Centenary of Glasgow Women’s Rent Strikes

 Why commemorate the 1915 Rent Strike?

One hundred years ago women in Glasgow were celebrating securing the Rent Restrictions Act, passed by Lloyd George in December 1915. This followed months of protest against the rent increases they had been subjected to by their landlords which had resulted in a rent strike. Similar strikes were organised in other cities in the UK (See Ann Petrie’s The Rent Strikes: An East Coast Perspective, Abertay Historical Society, 2008). Glasgow’s rent strike has been memorialised, channelled and appropriated by a range of organisations over the years. The Rent Strike is associated with ‘Red Clydeside’ and radical working-class direct action. It is celebrated, and rightly so. 

Rent Strike 1915

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: ‘Glasgow Rent Strikers 1915’ from Scottish Labour History, Vol. 50, 2015 – permission of National Co-operative Archive (image found by Dr Catriona Burness while researching on behalf of the Remember Mary Barbour Campaign).

The story in Glasgow is well known: landlords increase the rents on overcrowded tenements flats in Govan and Partick; profiteering while the men are away fighting, women hold ‘stair heid’ and back court meetings, they band together with direct action i.e. pounding the balliff’s men with flour and other missiles and refusing to let fellow strikers be evicted, the movement grows larger as more women in a variety of areas become involved, the labour movement get in on the action as the campaign becomes more organised and when male workers at munitions factories come out in sympathy on the 17th of November in a mass protest (there were 25,000 rent strikers by this point), Lloyd George passes the Rent Restrictions Act within a month (I’m obviously missing out a lot of detail in this potted history!).

However as the Sheffield Film Co-operative’s documentary ‘Red Skirts on Clydeside’ highlights (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/890164/) little is actually known about the women involved in the strike. Those of us interested in the history of women in Scotland know about Mary Barbour, Helen Crawfurd and Agnes Dollan (less is known of Jean Ferguson), as these women continued to be involved in left wing politics in the interwar years. But the general public today know little of these women.

Mary Barbour Portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is why the ‘Remember Mary Barbour Campaign’ (https://remembermarybarbour.wordpress.com/mary-barbour-rent-strike-1915/) is so important in raising the profile of a woman who campaigned tirelessly on behalf of working-class women and for improvements to their lives. Dr Catriona Burness has been undertaking further research so we now know a lot more about Mary Barbour and her political career (see C. Burness, ‘Remember Mary Barbour’ Scottish Labour History (http://www.scottishlabourhistory.org.uk/the-journal/), 50 (2015), pp. 81-96). The aim of the campaign is to raise money to erect a statue (the maquettes have been unveiled and are currently on tour around the city) of Mary in Govan as a permanent memorial to her life and work.

In the last few months the Remember Mary Barbour Campaign has been involved with a range of organisations in the ‘Striking Season’ to commemorate the centenary of the Rent Strikes. http://events.glasgowlife.org.uk/event/1/striking-season-mary-barbour-and-the-rent-strikes-of-1915

Striking Season

But while the story of the Rent Strikes has been told (see J. Melling’s book Rent Strikes: People’s Struggle for Housing in West Scotland 1890-1916, Polygon, 1983) we still don’t know enough about the long term effects of the strike and the Rent Restrictions Act. Some questions may never be answered – we might not find the stories of all the un-sung heroines of the strike, the rank and file as opposed to the leaders. It is difficult to capture these voices one hundred years on. But we can analyse in more depth the way in which the memory of the rent strike has been used in other housing protests (see Ewan Gibbs, ‘Civic Scotland versus Communities on Clydeside: poll tax and non-payment c. 1987-1990, Scottish Labour History (http://www.scottishlabourhistory.org.uk/the-journal/), 49, (2014), pp. 86-106). The Rent Restrictions act also had implications on the spread of municipal house building, and housing was a central plank of both Labour Party and Independent Labour Party policy in Glasgow in the interwar years and beyond.

So there were many consequences of the Rent Strike both in the immediate aftermath, subsequent decades and for today. This is the reason why, way back in February of this year, following the successful event at the University of Edinburgh ‘Women’s Movements in Scotland: From Enfranchisement to the Referendum’ we decided that we really should organise an event to both commemorate the Rent Strike of 1915 and to ask what can be learned from this action today.

Rent Strike Procession

Source: Melling, Rent Strikes, p. 98

We held this event exactly one hundred years to the day of the ‘Great Public Procession and Demonstration’ in Maxwell Park, Govan on the 27th of November, which was organised to demand the repayment of all rent increases from the start of the war. So the fight for fair rents and municipal housing did not stop with the passing of the Rent Restrictions Act.

‘Learning from the 1915 Rent Strikes: Women’s role in housing disputes in Scotland c. 1915 to the present’ was held at Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton, an excellent location for the discussion of women’s history and involvement in campaigning and we were lucky to have generous funding from the Economic History Society.

The day provided, in an informal context, an opportunity for historians and activists involved in current and recent housing disputes to reflect on the consequences of the Rent Strike and the lessons we can learn today. Has women’s position in housing changed much in one hundred years? Following the boom in municipal housing provision in the post war years, with stable tenancies and good housing conditions, at least initially, there is little in the way of ‘social housing’ left in Glasgow today. Now many women are suffering the effects of precarious housing in the private sector where rents can be increased monthly.

We are hoping to post some photos of the event and audio recordings of some of the papers on the WHS website – watch this space!

 

Dr Valerie Wright, Research Associate, Housing, Everyday Life and Wellbeing 1950-1975

 

 

 

 

 

WHS Annual Conference – Registration

Registration for the Annual Conference in Aberdeen is now open.
Details of the programme, conference fee and how to register is below. The Sue Innes Memorial Lecture is free.

Saturday 31 October 2015
St Nicholas Room, Town House, Aberdeen

Tea & coffee will be available in the St Nicholas Room from 11am.

11.45: Lindy Moore ‘On Creating the Kingdom of God on Earth: the Spirituality of Isabella Fyvie Mayo’.

12.05 : Elizabeth Ritchie ‘Isabella Fraser Sage – Life as a Minister’s Wife in the C18th Highlands

12.30: Women’s Heritage Walk, organised by volunteers from Aberdeen Women’s Alliance walk group. This starts and finishes at the Town House.

1.15: Lunch break – Please note there are a range of options for eating close to the Town House

There will be a small bookstall.

2.00: The Sue Innes Memorial Lecture, Lesley Orr – “To Build the New Jerusalem” Women’s claims to equal citizenship in church and nation in 20thC Scotland

WHS AGM

Cost: £20 for the whole event. The Sue Innes Memorial Lecture is free.

To register, or for further details, please contact Alison McCall: womenshistoryscotland@gmail.com

International Women’s Day

Modern Votes for Women PinHappy International Women’s Day!

Here are some interesting links from around the interwebs:

 

 

 

 

 

The history of International Women’s Day

http://www.internationalwomensday.com/about.asp#.VPxHOHysWSp

http://www.un.org/womenwatch/feature/iwd/history.html

Events celebrating International Women’s Day

http://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/march-of-women/ (This event has passed, but members of WHS were present – hopefully GWL will post pics from the event soon!)

Why International Women’s Day is needed

http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2015/mar/08/no-need-for-international-womens-day-what-world-do-you-live-in

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/08/emily-thornberry-equal-pay-act-overhaul?CMP=fb_gu

The status of women and women’s and gender history in academia

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/gender-bias-rife-in-history-departments-says-report/2018937.article

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/feb/24/sexism-women-in-university-academics-feminism

Feel free to post other relevant links in the comments section!

What are your hopes for International Women’s Day 2015? How will you celebrate?

 

 

Women’s History Scotland Leah Leneman Essay Prize 2014 – Results!

Women’s History Scotland Leah Leneman Essay Prize 2014

 

We are pleased to announce the winner and runner-up of the Leah Leneman Essay Prize for 2014. The winner is Alice Glaze, University of Guelph, with Lin Cunningham, University of Glasgow, as runner-up. The competition again saw a very strong competition and we would like to thank all the applicants for providing such a rich and interesting array for the judges to consider.

 

Alice Glaze’s essay, ‘Women and Kirk Discipline: Prosecution, Negotiation and the Limits of Control’, is an interesting, well-crafted essay. It is clearly and elegantly written and professionally presented. The research questions and historiography are handled well, and in a nuanced sophisticated way, while the author presents sufficient context and background for a non-specialist in a professional and clear manner. Exemplary cases are used to good end, to support her arguments. An extensive bibliography demonstrates the extent and depth of the author’s reading. The central argument about the ambiguous nature of the control exercised by the Reformed Kirk over women and their bodies is well worked out, making effective use of some difficult source material.

 

Lin Cunningham’s essay, ‘Independent, Skilled and Enterprising Women in Business: The Dressmakers of Nineteenth-Century Glasgow’, draws on the renewed interest in women’s work and especially the position of businesswomen. This is a wide-ranging piece that deals effectively with a complex topic. Good use is made of a case study of the five MacFarlane sisters to illustrate various issues and changes during the century are well charted. A section on ‘defining success’ is particularly thoughtful. It is a well-written engaging and well-researched essay. The use of records and research is very good and her understanding of the period, historiography and issues is also admirable.

 

We would like to congratulate both Alice and Lin for their interesting and thought-provoking work, and hope to see both of these pieces published in due course. WHS members might like to know that several previous Leah Leneman prize essays have been published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. The next competition will be in 2016, with a deadline in December.

2014 Conference Information

With the 2014 WHS Annual Conference Gender, Fitness, and Sport approaching, conference organiser Dr Eilidh Macrae has provided important information for anyone attending the conference, which is given below.

The conference this year is taking place in Dundee, at Abertay University on Saturday the 27th of September.

We are very pleased to be able to welcome Professor Charlotte Macdonald who will be giving the Sue Innes Memorial Lecture on Saturday Afternoon on Beautiful Bodies: Glasgow’s 1938 gift to women and to empire.

Provisional Programme 2014 Conference

2014 WHS Conference Registration Form

WHS-Membership-Form 2014

Accommodation and Travel details WHS 2014 conference

If you have any queries about the conference, please e-mail Eilidh:

WHSconference2014@outlook.com

 

 

WHS Conference 2014 – Gender, Fitness and Sport

The Call for Papers for the Annual Conference is now released. The theme of the conference is Gender, Fitness and Sport.

The conference will be held at the University of Abertay, Dundee on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th of September 2014. Professor Charlotte Macdonald has been confirmed as the keynote speaker for the Sue Innes Memorial Lecture on the Friday evening. More information on registration will be released nearer the time.

Please address any questions or send paper proposals to Eilidh Macrae on the dedicated conference email address WHSconference2014@outlook.com

WHS Call for Papers Gender Fitness and Sport September 2014

Scottish Women: A Documentary History now available

Women’s History Scotland is thrilled to announce that the long awaited Scottish Women: A Documentary History is now available. Companion to the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, it is the product of long hours of research and hard work and will prove to be a valuable addition to Scottish women’s history. A range of publicity events are in the offing for the near future, which will be announced soon.

Even more exciting, a 40% discount is available for WHS members until 30th September 2013. More information is available on the flyer.

Flyer and Order Form Documentary History

Esther Breitenbach highlights what makes this book so special:

“The book has been designed as a companion volume to the internationally acclaimed Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, and also contains illustrations of source materials. As well as appealing to educational and academic audiences, it will appeal to popular interest because the documents quoted highlight the many facets of women’s experiences, which they articulated with colour and flair. This adds important depth to understandings of everyday life and living, and the treasure trove of documentary extracts, at both a local and a national level, will fascinate readers in Scotland and beyond, and will inspire readers to rethink what they thought they knew about Scottish women.”

The membership form for Women’s History Scotland can be found here:

WHS Membership Form

Annual Conference Orkney – Registration now open!

 

2013 Annual Conference

Centre for Nordic Studies, UHI, Kirkwall, Orkney

3-4 May 2013

 Making, Creating, Producing:

Historical Perspectives on Women, Gender & Production

Late registrations for WHS Annual Conference in Orkney are still being received.

We’ve received a large number of submissions to the Call for Papers early this year, resulting in parallel panels and a full programme. The Conference has a range of interesting papers on offer, from women and the land, to arts and crafts, knitting and lacemaking. We have speakers joining us from the Orkney and the surrounding areas as well as international speakers from Canada and Scandinavia. In addition, the Sue Innes Memorial Lecture this year will be given by Elizabeth Ewan (Research Professor of Scottish History, University of Guelph, Canada) with the title ‘Producing Women in Pre-Modern Scotland’, followed by a civic reception. The Conference Dinner on Saturday evening will be held at the West End Hotel.

See the provisional programme for more details (correct as of 24/4/2013)

Orkney Conference Provisional Programme

Registration

If you wish to attend, please fill in a Registration Form and send it by the 12th of April, along with a cheque to:

Laura Paterson, c/o History, School of Humanities, University of Dundee, DD1 4HN.

There will be a range of interesting papers on offer at this conference, reflecting a wide range of topics around the core theme.

Any queries can be directed to l.paterson@dundee.ac.uk

Orkney 2013 Registration Form

Orkney has been recently been named as the best island destination in the UK by users of the travel website Tripadvisor – so the conference is an excellent opportunity to visit!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-21941087