Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Herstory, more for International Women's Day

National Union of Teachers Badge mid 1980s

It’s that week again and I think it’s worth recalling that while the Suffragettes quite rightly have been acknowledged for their part in campaigning for political equality they were not alone.

And so to Ada Chew, who chose not to chain herself to street railings, break the windows of politicians or end up in prison being forced fed.  She was not a suffragette, choosing instead to campaign within the labour movement for the vote.

Born in 1870, while working in a clothes factory in her 20s she was sacked for writing articles to the local newspaper criticising working conditions. From there she became active in the Independent Labour Party and in 1896 toured the north east of England in the Clarion Van arguing the case for socialism.

And during the next two decades continued to be active in the labour movement as an organiser for the Women’s Trade Union League and then from 1911 to 1914 for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

This was the body which the WSPU had broken with over the issue of militant action and of course it is the WSPU which often features in the history books.  But the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was no mild debating group.

In 1912 it established the Elections Fighting Fund Committee (EFF) headed by Catherine Marshall which intervened in four by-elections campaigning for the Labour Party against Government candidates.  Labour had committed itself to opposing any franchaise bill which did not include votes for women and while the Party failed to win any of the four elections the Liberals lost two.

Alice McIlwrick in 1936
Here in Chorlton, there was Jane Redford, our first women councillor on Manchester City Council, and Alice McIlwrick, socialist, teacher and campaigner for peace who stood as the first Labour candidate in the municipal elections of 1928.

Equally active was at the turn of the 20th century Catherine Garrett who was one of the three socialist Guardians elected to the Board of the Chorlton Union who administered the Poor Law in south Manchester and in particular the Withington Workhouse.

Time and time gain she argued for better conditions for the inmates and challenged many of the demeaning regulations that made applicants for relief feel like second class citizens.

Chorlton peace women
And closer to home there was our own Women’s Peace group active in the 1980s whose story has yet to be written but like Jane Redford, Alice McIlwrick and Catherine Garrett are here recorded in the blog.

But I shall finish with the suffragettes and their campaigning song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCtGkCg7trY

Pictures; badges from the collection of Andrew Simpson, photograph of Alice McIlwrick , courtesy of Tony McIlwrick, and Chorlton peace women from the Lloyd collection

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