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Women at Work, 1860-1939

Women at Work, 1860-1939: How Different Industries Shaped Women's Experiences

Volume: 16
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 205
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  • Book Info
    Women at Work, 1860-1939
    Book Description:

    This book examines three different groups of women - in coal mining communities, in inshore fishing communities and in agricultural labour. It demonstrates how the work these groups undertook was fundamental in shaping their experiences as women in different ways and shows that women's experiences varied within class as well as between classes. The book illustrates how mining women, despite being restricted to domestic roles, created, through meticulous housekeeping, a power base in their homes and rendered their husbands dependent on them, while a minority took so active a role in politics that they were said to be 'the backbone of the Labour Party'; how fisher women, engaging in a household economy reminiscent of pre-modern times, exercised great influence on financial decision making through their roles in baiting lines and selling fish; and how some single female agricultural labourers exercised considerable autonomy whereas those who were tied in a family economy had little independence. Overall, the book makes a very significant contribution to women's history, to labour history and to economic and social history. "This is a tremendously useful and relevant book for historians of women as well as social and labor historians." - Professor Joan Scott, Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton University. VALERIE HALL is Professor Emerita of History at William Peace University, North Carolina

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-187-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Figures And Tables
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Figures
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mining, inshore fishing and agricultural labouring communities often figured in the national consciousness, people drawn by the drama and danger faced by miners and fishermen and by the picturesque qualities of all three groups. The representations of these groups were highly ambivalent. Some were positive. In the case of mining and fishing communities, we frequently read expressions of admiration for the bravery of miners and fishermen and sympathy for their losses in times of tragedy. Agricultural labourers, often called hinds, profited from the romanticisation of the countryside that had begun in the...

  7. Part I: Women in Coal Mining Communities

    • 1 1860–1914: ‘Stay at home and look after your husband’
      (pp. 19-49)

      Women in coal mining communities have been largely ‘hidden from history’, appearing briefly in a single chapter in works which focus upon miners or on the economics of the coal industry. Miners, on the other hand, have long drawn the attention of scholars and literary figures. Historians, particularly labour historians, have been attracted from as early as the nineteenth century by their volatile industrial relations which often ended in violence.¹ The emergence of stable trade unions in the late nineteenth century, born of a remarkable solidarity which, in turn, grew out of the uniquely difficult conditions in which miners worked,...

    • 2 The Inter-War Years: The Contrasting Roles of Mining Women
      (pp. 50-78)

      The inter-war years brought many changes to the mining community and to mining women. After a boom during the war, the industry sank into depression. One problem was the loss of markets during the war, particularly severe in exporting districts such as Northumberland, and a slowness to mechanise the cutting and haulage of coal. The return to the gold standard in 1924 which plunged the United Kingdom into depression five years before the 1929 Crash further added to the problems of the coal industry. The combined result was that what had been known as ‘King Coal’ before the war became...

  8. Part II: Women in Inshore Fishing Communities

    • 3 A Household Economy in the Modern Era
      (pp. 81-105)

      Inshore marine fishing had some similarities with coal mining but also many differences. Both were long-standing, dangerous, quintessentially male industries, but, whereas mining was a heavily capitalised industry with an all-male workforce, inshore fishing involved petty commodity production in a family based system that also involved women and children. Not to be confused with deep-sea fishing, it was conducted by small entrepreneurs operating their own boats – called cobles – and was a holdover from preindustrial times.¹ The exception to this was the heavily capitalised summer herring fishing industry, in which wives and young fisher girls were involved from the mid nineteenth...

    • 4 The Inshore Fishing Community: ‘A Race Apart’?
      (pp. 106-120)

      We have been talking about the identity of fisher women being that of fish worker and secondarily as housewife and mother, but outsiders defined them, their husbands and the community in general in ways which sometimes, though not always, corresponded with how they defined themselves. At times, the focus was upon women specifically, but often it was upon the community as a whole. These more general comments apply to women as much as to men and must be included in our study. Given its small size, the inshore fishing community made a surprisingly deep imprint on the consciousness of the...

  9. Part III: Female Agricultural Labourers

    • 5 ‘Muscular Femininity’
      (pp. 123-145)

      To find the female agricultural labourers of Northumberland we must move inland from the windswept coastal fishing villages and the grimy coal mining towns and villages, to where the Cheviot Hills slope down to the fertile valleys of the River Till and its tributaries. There, in Glendale and further east in Belford – the rural districts studied in most depth – we find women labourers in abundance. These labourers formed an essential part of farming in Northumberland, as they did in the East and West Lothians, Roxburgh and Berwickshire in southeastern Scotland and in Westmoreland, long after women had ceased to be...

    • 6 ‘Clever Hands’ – Household, Demographics and Autonomy
      (pp. 146-164)

      As we have suggested, the role of labouring farm women in Northumberland, Westmoreland and in southeastern Scotland was multifaceted. In addition to playing a very important role in the farming economy, wives and daughters of hinds made a substantial contribution to the family economy. Like inshore fishing, a household economy, reminiscent of pre-industrial times, prevailed in these agricultural farming families. Given the low wages of the hind, the wives’ farming and domestic skills and ability to manage a meagre budget were vital to the survival of the family. Their important role inevitably brings up the question of the degree of...

    (pp. 165-174)

    The preceding pages indicate that the experiences of mining, fisher and farming women differed significantly. Indeed, they varied as much as the environments in which the women lived: grimy pit villages with pit heaps looming over them; picturesque, wind-blown fishing villages with boats drawn up on the white sand; isolated farms on the slopes of the Cheviot Hills or in the valleys, sheep scattered over them. It is true that in places such as Newbiggin-by-the Sea mining was conducted alongside fishing and, in some others, farming existed alongside fishing. Further south in the county, it co-existed with heavy industry. Yet...

    (pp. 175-176)
    (pp. 177-192)
  13. Index
    (pp. 193-202)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-205)