Women had the greatest responsibility of managing the household whilst their husbands, brothers, and sons went to work down the mine. They were traditionally responsible for washing, cooking, mending, and raising the children. Without their efforts, the mining industry may not have run so smoothly! Jane Ann Arnold tells us in her oral history interview that she used to knock her friends and family up at 4:30am to make sure they got down the pit in time before the buzzer sounded, otherwise they would not have been able to get down the pit and earn a living. She states, “if we didn’t go knock em’ up we used to hear about it that they slept in . . . ‘no one gave us a knock this morning!’ We used to knock up ever so many.”
Jane Ann Arnold speaks for many women who were responsible for their households while the men were at work. She details that “once a week, we had a special day for everything. Some used to do washing on a Monday, bedrooms on a Tuesday, baking on a Wednesday… it used to be different, nobody did same day every day. Then we used to go shopping on a Saturday to Middlesbrough market because it was cheaper. You’d get a pound of sweets for 4d!” Although mining was a heavily masculine space, women were greatly relied on to fulfil their traditionally feminine role. They worked behind the scenes to keep the home running, which in turn contributed to the functioning of the mining industry.
Women in the mining industry became even more significant during the First and Second World War. Rates of employment in feminine roles (such as textiles) dropped dramatically in comparison to the employment of women in the metal, chemical and shipbuilding industries amongst others, and by 1943 women represented 33% of the total number employed in these industries compared to 14% in 1939 due to the 1941 National Service Act, making the conscription of women legal. Most notably, Mrs Corner had been financially responsible for her family since 1936, and during the Second World War she began to work at the Skinningrove Iron Company. Similarly, Mrs Reed, Mrs Corner, Miss Lilly and Miss Wilkinson also worked at the Steel Works in Skinningrove between the 1940s and 1950s, and therefore contributed to the victory over Germany. After the war, however, employment of women in the mines declined, but women were still employed at the Steel Works in Skinningrove, such as Miss E Ferrer who worked in the laboratory in 1971.
To conclude, the history of women in our local mining industries has sometimes gone unnoticed. Without their hard work at home, the industry may not have been as efficient, and without their contribution underground in the mines since the middle ages and during the First and Second World War in the steel works, our country, and in fact our area, may not be what it is today.
National Mining Museum, Women in Mining Communities, 2014. Available at: https://nationalminingmuseum.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/FF11-Women-MiningCommunities.pdf [Accessed 4 March 2021].
Pinchbeck, Ivy., Women Workers in the Industrial Revolution (Taylor & Francis Group, 2004).
Summerfield, Penny., Women Workers in the Second World War: Production and Patriarchal Conflict (London: Routledge, 2014).
Williamson, Margaret., ‘“I’m going to get a job at the Factory”: Attitudes to Women’s Employment in a Mining Community, 1945-1965’, Women’s History Review, 12 (2003), 407-421.
This article was written by our collections volunteer Leah Watson.
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