Queen Coal? Why should we remember Victorian mining women?
Positive Views of Pit Brow Lasses
From February to April 1843, frequent petitions against women working in coal mines were presented to parliament. Supporters of female mine workers argued that these women often had families who relied upon the money they made, and that preventing them from working might cause hardship.
Look at these newspaper headlines and extracts – who wanted women to keep working down mines and why?
- ‘By far the greatest portion are driven out of employment and may be driven to seek a miserable existence by means still more objectionable than working in the mines under proper regulations’
(Bolton Free Press, 27 January 1842)
- ‘The noble and learned lord (Lord Brougham) also presented two petitions from owners of collieries against a bill for regulating the employment of children in collieries’
(Wakefield Journal and West Riding Herald Friday 8 July 1842)
- Ann Thomas, same age and work ‘finds the work very hard; two women always work the windlass below ground. We wind up 800 loads [a day]. Men do not like winding.
It is too hard work for them’
(Royal Commission Report). Women were paid less than men for doing the same job and the evidence frequently records that men would not expect to do the work women did.
- ‘Keep them at home to look after their families, decrease the pressure on the labour market and there is then some chance of a high rate of wages being enforced.’
(Northern Star, 28 Oct 1843).
- Objections to women in mining are ‘sickly sentimentality of drawing room presuming to regulate the world’ (Economist, 28 Sept 1844)
Download the worksheet (link below) to examine an extract from Punch making fun of the motives behind campaigns to improve conditions down mines.
Enforced - to force something to happen
Hardship - suffering caused by lack of money
Labour market - supply of/ demand for workers
Motives - reasons for doing something
Objectionable - offensive, not right
Petition - request made by a group of people who sign their name to show support
Sentimentality - being emotional about something
Windlass - device that uses rope to lift things