Tag Archives: Women

Christabel Pankhurst and Smethwick

Less than a fortnight after the Armistice of the Great War, a Bill was rushed through Parliament which allowed women to stand for election to Parliament on equal terms with men, ‘ironically allowing those women aged between twenty-one and thirty years to stand for a parliament they could not elect’.[1] The previous year, after disbanding the Women’s Social & Political Union, Emmeline Pankhurst and her eldest daughter Christabel formed the Women’s Party. This new organisation represented their political views which now conflated the winning of the war with the women’s cause. Emmeline explained that women needed a party of their own because ‘men had grown so accustomed to managing the world in the past that it had become rather difficult for women in politics to hold their own if they were associated with men’.[2] Emmeline declined the chance to run for election in favour of her daughter and eventually it was decided that Christabel would attempt to become Member of Parliament for the new industrial working-class constituency of Smethwick. While the views of Emmeline and Christabel had become increasingly jingoistic as the war progressed, and their political tendencies leaned far more towards the right than before, the Women’s Party also ‘advocated equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, equality of parental rights, the raising of the age of consent, equal opportunity of employment, and equality of rights and responsibilities in regard to the social and political service of the nation’.[3]

Election Results from the Birmingham Evening Despatch, 4th December 1918

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Researching the women – local poets in the War Poetry Collection

Over 25 years ago, as part of the Birmingham Library “Meet the Decade” events, I put together an exhibition highlighting the work of several local war poets whose book or pamphlet formed part of the War Poetry Collection in the Central Library. Researching this exhibition had a lasting effect on me. Moved and enthralled by the words of these poets, I always hoped that one day I would have the chance to re-visit their work. Perhaps I might again have the opportunity to publicise the poems and to help the voices of these poets be heard once more.

As part of the World War One centenary events I have been given the opportunity to recreate an exhibition featuring these local poets as one of the community projects displayed in the Voices of the First World War exhibition at the Library of Birmingham. Whilst Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon are synonymous with World War One, others also sought to reflect the war through their verse. Many had written poems throughout their life. For others the events of the war, so unheralded and traumatic, meant searching for a way to come to terms with the experience. Writing poetry enabled them to do this.

Some of the works in the War Poetry Collection, such as “Poems and Drawings” by Henry Lionel Field and “Memoir and Poems of a Soldier” by Clifford Flower, have detailed introductions that provide an outline of the poet’s life. Biographical details are enhanced by quotes from the poets themselves and sometimes from their family, school friends and army colleagues.

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Women, War and Peace: a West Midlands perspective

The 3rd Chris Upton Memorial Lecture, 12th November 2018

The Speaker is Maggie Andrews, Professor of Cultural History, University of Worcester

The Nell Haynes children, 1917

November 2018 marks the centenary of First World War armistice, which brought to an end four years of conflict and the century of the start of the very first parliamentary election campaign in which at least some women participated as voters and candidates.

In this year’s lecture, inspired by Chris Upton’s commitment to explore the lives of the ordinary people of the West Midlands, Professor Maggie Andrews will look at how the four years of war and the peace that followed affected the women in the region. Life on the home front offered some women new working opportunities or public roles and the new women voters created much excitement on polling day in December 1918.

Worcester munitions workers

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On this Day: Tuesday 17th April

Elizabeth Cadbury (1858 -1951), n.d. [Birmingham Portraits Collection]

The Cadbury name is one we all recognise; they are famous across the world as successful business owners and makers of delicious chocolate and confectionery. However the family members behind this colossus of a name may still be somewhat of a mystery to some. For this reason, and for my first blog post, I have decided to delve into the Cadbury family collection at the Library of Birmingham and view the family’s personal papers. I have chosen a letter written by Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury.

Elizabeth Cadbury (nee Taylor) was born on 24th June 1858 to a Quaker company director and stockbroker named John Taylor, her mother was Mary Jane Cash, she was one of ten children. Elizabeth seems to have enjoyed being part of a large family as she married George Cadbury, the son of John Cadbury, who already had 5 children from a previous marriage. They married in 1888, and went on to have 6 children of their own.

George and Elizabeth Cadbury with 2 of their children, Laurence (on George’s lap) and Norman (on Elizabeth’s lap) and George’s 5 children from his first marriage to Mary Tylor: George junior, Edward  (standing at the back), Isobel and Eleanor (sitting), and Henry (on the floor in front), 1890 [MS 466]

The letters that I have looked through reflect a large family, full of love and devotion to each other. They seem to enjoy visiting and spending time with each other. The letter that I have chosen discusses visits from family and friends, and an enjoyable Easter spent surrounded by good company in the family home, The Manor House in Selly Oak. In this letter dated Tuesday 17th April 1934 Elizabeth writes of family members fondly and paints a vivid picture of a few days full of love and adventure.

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Women’s Lives in the Archives: Women’s journeys from Mirpur to Birmingham

MS 4760/35 project booklet

The Home Away from Home project archive (MS 4760) documents the personal experiences of women who moved from Mirpur in Pakistan to the Saltley and Washwood Heath areas of Birmingham in the 1960s and 1970s.

The archive is a visual and audio record of these women’s experiences which include happy memories and recollections as well as some of the challenges they faced. It contains oral history interviews recorded with the women, copies of photographs from their own personal collections and a summary booklet giving a useful overview of the project and the interviews.

A number of common themes emerge through the stories and experiences shared in the recordings. One of these is the sense of community the women experienced when they first arrived in the UK which they felt was better in those days than it is now. Life was much more difficult, however, in practical ways such as heating and lighting of houses.

The ladies had some shared experiences, for example several mentioned that they would have liked to learn English when they moved to the UK, but that there were no suitable opportunities or classes for them to go to. A number of the women were also scared of going to hospitals but found that when they did go the staff were kind and helpful and they were able to communicate with each other through gestures.

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Women’s Lives in the Archives

To celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th March, I am delving in to the archives to discover some of the ways women’s lives are documented.

MS 1509/5/8, Personal Papers of Rachel Albright

Rachel Albright was a Quaker woman living in Edgbaston in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her personal papers are held within a collection of records relating to the wider Albright Family.

Originally from Tottenham in north London, she married Arthur Albright in 1848 and they had eight children one of whom died young in 1872. Of interest to an archivist is the way that Rachel documented her life and the records that have survived. The archive includes travel journals, sketches, commonplace books, photographs and poetry which allow us an insight into her life and how it differs from those of women in Birmingham today.

Travel journals

Before Rachel was married, she kept a journal of a four month trip to Falmouth in 1836. Luckily this survived and is one of the items in the archive (MS 1509/5/8/1). In her journal she documents the occupations and pastimes she engaged in on a daily basis.

MS 1509/5/8/1

Here are a few extracts:

5th mo 8th (May 8th) Had my French lesson. In the afternoon went for a nice long walk with Aunt and cousins to Penzance. The rocks I think are very fine and beautiful, the sea dashing beneath them.

5th mo 10th (May 10th)

A very lovely day. Sat out in the garden this morning and prepared some of my French. Went into the town with Aunt and in the afternoon went for a nice walk with Aunt and cousins to Bar Beach where we found a great many shells.

MS 1509/5/8/1

5th mo 20th (May 20th)

Went in to the town after breakfast with Aunt and cousins and afterwards finished our paintings and worked out in the garden and read some of Campbell’s poems- admire them very much. In the evening had a game of chess with Uncle.

Sketching, letter writing and knitting are other pastimes mentioned in the journal and Rachel also records her attendance at Quaker meetings. Continue reading

The Kings Norton Fifty Club

Leaflet advertising a meeting for new women voters, 1st May 1929 (MS 2371/2/2/1)

The Representation of the People Act finally received Royal Assent on 6 February 1918. This meant that women over thirty who were householders, wives of householders, occupiers of property of £5 or more annual value, or University graduates, could now vote. However, this meant a considerable number of women – and men- were still excluded, and had to wait until 1928 when all persons over 21 became entitled to vote.

In 1929, the Kings Norton Fifty Club (MS 2731) decided to hold a public meeting to make sure that women in particular were informed about their new right to vote, and the responsibilities that entailed.

What was the Kings Norton Fifty Club?

The following comes from the Minutes of the Club [MS 2731/2/2/1] (Acc.2009/068):

On December 14th and 21st 1922, a small committee, called together by Miss Viccars, met to discuss the possibility of forming a local club for the purpose of spreading information and getting discussion on affairs of public interest. Miss Jordan, Mrs H. Norman, Mrs Impey and Miss Viccars comprised the committee….

A tentative list of speakers included Miss Dewar (The Birmingham Settlement), Dame Ethel Shakespeare (Citizenship), Mr Woulston Lee (The W.E.A.), Miss Ethel Trent (Labour & Employment), Mr Horace Alexander (League of Nations), Mr Ted Bigland (Social Work amongst boys), Miss Backhouse (Camp Fire Girls), Mrs H. L. Wilson (Maternity), Miss Bennett (Cripples), Miss F. Barrow (Poland), Dr Shakespeare (Physics), Mr Totham (Jamaica – Population – Trade).

A number of names for the club were discussed, ‘The Forward Relief Workers’, ‘Hopeful’, ‘Excelsior’, ‘Drawing Room’,. ‘The Fifty Club was provisionally adopted in 1923, January 22nd.

Membership was limited to fifty persons, which would allow gatherings of the dimensions of a drawing room [in large houses, obviously!].

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