International Women’s Day: “Educate, Agitate, Organise” – Elizabeth Andrews

 

In her foreword to A Woman’s Work is Never Done, Glenys Kinnock reflects on the lack of recognition afforded to its author, Elizabeth Andrews. Her autobiography, published by Honno, is still the primary source for Elizabeth’s life and writings. Edited by Ursula Masson, the book contains an introduction that provides contextual information, several of her newspaper articles and a section on the key dates and events of her life.

Born into a mining family near Aberdare in 1885, Elizabeth married Thomas Andrews in 1910. She became increasingly involved with politics after moving to the Rhondda, becoming the first woman elected to the Executive of the Rhondda Borough Labour Party in 1916. In 1919, as a member of the Ministry of Health Welsh Consultative Council, Elizabeth gave evidence to the Sankey Committee on pit head baths and hygiene.

Elizabeth was a vehement socialist and supported various causes throughout her life, but it is perhaps her campaigning for the rights of working class women that deserves particular attention. During an era when, even in fledgling labour movements, the needs of women were often subjugated to those of men, Elizabeth frequently fought for improved maternity standards, childcare and universal suffrage.

Throughout the twenties and thirties, Elizabeth contributed to ‘The Women’s Page’ in the Colliery Workers Magazine. She wrote about strikes and food shortages, highlighted political hypocrisies and usefully explained to ordinary families how broader political changes would impact upon them. Ostensibly called ‘The Women’s Page’, her writings engaged with national and international issues. This was perhaps her way of indicating that the ‘women’s page’ would not box her in; her opinions both encompassed and extended the issues commonly viewed as relevant for working-class women.

For example, in the October 1926 edition of CWM Elizabeth focuses on the lockout. She addresses a section specifically ‘To The Women Folk”, arguing that “it is they who have to bear the biggest brunt of the fight, with its poverty and worries, but they are facing it with that spirit of determination which makes for the true spirit of heroism”. This acknowledgement of the impact of the strike on women and the domestic space was rare. It highlighted the role played by working-class women in the management and survival of their households, rejecting dominant notions that their domestic concerns could be separated from the world of industry. Elizabeth ends that same paragraph on a particularly celebratory note: “The children of to-day, who will be the men and women of to-morrow, will have cause to be justly proud of their mothers who helped so nobly in this fight”.

The Miners’ Library holds copies of Masson’s edition of A Woman’s Work is Never Done, as well as bound volumes of the Colliery Workers Magazines that contain Elizabeth’s writings. She demonstrates the contribution made by working-class women in fighting for the political changes that we now take for granted, as well as a reminder that histories of working-class life should not focus solely on male industries and activism. Glenys Kinnock’s forward aptly sums up Elizabeth’s ability to both effect change in her contemporary surroundings and look to the future:

In all things she was a woman of her times, and a  woman ahead of her times.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s