Phillis Dowson’s story

While the internet is full of references – and even the text of – an American version of a Women’s Suffrage Cookbook, published to aid the cause in the States in 1915, the earlier British version is less known and considerably hard to get hold of.

The Women’s Suffrage Cookbook was compiled and edited by “Mrs Aubrey Dowson”, who held up the British tradition of resigning her own name to that of her husband despite her political views, in the early years of the 20th Century. One reference gives its publication as 1908, but several others say 1912, so whichever is right the book was in existence at the height of the women’s suffrage campaign.

The project had two real objectives – to raise funds for the suffrage cause, and to provide quick easy dishes for women to prepare for their family so that they’d have more time for campaigning.

Whether it was her brainchild or not, the book was put together by “Mrs Aubrey Dowson”, who was born Phillis Ellen Heaton Atkinson in 1876 in Frimley, Surrey.

She was one of six children of Edmund Atkinson, an author and professor of physics at one of the Oxford colleges, and his wife Mary—the daughter of Bristol-based soap magnate Christopher J Thomas.

She grew up in Surrey, with a full complement of servants in the household, also spending time in Bristol with her grandfather. Educated well into her teens, she didn’t work afterwards, indicating that the family finances were solid enough for her to devote herself to other pursuits. Her father died in 1900, leaving a considerable amount of money to Phillis’ mother. At the age of 27 — in 1903 — Phillis married Aubrey Osler Dowson.

Aubrey had been a prominent rugby player in his youth—he played forward for New College Oxford and Leicester, and later for Moseley. He also played in the starting XV for England versus Scotland in 1899. By the time he married Phillis he had settled into a career as a glass manufacturer, but perhaps his prominent name was a factor in her choosing to be known by it rather than her own.

Aubrey’s aunt, Catherine Osler, was also well-known suffragist, who was perhaps part of influencing Phillis’s political leanings. Aubrey worked for the Osler family glass manufacturing business, and they probably had close ties with the firm.

Phillis and Aubrey had no children.

By the 1911 census Phillis was fully involved in the women’s suffrage movement, and declared herself as a women’s suffrage philanthropic worker. Her mother also expressed support for the suffrage campaign on her census return.

Many of the recipes in Phillis’s cookbook were drawn from suffrage campaigners working in the Midlands, around the Warwick and Birmingham area where she and Aubrey were living at that time. However, some well-known figures appear in the pages – Millicent Fawcett contributes some recipes, as does Helena Swanwick. She appears to have published nothing else following this cookbook. Phillis became secretary for the Midland Federation for the NUWSS.

Despite being almost 40, Aubrey signed up for military service during the Great War, leaving Phillis alone at home. He survived, but his record is one that was destroyed in a fire.

In later life, Phillis and Aubrey travelled to exotic places—Morocco and Indonesia.

They moved to a farmhouse at Hanging Langford, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, for their last years.

Aubrey died in 1940, but Phillis was not an executor of his will—he left a considerable amount of money to a solicitor and a civil servant.

Phillis outlived her husband by four years. When she died, in 1944, she left £70k to her bank.

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The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

 

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Emilie and Mary’s stories

“A recent addition to the industries of the town is the steam laundry,” trumpets the Wiltshire Times about Chippenham in September 1902, “or to give it its correct title the Chippenham Sanitary and Laundry Company Limited. Work was started last week in the new and capacious building which has been erected just outside of the borough boundary in Barley Close. The laundry is the only one of its kind in the neighbourhood, and may be said to supply a long felt want. Already there are 50 customers on the books, and the number is increasing daily.”

Women and washing clothes have been tied together for centuries, with many women falling into the work to make ends meet in hard times or to sustain themselves and their family when they were widowed. However, until the advent of the technology that enabled steam laundries to be established, most laundresses took in extra washing at home to supplement their income and did others’ washing alongside that of their own family.

With the advent of the steam laundry, this practice continued for married women with families who needed extra income. But the steam laundry offered extra employment opportunities for local women, and these were mostly taken by younger women straight out of school, in the time between leaving education and their own marriage.

Working at the steam laundry was considered a respected professional career for a young woman, and – although officially run by men – the day to day life of the business fell to a manageress.

The first manageress of the Chippenham Steam Laundry was Emilie, who had been brought in from a laundry in the South Wales coalfield to manage the premises, and after she moved on to London she was succeeded by a Miss Martin – who remains elusive – in 1906. The third holder of the manageress position was Mary, who took up her place in 1911.

Emilie was born in the mid-1860s in Staffordshire, the youngest of three sisters. Her father ran a bookshop, and the family were decidedly middle-class – which befitted someone who would go on to be the manageress of a workplace.

Her father died when she was only a few months old, and her mother took in boarders to keep a steady income for the family in Wolverhampton. Clearly bright, Emilie and her two older sisters were educated well into their teens, which meant that they were affluent enough to not need to leave school to contribute to the family finances. Later on they even had a domestic servant.

Her oldest sister Florence became a governess initially, which was a career that Emilie and her other sister Annie followed her into, but the advent of the steam laundries offered managerial roles to bright unmarried women of a “decent” background, and both Emilie and Florence were recruited to run a new laundry in the South Wales coalfield at the tail end of the 19th century. Here they shared the manageress role, but it was only Emilie that was recruited to run the new Chippenham laundry in 1902.

After about four years in the Chippenham position, she went to South London to manage another laundry, which would have been a step up from the provincial nature of the Chippenham establishment.

Later on, she moved to the Hastings area to manage a laundry there – again with her sister, sharing the managerial role – and living with her mother and their other sister who were running a boarding house by the sea. Neither she nor her sisters ever married

Emilie died unmarried in her early 50s, just after the end of the first world war. Her sisters continued to live in the Hastings area until the 1950s.

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In contrast, Mary – Chippenham Steam Laundry’s third manageress – came from Norfolk, from a small rural community between the city of Norwich and the coast of East Anglia. She was the eldest of her parents’ ten children, and the family owned a grocers and drapers shop. This shop was clearly successful – their household in 1881, when Mary was four, had a domestic servant and a nursemaid, and her mother had employed the services of a monthly nurse to look after the family while she was lying in in the days following the birth of Mary’s brother Sidney.

Over the next ten years, the family moved south to Worlingworth in Suffolk and took over her paternal grandfather’s wine and spirits, grocers and drapers business in this village, building on the shop’s reputation. Clearly bright, Mary was sent to a girls’ boarding school elsewhere in Suffolk, while the brothers nearest to her in age remained at home.

It’s unclear how Mary’s career began, as her record in 1901 is elusive. As an unmarried woman, she was probably boarding somewhere, and the house owner noted down her details incorrectly. It’s likely that she started on the career towards management of industrial premises – either being employed as a manageress of another laundry or instrumental in some other industry at the time. Her career was a contrast to that of one of her sisters, who only went as far as Ipswich to be employed as a drapers’ assistant.

By 1911 Mary had travelled to Chippenham and taken up position as manageress at the Sanitary Laundry Company. Most of the workforce were women, and the bulk of them were unmarried – either young single women or those who had been widowed. Married women did work as laundresses, but tended to take in extra laundry to do alongside their own to earn money for their family, as going out to work when you were married was frowned upon. Similarly, the manageress position was held by an unmarried woman.

Laundry was collected from around the town by a man with a horse and cart (one of three men employed by the business, one of the others having the job of running the boiler), and received and sorted at the premises. Then the articles went to the wash house, where recent advances in metal rotary machines had resulted in a hydro-extractor, the drying chambers (eight of them), and the ironing room. The washing was then sorted again, ready for dispatch back to its owners by horse and cart. Of this workforce, 29 strong in 1911, Mary was in charge. She would have handled day to day management of her employees, kept an eye on the books, and sorted reordering and maintenance of the services and machines that the laundry offered. She was answerable to the company secretary, in an office elsewhere in the town, but expected to be in charge on the ground.

By the mid-point of the First World War, the laundry offered dyeing, carpet beating, and refitting of shirts – all important parts of a service that would have been done at home before women went into the industrial workforce because of the number of men on army duty.

In 1916, at the age of 40, Mary married Alfred, who had been working in Chippenham as a dental mechanic and false teeth manufacturer. He served as a soldier in the war, and was posted elsewhere. Despite propriety dictating that a married woman shouldn’t really have a job, Mary remained manageress at the laundry.

One of her brothers, Sidney, was killed at the end of the war, dying in France and Flanders just a few weeks before the armistice. Her husband survived, however.

She kept her manageress position until at least 1920, after Alfred returned from fighting, and lived with him on Malmesbury Road. By 1923, however, she’d resigned from the laundry and was not working. Alfred had moved his business up the road to Malmesbury, and Mary was with him as the dentist’s wife.

They don’t appear to have had any children, and by the outbreak of the Second World War they were still living in Malmesbury.

Mary died in 1963, aged 87, in Malmesbury.

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The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Hannah Y’s story

Direct marketing isn’t as modern a concept as you perhaps might think. Product placement and endorsement occurred from the late Victorian times onwards, as the benefits of a media hungry and increasingly literate population came to be realised by manufacturers, and advertising their products could have a direct impact on sales.

One such product endorser was Hannah Y, from the north of England, who promoted the use of gas stoves, beef extract, baking powder, gelatine, and,… er… enemas. And she gained such notoriety that her husband changed his name to hers when they married, rather than the other way around.

Born in Birmingham in the late 1850s, Hannah’s father Cornelius was a glass mould maker in the burgeoning industries in the Midlands. She was her parents’ oldest child, and was gradually joined by a succession of siblings – many of them short lived. By the age of 2 the family had left Birmingham for the glass industry at Gateshead in the north east of England, at that point located in County Durham. Here they shared a house with another family, also employed in the glass industry, and Hannah’s mother – also called Hannah – gave birth to four children, two of whom didn’t live to see their second birthday.

With the decline in the glass industry in the north east, the family moved again – this time bringing their three surviving children to Lancashire. Here Hannah studied at school until at least the age of 12, and their family survived again by finding work at the glassworks. After school, Hannah went on to gain a first-class diploma in cookery demonstration and a special merit medal from the Berkhamsted Mechanics Institute. She would have been taught cookery and household management as part of her elementary education, and probably excelled – hence travelling as far away from home as the Home Counties to further her studies as a young, single woman. In the meantime, she gained two more brothers, one who lived and one who did not.

At some point in the 1870s her father changed jobs, first becoming a whitesmith – someone who worked tin – and then working as a gas engineer for Fletcher, Russell & Co in Warrington, who manufactured gas stoves. Gas stoves had been invented in the early part of the 19th century, but did not really take off until pipelines had been installed in most bigger UK cities. Cooking on a gas stove took a different skill to cooking on coal-fired ranges and open fires, as it was far easier to control the heat, and Fletcher, Russell & Co employed Hannah as a demonstrator of these new methods.

She ran a programme of lectures and workshops to show women how to operate the new stoves they had purchased from the company, thus endorsing their wares. This led to a cookery book that she wrote and published in 1886, with the company’s backing and blessing. Called “Domestic cookery: with special reference to cooking by gas” the book gave a selection of recipes that Hannah had developed that were plain, practical and economical, and not high class – perfect for the new owners of gas stoves. The Victorian preference for plain and simple cooking was refined and subtly developed by Hannah’s recipes, and it was reprinted many times in the years that followed.

A second book, Choice Cookery, followed in 1888 when Hannah was around 30. Like the first, this book offered further recipes adapted and refined for gas cookery, and contained adverts for gas stoves, and other appliances, alongside fine leaf gelatine and baking powder – which were used in several of the recipes – and other kitchenwares.

By the early 1890s Hannah had set up home in Sunderland, and married a Lancashire doctor. Unusually for the time, he took her surname to unite the family name rather her taking his. This meant that she did not lose the name she had been making for herself, and thus kept her notoriety and career.

After her marriage, she had business interests in Chester and ran a temperance hotel with an assistant. It was from here that Hannah took mail orders for the kitchen products that she endorsed.

In 1893 her only non-recipe book was published. This, entitled Health Without Medicine, advocates a contraption to give a self-administered enema using water – “nature’s great remedy”. Enemas were often used as a contraceptive by Victorian women at this time, but if this was Hannah’s aim it failed as she gave birth to her daughter the following year, while living in Sunderland.

Hannah’s reputation for new product endorsement led German meat extract manufacturers Liebig to employ her to promote their product in the mid-1890s. Hannah published the Liebig Company’s Practical Cookery Book, which contained many ingenious ways to cook using meat extract. She also spent time back home working in Lancashire, living next to her brother – who was also employed by the gas stove manufacturers.

Her final book, Home Made Cakes and Sweets, was published in the middle of the first decade of the 20th century, when she and her family had moved to Cambridgeshire. Here Hannah continued to sell specific ingredients and equipment from home, as well as lecturing and demonstrating cookery, alongside her husband’s work as a general practitioner.

Her daughter grew up and married a doctor, and her husband and son-in-law practiced together in Cambridgeshire, the family living together in one large house. Her husband died in the late 1940s, leaving his money to their daughter. Hannah died about a year later, aged 90.

Sarah T’s story

A plumber’s daughter, Sarah Tanner grew up relatively comfortably in the 1840s and 50s in the rapidly expanding Wiltshire market town of Chippenham. The youngest of at least seven siblings, her family did well after the railway came to the town and her father’s business grew big enough to support employees and keep daughters at home until they married rather than sending them out to work.

However, while two of her elder sisters chose to remain at home until they wed, Sarah did not choose this route. By the age of 18 she and her eldest sister Mary were running a seeds and food shop on Chippenham’s High Street, which – given the town was growing rapidly at this time – almost certainly saw good trade.

At the age of 30 her sister Mary married a widowed yeoman farmer turned publican, and presumably left Sarah to run the business herself. Her brother in law’s career may have led Sarah to meet her own husband – Joseph Buckle, the widower landlord of one of Chippenham’s biggest hostelries on the town’s market place – who she married at the age of 28.

This marriage gained her two step-children from her husband’s previous marriage – a girl aged 8 and a boy aged 4 – and her husband had a stepson of his own from his former wife’s marriage. It also gained Sarah a pub, a business that kick started a career that lasted over 30 years. Although her husband was named landlord, the 1871 census record has Sarah’s occupation as a licenced victualler’s wife – indicating that she was fairly active in the day to day life of the establishment – but the enumerator concerned has crossed this description out, as it was considered invalid.

Sarah had her own daughter a year or so after her marriage. She was heavily pregnant again with her son Joe when her husband died suddenly, leaving her the business, his money, and their combined children. Her son was born a month after his father’s death, and Sarah renewed the pub’s licence in her name within another month.

She ran the pub with the help of her step-children and a couple of domestic servants for another three years until she married again. The marriage took place at Chippenham’s parish church, and was witnessed by her stepdaughter. Her second husband was a former soldier who came from Nottinghamshire, and in accordance with the law of the time he took over the hotel and pub licence – if the woman was married, her property became her husband’s. The couple ran the pub together for another four years – with her eldest stepdaughter as barmaid –  and had a daughter together. They then gave up the business, and moved a few streets away. It’s unclear what they were surviving on – when their second daughter was baptised a couple of years later Sarah’s husband’s profession is given as a former soldier and a hotel business isn’t mentioned – but it’s possible that her inheritance from her first husband was enough to keep them comfortably.

However, this existence did not last. Sarah’s second husband died in 1887, aged 40, leaving her widowed for the second time. At this stage her stepchildren were adults, but she had four dependent children – a son aged 14 and daughters aged 15, 9, and 2 – and no visible means of support.

She went back into the pub trade to provide for her family, based on the many years of experience she’d had at the hotel. She founded a Wine and Spirits vaults in Chippenham’s market place, just a stone’s throw away from the original pub and ran that until 1892. At this point business was clearly booming, despite the growth of the temperance movement, and she was able to both found another pub/hotel in the market place and run a second one nearby for another ten years, taking her through to the early 20th century. She did not marry again, and therefore kept the income and status her businesses generated.

In the early 1900s, when she was getting on in years, she relinquished the pub trade and moved in with her unmarried son Joe Buckle as his housekeeper. He, and the husband of one of her daughters, ran a popular fishmongers and poultry shop on Chippenham’s high street in a timbered building that no longer exists, and it’s likely that Sarah helped out with this business as she aged too. Joe also became the town’s fire chief, and was a well-known local figure.

She died in her mid-70s, at the beginning of the 1920s. Her son eventually married four years after her demise.

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The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Edith C’s story

Edith led a varied life as a prominent anti-suffragist, a mathematics book author, and the wife of a renowned British composer. In addition, she was a mother, and had a foreign upbringing.

India-born Edith was the daughter of a British engineer, who had been posted to the British Raj hillpost of Mussoorie – in the northern part of the country – in the early 1860s. He was employed by the East Indian Railway, and travelled around the country working and advising on the early establishment of track and engines, and Edith’s mother therefore gave birth to her children in various different places – including Mayapore and Allahabad – and then the more conventional Kent and London.

Edith spent her early childhood in the heat of India, and then returned to London for a while. Her father was posted back to India, so she and her siblings went to live in Hove – at the British seaside – with their mother. Her eldest sister married back in India in the mid-1870s, so it’s probable that the whole family returned to India for a time during that decade, and there is absolutely no sign of Edith and her siblings on the 1881 census so it’s probable that they remained there for several years.

By 1885 one of her brothers was admitted to Cambridge from Bromley, so the whole family had returned to the UK for good, and it was from Bromley that she married in 1890. Her husband was employed at the Royal School of Music in London, and from this point onwards Edith became outwardly known by his name.

They moved into Kensington, the fashionable part of London, and over the next few years Edith gave birth to four children – two girls, and then twin boys. They had a full complement of servants – including a nurse and nursery maids – to give them a very comfortable life.

In 1906 Edith published a book on rhythm in mathematics, perhaps taking on some background from the musical atmosphere in her home. The idea, which originated with Mary Everest Boole, was that children should be taught musical rhythmic patterns in mathematics first, before moving on to more intellectual concepts. The book came with a set of punched sewing cards that enabled children to create curves and designs that encouraged patterns and harmony. Edith’s introduction to the work said of the idea:

“Beautiful curves are produced by a process so simple and automatic that the most inartistic child can succeed in generating beauty by mere conscientious accuracy; and the habit of doing this tends to produce a keen feeling for line. It has also been noticed in 649 some cases, where clean, pure, and strong colour has been used, that a remarkable sensitiveness to colour relation has grown.

“The results obtained by a child, of exquisite curved and flower forms on the ‘back’ of his card, by faithful obedience to a dull little rule in making straight stitches on the ‘front’, is of the nature a miracle. It should, therefore, be hardly necessary to insist that the less said the better, when the little worker produces anything especially beautiful or unexpected.”

The book was still being reprinted, with no real modernisation, until the mid-1970s.

The next phase of Edith’s life began as the campaign for women’s suffrage began to escalate. She opposed women’s suffrage, and was involved in the early days of the Women’s National Anti-suffrage League. She attended a meeting hosted by the Countess of Jersey in London in November 1908, and by the spring of 1909 she was honourable secretary of the league. In this role she spoke at West Hampstead Town Hall:

“… the Suffragists made the mistake of being unduly influenced by special instances rather than considering the community as a whole. The statement that women paid for the vote and therefore they ought to have it was, she thought a very mean conception of citizenship. It had never been our principle in this country. There were two classes of qualification for the vote. The first was that the voter should be a man, and, secondly, he should give some good ground for believing that he would take a permanent and stable interest in the good government of the country. The cry of the Suffragists for the vote on the same terms as men was absurd, because the first term on which men were given the vote was that they were men. (She) then spoke briefly on the subject of the vastness of our Empire, and stated that in all the Suffragist literature there was none upon the subject of women’s franchise and the Empire. Suffragists proposed to alter the whole Constitution upon which that great Empire had been built up without showing its effects upon the Empire. She also referred briefly to certain Suffragist literature, the under-trend of which, she said, seemed to be the destruction of the thought of motherhood as the highest ideal for women.”

She continued to be very involved in the work of the league, proving to be a well-known and rousing speaker for their ideals, and – like her rising counterpart Gwladys – believing that women had an important role in improving society by breeding and raising better people rather than influencing politics. Her platform was presented at various meetings around the country, often working with and speaking alongside with Mary Ward, better known as Mrs Humphry Ward, including at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in late October 1909:

“… (she) said Miss Robertson (Margaret Robinson, one of the speakers for the cause of women’s suffrage) made some good debating points without upsetting Mrs Ward’s argument. “We say (she said) that government depends on the consent of the majority, and that is one of the reasons we oppose the extension of the franchise”. Nobody seemed to know what she meant, and she passed on to consider Miss Robertson’s higher view of motherhood. Miss Robertson said this high ideal was only to be attained through the vote. But it is, and always has been, attained by making better men.

“Women are always in the foreground of reforms, not that men are more evil, but because women have the whole future of the world in their hands. Reforms have been won by women influencing the good men to help. She appealed to all the women to do the work which men have given them to do, and wait till they were invited to take their place in the foreground.”

She also toured Scotland for her cause, speaking at meetings of her league and also being present at a meeting in Edinburgh where Christabel Pankhurst was speaking for the cause of women’s suffrage, and proved to be a vociferous opposer and no shrinking violet:

“In the course of her address, Miss Pankhurst was interrupted by a lady, and she said if the interrupter had been at a Liberal meeting she would have been thrown out. The lady, who afterwards gave her name as (Edith), of the Anti-Suffrage League, said she was interrupting a meeting which had to do with women’s suffrage. Miss Pankhurst and her friends interrupted meetings where Cabinet Ministers talked about something else.

“Miss Pankhurst retorted that a Cabinet Minister could not talk on any political question which was not connected with votes for women. Miss Pankhurst was severely “heckled” for about half an hour. (Edith) was prominent at this part of the proceedings, and for some time she sustained a vigorous argument with Miss Pankhurst. (Edith) challenged directly a statement made by Miss Pankhurst as to the remuneration directly a statement made by Miss Pankhurst as to the remuneration of women engaged in the textile industries, and gave as her authority the Board of Trade Blue-book on the subject, which she advised the audience to read. (Edith), in reply to Miss Pankhurst’s declaration that taxation without representation was tyranny, pointed out that citizenship was not a matter of paying money; and Miss Pankhurst replied that men had laid down that taxation and representation must go together. (Edith) then asked, if that was so, why only 6 ½ millions of the men who paid taxes had the vote? Miss Pankhurst said it was not their business to complain of the way men worked out the general principle they had laid down. They wanted for women the principle men had set up for themselves.”

However, despite the prominence of her role in the Women’s National Anti-suffrage League, whether she found the work incompatible with her family life, or changed her views, Edith stood down as secretary at the beginning of 1910. She made one more appearance on an anti-suffrage platform, and then disappeared from view.

Interestingly, however, she appears on the first electoral role that she could appear on, in 1918. This may indicate that she had changed her views, but there is no way of knowing whether she actually did vote or not.

She and her husband, once their children had grown and left home, appear to have lived quietly supported by domestic staff in their fairly grand townhouse in Kensington. They gradually downsized their properties as their needs grew less. Her husband was knighted for his work in music in 1929, and Edith became a Lady.

She was widowed a couple of years before the Second World War, and again downsized, living with a parlour maid and a cook/housekeeper until her own death at the tail end of the war.

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The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Ida H’s story

A campaigner and activist for women’s education, and later a playwright and author, Ida H’s roots were very much in her beloved Wiltshire.

Born in the mid-1880s, she grew up in a village in the middle of the county, just outside Devizes, as one of seven children (including a set of twins) of the village vicar and his rather-unconventional wife. The fact that she was a vicar’s daughter means that her exact time of birth is recorded alongside her baptism. She later recounted tales of her not-particularly straight-laced Victorian childhood in a memoir. One of these involved the whole tribe of her siblings regularly running about the village bare-footed and exacting the ridicule of some passing gypsies. The gypsies’ reaction incensed their nurse so much that she insisted all the children return home and put on their Sunday best stockings and shoes, to be paraded in front of the travelling folk. However, when the children returned the gypsies had retreated to their tents for the night and the nurse’s efforts were in vain.

Her mother was a writer, and appeared to have not too much care for the strict conventions of the day, leaving Ida and her siblings to roam the area as a gang – swimming in the canal, climbing the church roof, and wandering all over the local Wiltshire downlands. Ida and one of her younger sisters even went on a riding tour alone for three days, spending one night sleeping in a barn. Their household appears comfortable, with a whole complement of domestic staff to help the family, which would mean her mother had more time to write instead of child-rearing.

She was also a keen archer, taking part in mixed doubles matches for the Wiltshire Society of Archers when she was around 20.

When Ida was in her early 20s and still living at home, her father’s position moved to another village in Wiltshire, closer to Swindon. It was here that she became involved in the work of the Workers’ Educational Association, which was initially set up in London in the early 1900s but had enthusiastically been taken up in Swindon by local politician and county councillor Reuben George. The organisation worked to further education and bring new skills to the whole population, with focus on the working class, as part of a drive at this time to improve and progress society.

Ida, in the face of considerable opposition from the locals, set up the first village branch of the WEA in her home village. This endeavour was supported by Reuben George. This was a step towards her lifelong drive towards social reform, and was followed by another – a move to London to undertake social work. Indeed, on the 1911 census she was in London, lodging with a female tutor in sociology and called herself a social worker – a fairly unusual choice of a career for a woman of her background. At home her branch of the WEA flourished, and she was appointed just the second WEA women’s officer in 1912, at the age of 27.

This put her in a position of improving the lives of women when the women’s suffrage campaign was at its height. In 1913 she wrote:

“If the WEA is to gain any substantial victory in its campaign against ignorance and injustice, men and women must be fighting side by side. Their cause, their interests are inseparably bound together. Neither party can march by itself without endangering both its own safety, and that of the party it has left, and if one ceases to make progress, the other is held back too; so, of all the special efforts the WEA has to make today, perhaps none is more important than the special effort it is making on behalf of women.”

This job took her to speak about women’s education at meetings and gatherings all over the country, and it was at one position – in Oxfordshire about three years later – that she met and fell in love with the community doctor. As married women did not have jobs, she resigned her post with the WEA and did not even acknowledge her working life on her wedding certificate, when they married in the middle of the First World War.

As a doctor, her husband was in a reserved occupation and therefore excused conscription – so did not go to war. Ida gave birth to two sons in quick succession in the years that followed, and settled into life as a doctor’s wife in Oxfordshire.

It was as part of this life that Ida, who had been a compulsive writer since childhood, began to write in earnest. As her children grew, she started as a playwright in the 1920s, penning several works for children before working on dramas and comedies for adult groups. At the tail end of the 1920s she gave birth to her third child – a daughter – nearly ten years after her second son. She continued to write plays, sometimes directing them or producing them with amateur and semi-professional companies, and several were broadcast by the BBC on the home service in the early days of radio. One, a comedy called Lardy Cake, referred to a popular Wiltshire baked product, and others made reference to occurrences in her Wiltshire childhood. She also started writing books, among them an account of her Wiltshire childhood.

The family moved to Shropshire in 1930, where Ida’s plays continued to be written and performed by the village players, and her two sons went to study at university while her daughter went to boarding school. She also wrote and broadcast about Shropshire life, and during World War Two was very active in the local WI. Writing took a bit of a back seat for Ida at this time.

Her husband retired at the end of World War Two, and they moved to Dorset – but Ida was widowed about three years later. She began to travel the world, as her family had spread out and her eldest son was now working as a diplomat and was posted to far flung places.

She moved back to Wiltshire, and settled in Aldbourne, returning to writing. In the early 60s she researched and published a book on the village she grew up in, which was followed by a book detailing holidays with her five spinster aunts in the New Forest. She then wrote a book on Shropshire, and finally an intricately researched history of Aldbourne. She was at the heart of village life until she died in the late 1970s, and was buried in Aldbourne churchyard.

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The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Olive P’s story

In the seventh of our grandmother pieces, Sharon’s granny was adopted, a feminist and served in World War II.

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My Grandma, Olive was born (as the family story goes) as the result of an affair that her Dad had. Her birth mother had no interest in raising her so my her Dad and his wife adopted her (though there were no official adoption records) when she was six weeks old in 1921.

My Grandma was now the youngest of three girls. Her parents doted on her and raised her as their own, so much so that she didn’t realise that she was adopted until she needed to get her birth cert when she was 18. On finding out she arranged a deed poll and officially changed her name to that of the family who had raised her.
Her father was very much a feminist. He was a staunch Labour supporter. He was a coal miner and very much involved in workers rights.
This attitude also went towards how he raised his three girls. He told them to never let a man support them, to always have their own independence. He pushed education as vital to them.
So, during WWII my grandmother enlisted straight away in the ATS, she served a few roles, she was a nurse for a while in 1940 but one of the things she was most proud of was manning the radar machines for the anti-aircraft guns. She would tell me how her boss didn’t have great eyesight and would tell them to wait until they could see the whites of their eyes before firing.
Anyway, after the war she married my granddad, he was in the Navy and wanted to stay in the Navy but his father was a miner and the mining company owned his house and said that he would be removed unless my granddad came back to work for the company. So he did.
They had five children like steps of stairs and as soon as the baby was old enough to go to school my Grandma went back to college and then began working as a teacher (she was one of the first special needs teachers in Yorkshire).
All the neighbours were belittling my Granddad for letting his wife work. Then came the mining strikes and all of those neighbours and my Granddad lost their jobs but my Grandma could afford to keep her house and help her neighbours too.
When she was in her eighties she lost her sight but that didn’t stop her, she started listening to audio books and taught herself braille.
She was hilarious too, when I brought my then girlfriend (now wife) to meet her for the first time a few years before she died, she said to her “You can be having affairs all over the place, I will keep one eye open and one ear closed, as long as you are happy that’s all that matters”
She passed away in 2013 and she wanted “If I ruled the world” played at her funeral and we played it for her.

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The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.