Textile Workers Committee with the Council’s propaganda. Miss Bulley then wrote a letter to the  Manchester Guardian disclaiming any connection with the movement for the enfranchisement of women on behalf of the Council.  Miss Pankhurst, as a member of the Council, had written to the Manchester Guardian to disassociate herself from this position.   After some discussion it was decided that the matter was too important to be decided at such a small meeting.  Christabel  therefore agreed to postpone her resolution till next Council meeting, when all the members could have good notice to attend.

This adjourned  meeting took place on  26th September . Those present were Amy  Bulley (chair), Miss Crompton, Emily  Cox, Miss Pankhurst, Katherine  Rowton and  Mr. Marr.

Christabel Pankhurst  moved the following resolution, ” That it is now time that the Council should bring their policy into line with that of the Unions with which they are connected by taking active part in the effort to gain political power for the women workers.” She  based her case on the growth of the Labour party supported by trade inionists , and the widefelt need of the franchise for the protection of the women workers’ interests. She pointed out that the Manchester women trade unionists had taken up this question strongly and appealed to the Council ” to bring their policy into harmony with that of the unions”. The resolution was seconded by Miss Rowton.

Amy Bulley read letters opposing any change of policy from Miss Ashton, Mrs. Schwann, Mr. Herford, Mr. Johnston. She said that that she thought that such a change would be disastrous and that it would alienate subscribers and friends. Miss Cox explained that the title of the Council was somewhat misleading, as they were not a body like the Trades Council  and  did not claim to represent the Women’s Trade Unions. Miss Crompton suggested that it was time that the women had a regular Trade Council of their own to deal with such matters which were outside the Council’s sphere. Miss Rowton drew attention to the need that the women workers had for the protection of the franchise and  said that it would be a great help to the Council in the attainment of better wages. Miss Bulley  said that did not think  that the workers would gain any benefit from the measure in question. Mr. Marr  said he was strongly opposed to any such change. After some discussion the resolution was put to the meeting and defeated by a majority of three.

For the Resolution : Christabel  Pankhurst  and Miss Rowton.

Against : Amy Bulley, Emily  Cox, Mr. Marr and Miss Crompton.

Following this meeting both Eva Gore-Booth and Sarah Dickenson decided to resign their posts.

In her letter of resignation, dated 28 September,  Eva wrote;

Dear Miss Bulley

In view of the  Resolution thrown out  at the last Council meeting (“that it is now time that the Council should bring their policy into line with the policy of the Unions with which they are connected, by taking active part  in the effort to gain political power for the women  workers”) and after my strong protest at the time, I am  sure you will understand that I find myself reluctantly obliged to give up my work for the Council.  The Council has finally decided to adopt a course, which, in my opinion,  cuts them off from all the broader, more progressive  & more hopeful  side of the modern labour movement,  & separates their policy from the policy of the organised women themselves  whose interests & opinions seem to me all important.  It is a profound conviction  of the absolute importance of political power to the workers, especially the women workers, that forces me to take this step. I have therefore put my resignation on the Agenda for the next meeting & hope you will  be kind enough to read this letter to the Council

Sarah Dickenson’s letter was dated the same day.

Dear Miss Bulley

Since the last Council meeting  I have  been thinking a good deal about the attitude of the Council in regards to working women & the franchise. As a Trade Unionist I should  always wish to identify myself with the women in any effort they might make  to improve their position, politically and industrially, & I  have come to the conclusion  that it would be best  for me to sever my  connection with the Council, seeing that they are not prepared to fall into line with the Women’s Unions.

yours sincerely

Sarah Dickenson

The MSWTUC met again  on 4 October by which time  they had received the letters from Eva and Sarah.   There was a larger attendance than the  previous meeting. Those present  were Amy Bulley (Chair), Emily Cox,  Margaret Ashton, Frances  Ashwell Cooke, Mr. Herford, Miss Crompton, Miss Rowton, Miss Pankhurst, Julia Gaskell, Mr. Marr and  Mr. Johnston.

Rather than moving straight a discussion on the resignations Amy Bulley began the meeting by trying to raise an issue concerning a letter written to the Labour MP Mr Shackleton in February 1903 which had been given to her by the MP.

The minutes state: “It appeared that in Feb 1903 Mr Shackleton, MP, was asked by the persons representing themselves to be the Manchester Women’s Trades Union Council to introduce a deputation to the Home Secretary on labour laws.The Home Secretary (Mr A Akers-Douglas) found that the object was to complain of the men’s unions and to advocate women’s suffrage, and stated that that one of the signatories was Miss Gore Booth, Organising Secretary of the Manchester WTUC. Mr Shackleton and the Home Secretary both declined to go further in the matter. Miss Bulley had informed the Home Secretary that the Council had never asked for an interview, or even discussed the subject indicated. Miss Gore Booth admited having signed the application as Organising Secretary of this Council and expressed her regret.

The minutes continue:  “Miss Bulley was prepared to go further with the matter. Mr Herford proposed, Miss Crompton seconded, that the subject be dropped. Carried. The Secretaries then went away.” It is unclear from the minutes whether this letter had only recently come to light or had been held back by Amy Bulley since 1903 for time when it might prove useful against Eva.

Amy Bulley reported that letters had been  received from the Secretaries of the Unions of Shirtmakers, Powerloom Weavers, Patent Cop-Winders, Bookbinders, Tailoresses, Clay Pipe-Finishers and the Women’s Federation, “stating their desire to withdraw from representation on the Council on the ground that the unions wished to take independent action on trade matters.”

She then  read the  resignation letters from Eva and  Sarah and it was agreed  to accept these  and to advertise for a new Secretary at £100 a year.

Finally it was also agreed  the City Council be requested to  co-opt Miss Bulley as representative of the MSWTUC on the  Council’s  Education Committee, a position that Eve Gore-Booth had been  fulfilling up  until this meeting.

It appears that the Council of the MSWTUC expected Eva and  Sarah  to work their notice but this did not happen  as was made  plain  at the on 11 October when a further  Special Meeting took place. Those present were Amy  Bulley (chair), Mrs. Schwann,  Margaret Ashton, Katherine Rowton, Christabel Pankhurst, Mrs. Crompton, Miss Simpson, Mrs. Cooke, Julia  Gaskell,  Emily Cox, Mr. Herford, Mr. Johnston, Mr. Marr and  Mr. Harker.

Amy Bulley started the meeting  by reading another letter she had received  from Eva-Gore-Both dated that day. The letter makes it plain that some members of the Council had been abusive towards Eva because of what had happened:

11 October 1904

Dear Miss Bulley

You will find all the information about the different unions very carefully recorded in the diary, also there is a record of every meeting. I think you will understand that it will be pleasanter for  us all for me not to be present  at the Council tomorrow considering the repeated discourtesies of several of the members of the Council and the extraordinary language they have allowed themselves to use to me. I cannot go on listening to repetitions of such things. Mrs. Dickenson agrees with me in this matter.

yours truly

Eva Gore Booth

ps in case you find the information in the Diary not full enough I enclose  some rough notes , & Mrs. Dickenson will let you have a list of meetings. As this a special meeting Mrs. Dickenson is holding the accounts over  to finish them up for Mr. Herford to go over.

Mrs. Schwann  reported  that she had arrived at the office shortly after  2pm (the office hours)  and  had had to wait  in the passage till one of the members of the Council, Miss Pankhurst, arrived with the key. Mr. Herford  said that apart from the  more serious questions involved in the absence of the Secretaries, it was an inconvenience not to be able to  make up the accounts. Miss Rowton  expressed her opinion that the position  was less painful in the absence of the Secretaries.

Mr. Johnston moved with Miss Ashton seconded,  that the Secretaries of the WTUC, Mrs. Dickenson  and Miss Gore Booth, be informed that as they absented themselves from their office duties and  the meeting of the Council to-day, without permission,”their appointments  are cancelled from this date”.

Amy read the letters from the unions again, which gave  as the reason for  withdrawal the wish of the union to take a line of independent action. Mrs. Schwann asked if the Council had ever wished to control the action of the unions in the management  of their own affairs, and  was assured that the policy of the Council  had been in later times as in the beginning to give complete independence to the unions formed.

It was reported that all the  seceding unions  which  had been  invited to confer with the Council had refused the invitation. At this point someone  drew the attention of the meeting to the formation of a new body,  the Manchester and Salford  Women’s  Trades and Labour  Council by the seceding unions,  which had been  announced in the advertisement in the Manchester Guardian of  8th October.  At this point the minutes reveal that  the meeting seems to have become quite bad tempered  with aspersions being  made about Eva and Sarah’s conduct while  Katherine Rowton defending them.  If Christabel  said anything, it was not recorded. The minutes read:

“It was pointed out that in all probability steps must have been taken to form such a society before the Council meeting on October 4th, when the resignations of the Secretaries were received. Miss Rowton reminded the Council that in the previous meeting a strong opinion had been expressed as to the desirability of forming such a Trades Council drawn  from the workers themelves, now or in the future. Miss Cox  said on of the most inexplicable points  in the conduct of the Secretaries was that in view  of this expression of opinion, the new scheme  should have been  kept a secret from the Council. Miss Rowton  thought the Council took an unjustifiably severe view of the action of the Secretaries. Mrs Schwann  considered they had been  dealt with most leniently. Mr Johnston  was of the opinion that their conduct was entirely unpardonable & urged that the Council could not continue to allow them to remain in its offices  & undo its work.  After further discussion the resolution  was part to the vote, & was carried; 11 members voting for the motion, & one against, two members not voting.”

At this point in the meeting  Katherine Rowton  and   Christabel Pankhurst announced that they  wished to resign their membership of the Council and  walked out.

Amy Bulley expressed her regret that she was unable to undertake the duties of the Educational Committee for which the Council desired to nominate her for co-optio.  It was agreed that Emily Cox’s name be submitted to the City Council.

Mrs. Schwann wished to consider how it would be possible to find out the strength  of the Council formed by the seceding unions. ” It was agreed that it was better to leave the unions to themselves for the present  strong hope  being expressed that  amicable relations could be established in the future.”

At the meeting on 1st November a letter was read from Miss Rowlette was read resigning from the the MSWTUC  as  in her opinion,”industrial equality for women was unattainable without political enfranchisement”.  Another union resigned from the Council, namely the Cigar Makers.

After the Split

In the immediate aftermath of the split  there was a bitter public row over the nomination to Manchester Education Committee which  revealed the gulf between the two sides.    On 11 November 1904 the Manchester Guardian published a letter from Nellie Keenan, Sarah Dickenson, Evelyn Tonkin, Isabel Forsyth, Nellie Kay, and Violet  Whalley on behalf of the unions which constituted  the new Council. They stated that as a result of a  radical  difference of opnion between the Trades Council and the trade unions, they had decided to withdraw:

They were convinced that the time had come when it was essential for the unions’ progress and future development that they should stand on an independent and self-reliant basis and formulate their own policy. A representative Women’s  Trades and Labour Council  was therefore constituted. It will be seen that this Council  is not in the real sense a new and untried body, as it is formed from the representative sof the most important and long-established unions.The Women’s Trades and Labour Council wish to protest most strongly against the  nomination of a working women’s  represenative by the Manchester and Salford and Distrci Womne’s Trades Council.

Miss Gore-Booth was chosen by the women  trade-unionists to be their representative, and they are quite satisfied  with her, and do not want wish for a change. Miss Emily Cox, who is now supposed to represent them, was nominated without any woman trade-unionist in the city being consulted. With all due respect to Miss Emily Cox, who, we have no doubt, is a most worthy lady, she has no claim whatever to represent the women’s  trade unions of this district.

The  Manchester and Salford Women Trades  and Labour  Council strongly  deprecates that this nomination should be in the hands of any philanthropic body, no matter how well intentioned. 

Amy Bulley, clearly  still very angry at what she clearly regarded as a betrayal by Sarah and Eva,  responded  immediately in a letter published on 12th November:

We wish to say that throughout the  ten years during which this Council has been at work no word of disssatisfaction with its aims or methods has been expressed, so far as we know, by any of the unions it has formed. The only difficulty experienced has been with our secretaries, who, in consequence of our decision to take no part as a Council in the women’s suffrage movement, resigned their posts on 4 October. Before their resignations were received they took the appointment as secretaries to a new “Women Trades and Labour Council” formed with their assistance on 29 September.

As the officials of the seceding unions refused to meet our Council to explain their position or express their desires it was  impossible to consult them as to the selection of a nominee for the Education Committee, as we did last year,   and without a formal alteration of the education scheme a nomination cannot be transferred from one body to another. I may add that Miss Emily Cox, our present representative, is specially qualified in educational matters, and has been working in the women’s  trade  union movement for over ten years. 

Sarah Dickenson  responded immediately to Amy Bulley’s accusations with a letter published on 14 November:

In reply to Miss Bulley’s criticism of the wording of the Women’s  Trade  Unionists’ letter in the “Manchester Guardian”, may I claim some knowledge of the feeling among the women  trade  unionists, having been Secretary of the Federation of Women Workers, since before the Council was formed, ten years ago.

With regard to the date of the secretaries’ resignation and the forming by the women  of their own Council, the resignations were sent to the chairman, Miss Bulley,  on 28th September,  and acknowledged by her. A meeting of the joint committee of the trade unions was held on 29 September to discuss the situation which had reached a crisis since the Council’s refusal early in September to bring their policy into line with that of their constituent societies on the matter of the enfranchisement of women  workers – a matter the importance of which  must always appear more evident to the women workers thatn to those who are more comfortably situated. The resignation of the secretaries was reported to this  meeting, and the advisability of forming an independent Council was discussed. Both these matters were  then discussed for the first time.  The Council was formed and the honorary secretaries (Miss Eva Gore-Booth and Mrs Dickenson) were elected at once, as it was neccessary for the carrying on of  routine trade-union business. The later refusal of the women  to discuss the matter with the Manchester, Salford and District Women’s  Trade  Union Council  was due in part to their indignation at the manner in which their representative for the Education Commitee had been superceded. 

I have answered Miss Bulley’s criticism  of our methods, but in our opinion all this is beside the mark. The question remains where it was. Is it right that the representation  intended for the organised working women shall remain  in the hands of the Women’s  Trades Council, at present an unrepresentative body of   self-elected people. We contend that this was not the class of representation intended by the education  scheme. The working women  are very much in earnest about this matter, and trust that the authorities will see the justice of their claim.

Amy Bulley responded in another letter published on 15 November, which was the final letter in the exchange

Mrs Dickenson’s admission that the question of forming a new council for women’s trade unions was discussed on 29th September for the first time comfirms our impression that the individual members of the unions were not consulted at all in the step which was taken.

We have no quarrel with those unions that have left us. Like the rest, they have always been free to shape their own policy, form their own organisation, and take up any social or political question (such as women’s suffrage) that they might choose. If they  consider that their interests can now be adequately served without our aid, the decision sets free our energies for the formation of new unions in the many women’s trades which  are still unorganised.  Our complaint is that Miss Gore-Booth and Mrs Dickenson,  while still in our paid employ as organising secretaries, and before their resignations had been received by the Council, assisted in the withdrawal of a number of unions, to the extent of even signing two  of the letters of resignation themselves. No report had  been previously furnished by them of dissatisfaction among the unions, nor have we any  assurance that it  existed.

The facts are now before your readers, and I do not  think any good purpose can be served by further discussion. During the past past ten years our work has been carried on steadily and quietly, without stirring  up industrial life and we  propose to continue it on the same lines. Women’s suffrage has many sympathisers upon the Council, but we not contemplate adding it to our objects.

Mrs Aldridge, who has had previous experience in the work, has been appointed organising secretary, and we hope to establish in the future women’s  trade unions as well able to hold their own as those now in question. 

The  newly formed Manchester and Salford Women Trades  and Labour  Council took offices at 5 John Dalton, the same building as the TWC. The Secretaries were Sarah Dickenson and Eva Gore-Booth, the Treasurer was Nellie Keenan. By 1907  the affiliated union were:

Society of Women  in the Bookbinding and Printing Trades (Secretary, Miss Forsyth)

Electric and Machine  Workers’ Union (Secretary, Mrs. Dickenson)

Power Loom Weavers’ Association (Salford, Manchester and District)  (Secretary, Miss Keenan)

Amalgamated Shirt and Jacket Maker’s Society (Women’s branch) (Secretary, Miss Tonkin)

Tailoresses’ Union (Secretary, Miss Preston)

Cigar Makers’ Union (Secretary, Miss Brereton)

Clay Pipe Finishers’ Society (Secretary, Mrs. Bagulay)

Ring Spinners’ Union (Secretary, Miss Nellie Fysh)

Union of Patent Cop Winders, Hank and Bobbin Winders Gassers, Doublers, Reelers (Secretary, Mrs. Violet Grundy)

Cap Makers’ Union (Secretary, Miss Hulme)

Cut off from  the rich Liberal supporters who funded the MSWTUC, the new Council relied instead on donations from the affilated unions,  other unions, Socialist organisations such as the Clarion Vocal Union,  Clarion Cycling Club and Nelson LRC, Suffrage Societies,  and  donations from individuals such Eva’s brother Josslyn Gore-Booth.

The MSWTLC  continued its work to  organise women into unions, but also campaigned on the suffrage question holding public meetings, going on processions,  and supporting pro-suffrage candidates in by-elections in Wigan and in Rossendale.  In 1907 they started their own newspaper Women’s Labour News, no copies of which have survived sadly. Eva played a leading role in defending women’s  right to work, eg  defeating a proposal to ban barmaids from public houses.

Amy Bulley stepped down as chair of the Council in 1907. Her departure may well  have assisted in  the moves  made in  1909 to establish a cordial working relationship between the two Women’s Trades Councils.

On 21 April the Council discussed a letter from from Councillor Fox Secretary of the Trades and Labour Council inviting the Council to send three representatives to a joint meeting at Caxton Hall on   27 April   for the purpose of “discussing ways and means of furthering trade organisation amongst women.” The meeting  was to consist of three members of the Executive of the Manchester Trades and Labour Council, three representatives of the Women’s Trades and Labour Council and three representatives from the Women’s Trades Union Council. Miss Ashton moved,  Mr. Herford seconded that Miss Cox, Mrs. Cooke and Mrs. Aldridge be appointed to attend the meeting.

At the meeting on 12 May a positive report was made about the Caxton Hall meeting at which Alf  Purcell had  urged the need for joint action in extending trade organisation in the district. All present felt it would be useful if a permanent joint committee could be formed but before taking this step it was felt that  the matter should be brought before the respective Councils and therefore another meeting was arranged for 18 May. Mr. Herford moved and Mrs. Cooke seconded: “That the Council approves of the formation of a permanent joint committee consisting of an equal number of representatives from the Men’s Trades and Labour Council, the Women’s Trades and Labour Council and the Women’s Trade Union Council, if the joint conference at their next meeting decide on its formation.”

At the meeting on 9th June it  was reported that the Joint Committee consisting of representatives from the three Manchester Trades Councils was formed on 18 May  at a meeting held at the Caxton Hall. The Committee decided to increase the representation from three to  four members from each of the Councils. A Sub Committee of one represenative  from each Council –  Councillor Alf Purcell, Mrs. Dickenson and Mrs Aldridge – was appointed to draft and issue a circular to all the trade organisations in the Manchester District. The Circular asked unions whether they enrolled women members and if so what assistance the Joint Commitee could be.  If they  did not enrol women members, would the union be willing to assist if they commenced the work?  “We desire that it should be clearly understood that it is notour intention to create organisations in any trade in addition to those already existing. Put briefly, we desire to help, build up and strengthen the TU forces, and it is with this object that we ask your replies to the questions submitted.”

The two Women’s Trades Councils  were brought closer together during the First World War when they worked together on the Manchester Women’s War Interest Committee.

Finally in April 1919 the two Women’s Trades Councils merged with the Manchester and Salford Trades  Council to form a single body.  This included a Women’s  Group  with Mary Quaile as the Secretary.











a course on the history of radical women: From Mary Wollstonecraft to Votes for Women

 I will be teaching part one of  a course on the history of Radical  Women, starting  on Tuesday 10 October. The course will last 10 weeks and the venue will be the Working Class Movement  Library, 51 Crescent, Salford M5 4WX. The cost of the course will be £60. It will normally run 11am to 1pm.

The course will include the following

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the few  women who came to prominence   in the English radical movement of the 790s. Her treatise, Vindication of the Right of Woman, a follow up to her lesser known work, Vindication   of the Rights of Man, made her a well-known figure in English society, though it did not lead to the creation of a feminist movement.

The Luddites

Luddism was an organised  workers movement which attacked the machinery taking away their jobs in Nottingham, Yorkshire and Lancashire between 1811 and 1813. Whilst women did not generally play a role in the attacks on mills, they did play a prominent role in the food rioting in Manchester in the spring of 1812.


As the radical  movement  grew into a mass movement in the course of 1819, women stepped onto the political stage organising Female Reform Societies which issued addresses to the public. Women were present at Peterloo,  and were among the dead and injured.

Manchester Female Republicans

In the 1820s women were active in the Republican societies  inspired by the ideas and  writing of Richard Carlile.

Owenite Socialism

Organised groups of workers set up co-operative societies from the late 1820s onwards, inspired by the ideas of Robert Owen. Owen also attacked religion and traditional marriage, leading to a number of women such as Emma Martin preaching his principles around Britain in public lectures.


Chartism was mass worker’s movement at its height between 1839 and 1848 which called for whole sale political reform. Women were not among the leaders, but were active at grassroots level.

Trade unions

Lancashire had the highest number of women workers in England, mostly working in the textile industry as weavers. The Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades  Council was set up in 1895 to organise women in lowest paid industries into unions.

Votes for Women

The struggle for Votes for Women  lasted from 1866 to 1928. Manchester played an important role in all phases of the movement, both militant and non-militant. This session will include the role of working class women in the suffarghe campaign.

I have  been studying and teaching Manchester’s radical  history for many years. my  published work includes “Up Then Brave   Women,” Manchester’s radical women 1819-1918.

For information or to book a place on the course, please contact me;  redflagwalks@gmail.com




Remembering the Peterloo Massacre: 1820-2017


Rather than write  directly  about the Peterloo Massacre on 16 August 1819 –  which I have done on a number of occasions before – I thought it would be useful  to bring together  some of the information about past  commemorations that I have gathered over the past year.

At the end of this article  I will set out my views as a socialist and historian on the current commemoration  and  the  plans  for a memorial.


On the first anniversary of the Massacre,  a thousand or so people attended  a meeting on St. Peter’s Fields,  where  they were addressed by John Saxton.  The seven committee members of the Manchester Female Reform  Society issued an address in which they declared, “May our flag never be unfurled but in the cause of peace and reform: and then may a female’s curse pursue the coward who deserts the standard…” In September 1820  they issued an address to  Queen Caroline, signed by 20,000 women, and  sent an address  to Henry Hunt.


In Ashton-underLyne  a large crowd gathered in the pouring rain  and marched to the town square.


On the anniversary  the radical newspaper Black Dwarf  reported;

On Saturday last, being the anniversary of the ever memorable sixteenth of August  1819, the teachers and scholars of the Union Sunday School, Manchester, with a number of the inhabitants of that town, attended at four o’clock in the morning, on St Peter’s Field, when the song of “The Slaughter” was sung by the scholars and the company present, and after praying for justice on the perpetrators of the deeds of blood so recently committed they quietly departed to their several occupations.

It was intended to have a public procession; but, owing to the excessive rain during the whole of the day, and particularly at the time appointed for assembling, the procession was reluctantly abandoned; enough, however, was done to show  that  the execrable deeds of that fatal day were not forgotten, nor likely to be so, during the lives of the present generation; and it is to be hoped, that this anniversary  will always be commemorated till such time as a full and fair investigation has been instituted, and the abettors and aiders of the dreadful massacre has received the punishment they merit.

At Ashton under Lyne and Charles Town, a black flag was displayed, with the inscription “Murder, 16th August, 1819” upon it, and the people assembled were harangued on the subject of the Peterloo Massacre.”

Charles Walker, Joshua Hobson, Samuel Clayton and James Higson were charged with sedition for their role  in the Ashton commemoration. Funds were raised in Ashton, Stalybridge and   Manchester  for their defence. They pleaded guilty in return for a complete remission.


Henry Hunt spoke at a meeting in Salford Town Hall on the anniversary. The magistrates  made sure that the police and army were at hand. Hunt was met at Pendleton by a band of music,   accompanied by several hundred people from Manchester. He was put in a landau with Reverend Dr  Scholfield, Mr Cox and Mr Mitchell, and they proceeded along Chapel Street, up New Bailey Street, Gartside Street, Quay Street and Peter Street,   and onto the site of Peterloo where he arrived “amidst loud huzzas and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs”. The Manchester Guardian reporter  estimated the crowd at 40,000 to 50,000 “consisting chiefly of lads, with a considerable sprinkling of women”.


At the  huge Chartist meeting on Kersal Moor on 24 September 1838 the events of 20 years earlier were still raw.  The memory of Peterloo was  represented by a number of banners,  one showed the scene on St Peter’s Fields in 1819  with the inscription “Murder Demands Justice, ” while another bluntly proclaimed  “Slaughter of Our Unarmed and Peaceable Brethren On the Plains of Peterloo, AD 1819″. Mr Hodgetts from Salford moved a resolution  in favour of the Charter,   referring to  Peterloo in his speech  which  caused a  great stir  in the crowd,

Dorothy Thompson, the pre-eminent historian of Chartism,  describes Ashton-under-Lyne  as “perhaps the most radical and Chartist of all the factory towns”, due in part to the celebrations organised by the women  on the anniversary of Peterloo.  William Aitken, weaver, schoolmaster and lifelong radical,   recalled in his memoirs:

My earliest remembrances of taking part in Radicalism are the invitations  I used to receive to be at “Owd Nancy Clayton’s in Charlestown, on the 16th August to denounce the Peterloo Massacre and drink in solemn silence “ to the immortal memory of Henry Hunt”. This old woman Nancy and her husband were both at Peterloo, and I believe, both were wounded, at all events, the old woman was. She wore on that memorable day a black petticoat which she afterwards transformed in black flag which on the 16th of August used to hung out and a green cap of liberty attached thereto. In the year 1838 a new cap of liberty was made and hung out with the black flag on the anniversary of the Peterloo massacre. These terrible and terrifying symbols of sedition alarmed the then powers that existed and our then Chief Constable – no lover of liberty – was ordered by a magistrate to march a host of special constables and all the civil power he could command to forcibly seize and take possession of these vile symbols of anarchy and base revolution. Off they marched…but the women of that part of the borough heard of the contemplated raid that was likely to befall their cherished emblems and the women  drew them in from the window and hid them. Up this gallant and  brave  band of men  went to the front door of poor Nancy Clayton  and placed themselves in daring military array while the Chief Constable with a subordinate marched upstairs  and amongst the women there he found my old friend ‘riah Witty who told the writer what follows. Imperiously and haughtily,   as became  the chief of so noble a band,  he demanded the black flag and cap of liberty. My old friend ‘Riah said,

“What has’t thou to do wi’ cap o’liberty? Thou never supported liberty, not aught ‘ut belongs thee?”

However the chamber was searched and the poor black flag was found under the bed and  taken prisoner…the house was searched  from top  to bottom for the cap of liberty but neither the genius of the chief nor his subordinate could find the missing emblem of revolution. Off this gallant band of men marched with poor old Nancy’s petticoat –  the  black flag never more to grace a radical banquet of potatoe pies and home-brewed ale.

The Saturday after this grand demonstration ‘Riah Witty met the Chief Constable, and she exclaimed, “Now thou didna find  that  cap o’liberty, did tha?” “No”, he said,  “ I didna ‘Riah, where wur it?”

She said “I know thou couldna find it, it were where thou duratna go for it”



The Manchester Man by Isabella Banks  was published , which  includes an  account  of Peterloo. In her appendix to the 1896 edition Mrs Banks writes:

The female sabred on the hustings was a Mrs. Fildes when I knew her. Her son, Henry Hunt Fildes, was in my father’s employ; and his nephew is now an artist not altogether unknown to the world… The memory of this inhuman outrage was not soon permitted to die out of the Manchester mind ; for so surely as Peterloo Day came round, it was commemorated by a long procession of working-men, headed by an immense banner on which the scene of the massacre was represented with startling effect, if not with consummate art. Year after year I beheld the long procession and its ponderous banner until I had outgrown my childhood and any likelihood of forgetfulness. But when these annual processions were abandoned, or what became of the scenic banner, I have no means of ascertaining…


Ford Madox Brown was  commissioned to paint murals for the Great Hall in the Town Hall. Peterloo was chosen as subject to begin with,  but was then abandoned out of   what the Manchester Guardian reported as  “deference to political susceptibilities”. It was replaced with a mural  showing the opening of the Bridgewater Canal.


Socialists in Manchester set up the Peterloo Centenary Committee,  comprising representatives of the Manchester and Salford Labour Party, Coop Political Committee, ILP, British Socialist Party, Railwaymen, WIL, United Socialist Council, Socialist Sunday Schools, Ex-Servicmne’s Union, Federation of Discharged Soldiers. The Committee organised  a number events and also publshed  a pamphlet by J H hudson, Peterloo: a history of the massacre and the conditions which preceded it.

C A Glyde produced a pamphlet The Centenary of the Massacre of British Workers, published in Bradford.

James Haslam  wrote in the Manchester Guardian that  he first heard of Peterloo as young boy  from handloom weavers who discussed politics in a cellar. His father owned the looms and rented them to other weavers.

The Manchester Guardian ran a lengthy article on 16th August  recounting the events of  1819,  written by F. A B. (almost certainly Francis Bruton, whose book on Peterloo was published in 1919).

That same day there was  Peterloo procession ,  at the head of which  was a red bonnet carried on a long pole. It assembled in  Queen Street, near Albert Square, and    then went along Deansgate  and turned up  Peter Street where there was a  pause for a singing of “The Marseillaise”. It then  continued  to Platt Fields. The speakers in the park included  veteran trade unionists Tom Mann and Ben Turner.

On Sunday there was a mass meeting in the Free Trade Hall called by the Manchester and Salford ILP. The speakers included  J H Hudson (chair),  Philip Snowden, Katherine Bruce Glasier and Annot Robinson. The report in Manchester Guardian  does not report what Katherine and Annot said , only what the men  said!.


June 1932.  The Cotton Pageant at Belle Vue  included a depiction of Peterloo. The organisers appealed for 1, 500 top-hats for the scene.


In early April the official celebration of Manchester’s century as a city decided to drop Peterloo from the commemorations. The pageant committee said that it might cause bitter feeling. The trade  unions said that it would do nothing of the sort , that the workers regarded it as an incident in their long struggle for liberty. After similar  protests  it was agreed to reinstate Peterloo. The Pageant organiser was called Nugent Monck . (By the way three Scottish societies in Manchester were invited to take part in the 1745 episode in the Pageant, while thirty red-headed girls were chosen to play  slaves from Gaul in the Roman episodes.)

As part of the centenary events there was an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery entitled “ Manchester in Nineteen Century  Pictures and Records” which comprised 198   works, of which half were portraits,  including Peterloo.

There was an exhibition in Manchester Town Hall Extension  of historical items, including a sabre from  the Cheshire Yeomanry, lent by Quartermaster Sergeant Wrigley of the 6th Manchester Regiment who received it from the grand-children of the man who had  picked it up on the day of Peterloo.

On 18 June the Communist Party organised their own version of the Manchester Pageant at the Manchester Athletic Ground. The event was begun with a parade  of youth, men and women’s contingents alternating. The men  had a workers’ uniform of blue or white  open-necked shirt and grey flannel trousers, the women were dressed similarly. Each carried a red flag.

The pageant consisted of a number of banners painted with scenes and slogans. It began with Peterloo and Chartism and ended with banners calling for “ A Manchester with no unemployment, ” “ A Manchester without the threat of war, ” and “A Manchester that belongs to its people”.


Fame is the Spur by Howard Spring was published. Spring was a former Manchester Guardian journalist,   whose novels  were very popular in the 1940s. Spring once wrote “it was not until I started to write novels and took Manchester as their settings that I realised how deeply the city had bitten into my consciousness.”

The novel recounts the rise of Hamer Shawcross from the streets of  Ardwick to becoming a Labour Minister in the 1930s.  Shawcross’s grandfather “The Old Warrior”  was at Peterloo and often recounts the events of the day, which  he begins by taking down a sabre from above the fireplace, a sabre  he took from the field of  Peterloo.

He tells how he and his sweetheart emma  marched with Sam Bamford from Middleton. When they got to Manchester there were many thousands filling the town. Orator Hunt passed them in his horse-drawn carriage with a woman all in white, wearing a red cap.  Then they were attacked by the military. The Old Warrior put Emma behind him and pushed his way through the panicking crowd. He was confronted by a soldier waving a bloody sabre.

I rushed to meet him shouting “God damn you, you bastard! You’re a poor man like us. What are you doing?

 I waved my stick, and I could hear the leather creaking in the saddle and see the shine of his lovely boots. And then, when I was on him, his horse reared up, and I could see its front hoofs dangling over my head with the shoes gleaming, and the big veins in its belly. I struck upwards with my stick and got the beast in the belly, and then Emma shrieked and pulled me backwards. …Then the horse was gone , and there was Emma,  lying on the ground.  She was dead…

The Old Warrior went in pursuit of the soldier

I whirled my stick – good solid oak it was – and you could hear his elbow crack like a broken stick  when I hit it. My  anger was not cold any longer.  God alone saved me from murdering the  man. I was red and blind. The sabre fell on the field and I picked it up, dropping the stick from my hand. I swung it round my head and aimed at the middle of him with a blow that would have cut him in two. He dug his  spurs into his horse. And the beast gave a sideways leap that ended my blow in the empty air. Then the soldier pulled him round and fled with one arm dangling at his side as though it were tied on with string.

The novel was filmed  in 1947 with Michael Redgrave in the main role, and also  made into a TV series by the BBC in 1982, with Tim Piggott-Smith in the main role.


February 1949  – a proposal to change the  St Peter’s ward to  Peterloo ward, moved by Alderman Sir Miles E Mitchell  and Alderman Wright Robinson was rejected.


When the Free Trade Hall reopened after being rebuilt following war-time bombing there was a mural about Peterloo  by Sherwood Edwards in the foyer.


In February 1961 Peterloo was included in a display of documents mounted at Central Library, selected by local history librarian, Mr H Horton. The centrepiece was a diary kept by Henry Hunt whilst in Ilchester prison following Peterloo. On 16th Augsut   1820 he wrote,  “I eat no meat today, I sincerely pray that I may live to witness the condign punishment of every soundrel that was instrumental to, or accessory to, or principal to, or in any remote degree concerned in those  infamous, crule, cowardly, unprovoked, and premeditated assassinations, cuttings, and murders of peaceable mne, women, and children at Manchester this day twelvemonths.”


In the Guardian on 20 July 1969   A J P Taylor reviewed a new book by Robert Walmsley, Peterloo; the Case re-opened. At the end  of the review Taylor  concluded that,  “The magistrates  and yeomanry were defending a corrupt system. The demonstrators were demanding their just rights, even if they used sticks and stones as well as arguments. Henry hunt spoke for the people of England… when the defence of order leads to the killing of innocent people, the guilt always  lies with the guardians of order”.

Manchester Libraries produced a portfolio of 20 documents to make the 150th anniversary.

The Peterloo Gallery in Manchester commissioned a series of prints by Ken Sprague which were displayed in the gallery in August.  He said “ I didn’t want blood and guts . They showed that aspect well enough at the time.” Merete Bates in the Guardian thought that the content often  seemed irrelevant “a landscape, a still-life, the occasional figure study”. She thought that the artist had failed “not through lack of knowledge but by pleasing without disturbing” Kenneth Sprague was born  in January 1 1927 and  died July 25 2004. He worked for the Daily Worker, Morning Star and other publications as well as producing posters and much other work.

The Peterloo Gallery closed in January 1980 after North West Arts cuts its funding. It was started  by Lillian Gethic  in 1968 with £100 of her own money

On 8 August 100   children acted out the story of  Peterloo in two perforances in the  Library Theatre. This was the result of two weeks work with the children from 20 Manchester schools  by the Library Theatre Company under the direction of Gloria Parkinson.

There was folk concert on 16 August  in the Free Trade Hall, at which  the performers included  Harry Boardman and Leon RosselsonMichael Foot, MP,  also spoke. The narrator was  the actor Randal Herley. A Peterloo  banner from Middleton  was brought on stage.


The City Council suggested changing the name of   Peter Street  to Peterloo Street. In April 1972  preliminary notices were posted about the change,   but this was stopped  in September by a magistrate after shop-owners took out summonses. John Bamber, stipendiary magistrate  said,  “I think we are getting matters entirely out of proportion to think that a city of Manchester’s importance should have to change the name of one of its best known streets to commemorate a not very creditable incident that took place there 153 years ago.” The chairman of the Highway Committee, Alderman Joseph Ogden, “We’ll  just have to leave it as it is, as Peter Street.” The objectors included the YMCA and the Midland Hotel.


Rochdale progressive rock band Tractor recorded  a concept album,  The Peterloo Suite,  comprising  5 songs  which was going to be put out  on  John Peel’s  Dandelion Records, but this folded before the release. It was finally officially  released in 2011.  You can listen to it here.


As part of the City of Drama in Manchester there was a performance based on the events of Peterloo in Upper Campfield Market. It  was modernised, though,  with riot vans, and mobile phones being deployed during the promenade performance. It was written by Mike Harris and produced by Dave Moutrey. Over 100 volunteers took part. ( A copy of the script is available at the Working Class Movement Library).  The show was publicised by an event for journalists in Albert Square on 16th August.

2007 to 2017

Regarding the Peterloo Massacre Memorial Committee – which  since 2007 has been organising an annual  event of the  reading of the names of those killed,  and is campaigning  for  permanent memorial – I think  this has   plucked Peterloo out of  its immediate political, economic and social context, and repackaged it as a one-off event which is portrayed as a milestone on the road to democracy. (The Whig interpretation of history reheated, essentially)

And at an event which was about politial reform as a response to hunger, unemployment  and poverty, which has  inescapable  parallels with Foodback Bank Britain  in 2017, they refuse to allow present-day camapigners  to speak at the commemoration or even carry banners.

But you can’t talk about Peterloo without talking about the radical  Republican ideas of  Tom Paine set out in both parts of  “The Rights of Man” in 1791 and 1792 .  These were ideas that still terrified  the authorities  in 1819.  Richard Carlile, for instance, due to be one of the speakers at Peterloo,  was jailed  for five years shortly after,  just  for selling Tom Paine’s work.

And I don’t think you can talk about Peterloo without talking about  the acute economic  distress in the years before  which, for instance,  led to attacks on  mills in  Middleton in April  1812  (in which more people were killed by the Scots Greys than at Peterloo), and at an attack on the Royal Exchange the same month.

Finally,  you have to talk about the class element at Peterloo: that a small,   very wealthy minority who controlled the political system were determined to maintain their privileges, if need be, by killing people in the streets. Which is exactly what they did at Peterloo, with no regrets. This was an analysis  that was not all controversial on  previous anniversaries. As noted above  1919 the Committee was made up of local socialists  and trade unions,    while in 1969 a concert at the Free Trade Hall  had socialist folk-singers and Labour MP,  Michael Foot.

Rather than giving money to a static memorial, in my view  it would be better spent on supporting  campaigning  groups in Geater Mancheste whoare , fighting austerity, zero hours,  benefit cuts etc.  The monument would then  be a  continuing visible  fight for a better society.  (Si monumentum  requiris  circumspice, to adapt a motto)

The Lancashire Women’s Parliament, April 1942

In 1941 and 1942 a number of Women’s Parliaments were held in different parts of the country to discuss the  issues arising from  women working in industry. This  was an initiative stemming from the Communist  Party,  but which drew in wider support than just their own membership, a sign that the changed position of women in society created by the war, was leading to a thoughtful discussion of wider issues.

The first Women’s Parliament was held in London on 13 July 1941, just a few weeks after Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union, and was  attended by 346 women who were dubbed “MPs”.   The  conference was opened by Beatrix Lehmann, a well-known actress and author. She said:

We welcome you to this first session of the Women’s Parliament, which meets at a time of crisis unparalleled in world history. We women, more than any, are sensible of the sufferings which have been brought upon this generation.  We know what a terrible cost would be exacted by the victory of Fascist reaction and we know that the utter annihilation of Fascism must precede all hope of a just and lasting peace.  Yet any who think that the role of a woman  at this time is to sit down and weep beneath the load of her sufferings  and take no part  in the shaping of events, is mistaking all the lessons of history. The war, it is true, has broken up the settled course of social life. But it also faces us with new responsibilities and immense opportunities.

 The Women’s  Parliament passed an emergency resolution  of support for the USSR. The report of the event said the gathering was “confident of its strength and resolute in its purpose. They were not there to air grievances or bewail their fate, but to put forward concrete proposals”.  At later sessions the Parliament put forward draft Bills  on Wages and Part-Time Work which, it said,  were  needed  in order “to utilise the whole resources of the nation in the war against German Nazism and to ensure an early victory, it is necessary to bring about the most effective and fullest mobilisation of man power and woman power”.

The Lancashire Women’s Parliament took place on 12 April 1942,  organised by Manchester and District  Anglo-Soviet Women’s  Unity Committee. It was held in the Co-operative Hall, Downing Street,  and   attended by  300 women from political parties, trade unions, Anglo-Soviet committees, munition factories,  and many other bodies. Also present were  two representatives from the Ministry of Information, as well as a large number of  other visitors.

Miss Clara Bamber, President of the Manchester and District Women’s Anglo-Soviet Unity Committee,  presided over the conference. She  had been active in the Co-operative Movement,  and was also Chair of the Manchester, Salford and District Maternal Mortality Committee.

In her opening address Clara  said that about half the delegates  represented women in industry and about half represented  housewives or organisations interested in women’s work, thereby representing a very good  cross section of Lancashire women.  She said that the Parliament  had come about after a number of Manchester  women had met the previous August and decided to form an Anglo-Russian Women’s Friendship Committee. This had been very successful and a deputation had been sent to Madame Maisky (wife of the Soviet Ambassador) with donations of money and supplies to the Soviet Union. They had also affiliated to  the Anglo-Russian Friendship Committee, started by the Lord Mayor of Manchester. She recalled that when the Soviet trade  union delegation had  visited Manchester, Madame Nikolayeva,  Secretary of the All-Union Council of Trade Unions, had  pointed out that she was disappointed at seeing  so many women in Lancashire who were not  working in industry. (The delegation had visited Manchester in January 1942, attending a conference and visiting bombed areas and factories).

They  had called the Parliament, Clara continued, to give women  the opportunity of discussing why more of them were not working in industry  and what the difficulties were which kept them out. In conclusion she spoke about the international situation:

 At the moment the only country which is holding the enemy is Russia and Russia must be helped if we are to help ourselves. Their magnificent stand this winter has given us quiet nights; it has saved us from possible invasion and has filled us with admiration and courage. We love our land, too, and we will sacrifice for it, but we want the burden to fall equally on all people. Our deliberations today are to that end.

The first item discussed by the delegates was the  draft Women’s  Power Bill which set out the following demands in order to allow women to go into industry:


  • Factory canteens and British restaurants


  • Nursery schools and residential nurseries


  • Full time education, dinners for all school children, breakfasts and teas for children of war-workers


  • Play Centres for children of school age with voluntary supervision


  • Full use of local part-time labour to made by all factory management


  • All women who registered for National Service should be drawn into work without delay or class distinction


  • An immediate  examination of Lancashire industry should be undertaken  by the Ministry of Labour, the employers and the trade unions with a view to making the fullest use of the available woman labour

Mrs Holt, representing  the BRD Aircraft Factory, Warrington, moved the Bill. She  said that she had wasted 12 years of her life as an unpaid housewife,  but for the past five months she had been in industry helping the war effort. “The splendid and dauntless courage of the Soviet women drew me to the factory,” she declared.  “The Soviet women are an example to us, and we can play our part just as they are doing…every woman must play her part as more and more men are taken out of industry and drafted into the Forces”. She went on to say that her factory was now 100 per cent trade union,  and that as a senior shop steward  she knew the problems confronting the women in industry such as the lack of  nursery schools and shopping facilities.  She asked the women of the Parliament to give this draft bill their utmost support.

Bessie Wild of the Longsight  Anglo-Soviet Committee said that there could be no future for her two children unless she herself  played her part in the war effort. Her children attended a nursery and she was extremely satisfied with the manner in which her children were being  looked after.   Bessie  had heard that a munitions factory quite near to her home was being opened, but when she presented herself she was told that there could be no question of part-time work. She thought that Labour Exchanges should adopt a more friendly and helpful attitude.

Margaret Hyndman, who was described as a shop steward  in a  “a large aircraft industry” (clearly the Avro factory in Chadderton, ) said that the firm  employed 11,000 workers, 2,000 of whom were women.  They were not organised at first,  but now they  had  a woman convenor as well as a male convenor. They had good conditions, and surprised the management by turning out the new bomber  in three months under schedule. “The shop stewards,” she continued, “took up the question of the canteen  and secured substantial  improvements, such as weekly  dinners at six shillings per week, table-cloths, flowers on the tables, waitresses, good service, food well cooked and served. Since the women had started working at the factory, production had doubled. Get the women organised,  and then we can end the war this year”.25

Florence Mitton was a delegate from the Stretford branch of  the TGWU at Metro-Vickers. She said that she  represented  2,000 members,  and their worst problem was shopping which had  led to much absenteeism. “We feel,” that in Manchester and Lancashire we should get busy on solving this problem – show the traders the difficulties experienced by the  workers and get their co-operation in the  settlement of the problem”.  Florence  also  said  it was essential to get crèches.26

There was concern  in the higher echelons of the trade  union movement at the success of the Women’s  Parliaments,  and the fact that  it might enhance  the standing of the Communist Party. Consequently Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the TUC, sent out a letter which was read at the monthly meeting of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council on 17 January 1943.  It was clear, he wrote, that the Women’s  Parliaments were attempting to deal with many matters that were the subject of “negotiation by individual trade unions or the trade unions generally” and had intervened in matters that  were essentially the responsibility of trade unions. If the Women’s Parliaments were to receive support from trade union branches, district committee, or trades councils it would inevitably lead to” conflicting policies or misunderstandings”. In all circumstances, the letter concluded, the General Council of the TUC strongly advised affiliated organisations and Trades Councils not to support the Women’s Parliaments.

The letter was in some sense unnecessary, since the Lancashire Women’s Parliament was the last such meeting to be held.  The Communist Party was increasingly directing  its efforts towards factory production committees, and also a campaign for a Second Front, calling for an Allied  invasion of  Western Europe in order to assist the Red Army in its fight against  the German  armies in the East.

The Women’s Peacemakers Pilgrimage

The  Women’s Peacemakers Pilgrimage, summer 1926

Womens Peace Pilgrimage 1
Marchers from North Wales

In the summer of 1926 the Women’s  International League, part of an international organisation which campaigned to prevent  another Great War,  co-ordinated with other organisations a Peacemakers’  Pilgrimage from many parts of the country to London, very much modelled on the 1913 suffragist Pilgrimage.

The aim was to raise the question of peace and international arbitration which, the organisers felt, was  not being addressed with enough urgency, even by the League of Nations. They said that they  wanted to show the government that “this country wants law not war”,  and,   in particular,  they wished  the British government to accept compulsory arbitration in international disputes by the League of Nations, something  17 other countries, including Germany and Russia, had already agreed to.

The Chair of the organising committee was Mrs Eleanor Acland, a leading member of the Women’s National Liberal Federation,  while the Treasurer was Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, the former  WSPU suffragette. In March Emmeline addressed a conference of 50 societies  in Manchester, which  included the Society of Friends, the League of Nations Union, the St Joan’s Social and Political Alliance and  the Women’s Co-operative Guild,  all of which  agreed to support the Pilgrimage.

The Women’s Citizen Association organised a further meeting on 12 April at the Ancoats Settlement, Manchester   to rally support for the Pilgrimage.  Mrs Muter Wilson, a former suffragist,  reviewed the history of attempts to bring about international arbitration of disputes between countries from William Penn to the League of Nations. She said that there was no greater mistake than to suppose that the mere existence of the League would in itself secure peace. She thought that the Locarno Pact might have made peace,  had it been followed by a disarmament conference. Although seventeen countries had signed the arbitration clause, Britain had not yet done so.  She believed that the Pilgrimage was “a force to be reckoned with”.24

Seven Peacemakers’ Pilgrimage marches set out in May (coinciding with the General Strike,  incidentally), holding hundreds of meetings along the way.  On 17 June there was a procession  in Manchester in support of the Pilgrimage, which gathered in Stevenson Square at 5pm,  and  then marched with pennons and banners to the Cathedral, which was packed to the doors. After being  addressed by the Dean  the  procession went to  Platt  Fields where a crowd  of 2,500 heard  speeches from Councillor Mary Welch,  Cecile Matheson   and  finally Kate  Courtney, who said that the Pilgrimage was an expression of “an aspiration to permanent peace,” an aspiration which she believed filled the mind of almost every man and woman in the country.

The 3,000 marchers on the Pilgrimage reached London in mid-June. They held a final mass procession on 19 June  ending in Hyde  Park where there were 22  platforms for  the speakers, which included  Dame Millicent Fawcett, Margaret Bondfield, Ellen Wilkinson, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Evelyn Sharp. At the end of the meeting bugles were sounded, and a resolution was put urging the government to agree to submit all international disputes to arbitration or conciliation.

On 16 July a delegation from the Pilgrimage went to the Foreign Office,  where they met Sir Austen Chamberlain.  Mrs Acland presented him with report from the Pilgrimage,  and emphasised that the object of the Pilgrimage was not merely to speak of the desirability of world peace,  but to put before their countrymen the need  for England to “throw the full weight of its immense prestige” on the side of international law “as against international anarchy.” Chamberlain replied to the women with emollient diplomatic speak, assuring them that the government was reviewing “the whole question of arbitration in international affairs.”

The Pilgrimage inspired the Manchester branch of the WIL to arrange a number of meetings in the theme of peace in July 1927 in number of villages and towns in Lancashire and Cheshire, including Bollington, Newton-le-Willows, Stockport  Whaley Bridge,  Wilmslow. The speakers included Councillor  Mary Welsh, Mrs Muter Wilson  and Dr Vipont Brown.

You can  watch a short British Pathe silent news reel  about the marches here

a short history of Manchester’s first May Day marches in the 1890s

walter-crane-a-garland-for-may-day-1895On 1 May 1892 Manchester workers marched for the first time in a mass labour demonstration for a shorter working week and an independent political voice. It was part of a worldwide movement as unskilled workers organised in mass trades unions and Socialism developed a mass political following.

May Day was instituted as an international Labour Day from 1890 onwards. The impetus came in part from a long-running campaign to reduce the working day to 8 hours. In September 1866 the International Workingmen’s Association (otherwise known as the First International) meeting in Geneva passed a resolution adopting 8 hours as a goal. In October 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades & Labor Unions of the United States and Canada also passed a resolution calling for an 8 hour day from 1 May 1886.

In May 1886 tens of thousands of workers responded across the United States. The most militant city was Chicago, where on 3 May the police shot dead six strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. In response strikers organised a massive rally the following day at Haymarket Square. The rally was peaceful but as it ended somone threw a bomb into police ranks. This was followed by a savage battle in which a number of police died, as well as members of the crowd. There was a political show trial of a number of anarchists, of whom four were convicted and hanged. They become known as the Haymarket Martyrs.

anarchsist of ChicagoOn 14 July 1889 the Second International meeting in Paris called workers around the world to march on 1 May 1890 for an 8 hour day.

The Congress decided to organize a great international demonstration, so that:

“in all countries and in all cities on one appointed day the toiling masses shall demand of the state authorities the legal reduction of the working day to eight hours, as well as the carrying out of other decisions of the Paris Congress. Since a similar demonstration has already been decided upon for May 1, 1890, by the American Federation of Labor at its Convention in St. Louis, December, 1888, this day is accepted for the international demonstration. The workers of the various countries must organize this demonstration according to conditions prevailing in each country.”

This coincided with a new mood amongst unskilled workers, hitherto ignored or excluded by the trades union movement, which had largely organised skilled male workers only. In July 1888, for instance, women workers at the Bryant & May match factory in East London went on strike and won with the support of Socialists. The following year there was a massive dock strike in London involving thousands of dock labourers, which brought the miles of docks to a halt. The result was victory for the workers leading to higher pay, better working conditions and a new union for unskilled workers, The Dock, Wharf, Riverside & General Labourers Union. The strike was led by trade unionists and Socialists including Tom Mann, John Burns, Ben Tillett and Will Thorne.

For the first time Socialist ideas were getting a mass audience. John Burns wrote of the importance of the dispute after it had been won:

“Still more important perhaps, is the fact that labour of the humbler kind has shown its capacity to organize itself; its solidarity; its ability. The labourer has learned that combination can lead him to anything and everything. He has tasted success as the immediate fruit of combination, and he knows that the harvest he has just reaped is not the utmost he can look to gain. Conquering himself, he has learned that he can conquer the world of capital whose generals have been the most ruthless of his oppressors.”

On May Day 1890 there were strikes and marches in many part of the United States and Europe. Frederick Engels wrote:

As I write these lines, the proletariat of Europe and America is holding a review of its forces; it is mobilized for the first time as One army, under One Bag, and fighting One immediate aim: an eight-hour working day, established by legal enactment…. The spectacle we are now witnessing will make the capitalists and landowners of all lands realize that today the proletarians of all lands are, in very truth, united. If only Marx were with me to see it with his own eyes!

The London march to Hyde Park was huge, with perhaps 100,000 attending. Engels wrote an account in the newspaper Arbeiter Zeitung:

“There can be no doubt about that: on May 4, 1890, the English working class joined the great international army. And that is an epoch-making fact. The English proletariat has its roots in the most advanced industrial development and, moreover, possesses the greatest freedom of political movement. Its long slumber — a result, on the one hand, of the failure of the Chartist movement of 1836-50 and, on the other, of the colossal industrial upswing of 1848-80 — is finally broken. The grandchildren of the old Chartists are stepping into the line of battle.”

The success in London was repeated in 1891,  and Manchester followed with its own march in 1892.

On 16 April 1892 The Clarion reported that a “a great labour demonstration” was being planned for Manchester for 1 May. Trade union and labour societies were requested to communicate with Mr James Quinn at the County Forum, 50a Market Street. (The County Forum was a debating society). Organising meetings were to be held every Thursday.

On the day before the march Robert Blatchford wrote a millenarian editorial in The Clarion:

“The people will meet, that is the main thing. We shall see each other face to face, feel each other should to shoulder, hear each other voice to voice, trust each other soul to soul and we shall go away open-eyed and conscious of a change. we shall have felt our strength, imagined our numbers, seen as a vision of the world the golden dawn streak of the day of our deliverance, and our triumph. Manhood suffrage and payment of members! What are these? They are as candles to the sun in comparison with the new LABOUR DAY. …Our labour day as bind us as corn in the sheaf. The sturdy miner, the skilful engineer, the broad-handed navvy, the white-fingered artist, the lusty farmer, the fragile seamstress, the outcasts of the streets, the despised denizens of the slums, the sweater’s slave the hearty sailor. Strong and weak, feeble and brave, old and young, simple and wise, the workers shall band themselves together in fraternity and freedom. They shall march on from this labour day growing ever wiser, nobler and juster until there is honour for those who make more than those who mar, reward for those who labour better than for those who loaf, until snobbery and prejudice, and theft and butchery are banished into the Hell they came from; until Labour shall hold that which it wins, and England shall be the freehold and the home and inheritance of the English.”

The procession was to assemble in Stevenson Square at 2.30pm and march to Alexandra Park by way of Oldham Street, Piccadilly, Portland Street, Oxford Street, Stretford Road, Great Jackson Street, Preston Street, Moss Lane and Alexandra Road. The order of procession was advertised as follows

The Manchester Fabian Societies
Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants
Bakers & Confectioners
The Labour Church
Shirt & Jacket Makers
Salford Social Democrats
North East Manchester Labour Electoral
Spindle & Flyer Makers
Horsehair & Fibre Workers
Dressers, Dyers & Finishers
Enginemen & Cranemen
Navvies & Bricklayers
North Manchester Labour Electoral

According to the report in the Manchester Guardian, a white ensign headed the procession with the slogan “Work for all, Overwork for None”. Other banners stated “Unity is Strength” and “Equality by Right, Justice to All”. Members of the Labour Church carried a banner stating “God Is Our King”,  while the Social Democratic Federation contingent carried red flags and a red cap on a pole (the symbol of the French Revolution).

Due to the numbers the procession moved off before the appointed time and was enlivened by at least a dozen bands. The Manchester Guardian noted that watching crowds, especially women, cheered the mottos in favour of the 8 hour day. In Hulme the march was greeted by large crowd and “something like the fervour of enthusiasm.” The march reached the park at about 4pm with at least 60,000 people now present.

At the park there were six platforms with a mix of trade union and Socialist speakers who advocated the following political programme;
1. Formation of an Independent Labour Party
2. Payment of MPs
3. Shorter Parliaments
4. Adult suffrage
5. Nationalisation of the land.

On one of the platforms Robert Blatchford moved the following resolution:

“That this meeting recognises that the establishment of a working day of not more than 8 hours is the most immediate step towards the ultimate emancipation of the workers and urges upon the Government the necessity of fixing a working day by legislative enactment.”

One of the platforms was reserved for Jewish speakers who spoke in Yiddish, including Mr Wess from London. This platform was chaired by Mr R Abrahams, who said that he hoped that next year Jews would be more numerous. There do not seem to have been any women speakers and women’s suffrage was not included as an aim.

In 1893 Manchester Council tried to stop the march taking place, turning down an application from 35 trades unions to use Alexandra Park. According to a report in The Clarion, the Corporation Parks Committee had deemed it:

“…inadvisable that Sunday demonstrations should be held in the public parks and considers that unless desired by a considerable section of the Manchester citizens they should not be permitted. This meeting believes the present application is not of such a nature to warrant such permission and therefore declines to grant it.

Leonard Hall, chair of the demonstration committee, wrote to The Clarion to state that the march was a labour demonstration open to all, and not an Independent Labour Party or Socialist demonstration. After more public protests, permission to use the park was eventually granted.

Manchester was alive with socialist organisations and activity. In the week before the 1893 march The Clarion carried notices for meetings of the Independent Labour Party in various parts of Manchester and Salford as well as a “gigantic” excursion to Morecambe on Whit Friday.The Social Democratic Federation, Hyde Labour Club, Ashton ILP, Oldham Independent Labour Club, North Manchester Fabians and  Manchester Anarchist Group all  held public meetings. Joe Waddington (known as “Clarion” Joe) sold The Clarion, Labour Prophet, Labour Leader, Workman Times, Shafts, A Paper for Women and “Socialistic” literature from his shop at 4a Crown Street, Chester Road. The printers and publsihers, Manchester Labour Press,  was based at 59 Tib Street.

The march took place on 6 May leaving from Stevenson Square at 2.30pm. The Clarion reported that it had been attended by 20,000. In his editorial Blatchford attacked the “city fathers” who had tried to stop them using the park and the Chief Constable who had deployed very large numbers of police who were threatening to the crowd, pushing people off pavements.

In 1894 the authorities refused to allow the use of Alexandra Park and instead the march went to Philips Park in Openshaw. The tradition of May Day marches continued for a century until it ceased in the wake of trade union decline and defeat. In recent years the tradition of a May Day labour procession has been revived,  although the numbers attending  at present are but a fraction of those who attended in the early years.