Queen Coal? Why should we remember Victorian mining women?
Negative Views of Pit Brow Lasses
This extract is from an essay entitled ‘Women in the British Mines’ by a clergyman, the Rev T. M. Eddy. It was published in The Ladies Repository a monthly magazine, which printed contemporary debates, reviews and opinions on literature, the arts and religion.
‘The sympathy manifested by English ladies in behalf of American slaves is all proper enough but perhaps if they will look among their sisters at home even under the auspices of magna carta they will find, to say the very least an enlargement of the field of sympathy.
Should the eyes of any such fall upon these pages, we ask them to take a walk among British mines, and to see how British females live and have a being. [. . .] but surely females don’t go away down those deep shafts and work in those horrid dirty pits, among coals and rocks and standing in water?
Why yes, you delicate nervous creature they do. They dig coal they draw cars or tubs of coal to which they are harnessed. Work in the mines? Ay indeed, the mother and her daughters they work among the men rough as Hottentots, and almost sometimes quite as naked. Yes, woman, burying every feeling of refinement of delicacy, of womanhood, clad often in but a single ragged garment [ . . .] what do they do?
Take the following testimony: ‘Margaret Boxter 50 years old coal-hewer, I hew the coal; have done so since my husband failed in his health. He has been off work 12 years. I have a son, daughter and niece working with me below; we have sore work to get maintenance. I go down early to hew the coal for my girls; my son hews also. The work is not fit for women, and men could prevent it were they to labour more regularly.
Indeed men about this place don’t want women to work in the mines, but the masters seem to encourage it'. Why did they encourage it? Another witness gives us an answer ‘They know that we [women] will do the work the men won’t’.
‘Women in the British Mines’ by Rev T M Eddy, published in
The Ladies Repository, Vol 14, Issue 7 July 1854 p.295. The Ladies Repository was a monthly periodical devoted to literature, arts, religion.
To read more extracts making a case against women miners, download the worksheet 'Negative reactions to Victorian women working in coal mines', using the link below.
Auspices - sign or token
Clergyman - a man who works for the Christian Church, like a vicar
Hewer - cutter
Hottentot - offensive term for a group of people from south-western Africa; in Victorian times this meant primitive
Magna carta - document signed by the king in 1215, granting more power to his subjects
Manifested - shown
Periodical - publication, like a magazine, with regular new issues
Refinement - to improve something; good manners or politeness
Testimony - witness statement