Our Transcription Project: Minutes of the Manchester and Salford and District Women’s Trades Council 1895 to 1919

MWTUC minutes_0001As part of the research for our pamphlet Dare to be Free: Women  in trade unions, past and present, we made contact  with Mary Quaile’s  great-nephew, Martin Ennis,  who very kindly gave us the minutes of the Manchester and Salford  and District  Women’s  Trades Council.

These comprise two volumes,  and  are the complete record of the proceedings  of the Council from the first meeting on February 1895  to the final meeting in  April 1919 when the Council merged with Manchester Trades Union Council.  Another organisation – the Manchester and Salford  Women’s Trades and Labour Council –  also merged with the MTUC and togther they now comprised the Women’s Group within  the MTUC. Mary Quaile was appointed full-time Secretary to the Group, a position she was to  hold for many years.

The minutes are handwritten throughout.  The  minutes of first two meetings –  recorded in beautiful  handwriting  – were written by CP Scott,  then editor of the Manchester Guardian.

Mary Quaile worked as an organiser at the MWTUC between 1911 and 1919,  and must have taken the minutes with her when the MWTUC office was  closed.

As well as the books of minutes,  we also received   copies of  some of the  printed annual reports and a number of  important letters.

These two minute books  are a unique archival resource and  will be a major contribution to our knowledge  of the history of  women’s trade  unionism in Britain. The minutes reveal  the nuts and bolts of organising  women  into trade unions,  and the very  hard work done by the women – Sarah Dickenson, Frances Ashwell, Eva Gore-Booth,  Olive Aldridge,  Mary Quaile, and others –  who worked as the Organising Secretaries. They attended countless meetings,  nurtured the unions they helped  to set up, went to see employers,  and supported strikes when they occasionally  happened eg at the Ceylon Cafe and Bradford Flax Mill.

It is our intention to make the minute books  publicly accessible by placing them at the Working Class Movement  Library at some point in the future. However,  we also wish to make them available to all by transcribing them and placing  the transcript on a dedicated website.

We have raised some money from a number of trade unions to fund this  and our researcher, Bernadette Hyland, is now working on the minutes. She will be blogging about this as she goes through the minutes. You can read her posts  as follows:

Minutes 1895

Minutes 1896

Minutes 1897-1899

Minutes  1900-1902

Minutes 1903-1905

We are very grateful for the support of the following; Jane McNulty, Sandy Rose, BECTU,  GFTU, Ipswich Trades Council, Merthyr Trades Council, North Staffs Trades Council,  NUT North West, Peterborough Trades Council   PFA, PCS, RMT,  UNISON Bolton, UNISON Central Manchester Healthcare, UNISON Eastern Region,  UNISON Manchester, UNISON Merseyside Police Staff,  UNISON NW Environment Agency,  UNISON North West Region, UNISON South Lakeland,  UNISON United Utilities, UNISON Wirral Health,  UNITE London region, UNITE South East region.


General Federation of Trades Unions



The 1904 Suffrage  Controversy.

In the autumn  of 1904  there was a bitter  row over whether the Council should  also campaign on women’s suffrage. which led to the resignation of Sarah Dickenson and Eva Gore Booth from their positions as Organising Secretaries   It is  clear from the minutes that the dispute became very personal,   and that Amy Bulley, Chair of the Council,  became very hostile  towards Eva after a newspaper  mistakenly  atttibuted leaflets on women’s suffrage  produced by the Textile Workers’ Committee  (set up by Eva, Esther Roper and others in 1903) to the MWTUC, and also because a letter from Eva to the Home Secretary, written in February 1903, had come to light.

In a letter to the Council Eva complains about the remarks directed towards  her. In the end relationships became so bad that   Sarah  and Eva did not serve their  period of notic,  but simply walked out and did not return. Within a few weeks they set up a new organisation,  the Manchester  and Salford Women’s  Trades and Labour Council,  with an office   at 5 John Dalton Street. The banner of this  Council is held at the Working Class Movement Library. A cordial  relationship between the two Women’s  Trades Councils  was  eventually restored,  and they  started to work together, particularly  during the First World War.

These are the relevant Minutes,  which  add a good deal to our knowledge on this episode.

Special Council Meeting Tuesday July 26th 1904

Present Miss Bulley (chair)

Miss Ashton

Miss Cox

Miss Pankhurst

Mr. Johnston

Mr. Herford

This meeting was called to consider Miss Pankhurst’s view of the Council’s attitude on the women’s suffrage question.  Letters were read from Miss Gaskell and Mrs. Cooke.

The chairman explained that the meeting had been called in consequence of a difficulty that had arisen through Miss Gore-Booth’s women suffrage work.  The Daily News had published a paragraph conf using leaflets written by her & published by the Textile Workers Committee with the Council’s propaganda.

This mistake was corrected by Miss Bulley & Miss Gore-Booth. Miss Bulley then wrote a letter to the  Manchester Guardian disclaiming any connection with the movement for the enfranchisement of women on behalf of the Council.  Miss Pankhurst, as a member of the Council, had written to the Guardian to disassociate herself from this position.  Miss Bulley had wished that a meeting should be called and after the sub-Committee had discussed the matter this had been done.

Miss Pankhurst proposed to bring a resolution to ascertain the position of the Council, but after some discussion it was decided that the matter was too important to be decided at such a small meeting.  Miss Pankhurst therefore agreed to postpone her resolution till next Council meeting, when all the members could have good notice to attend.

A. Amy Bulley


Council Meeting, September 6th  1904

Present: Miss Bulley (Chair), Miss Crompton, Miss Cox, Miss Pankhurst, Miss Rowton,  Mr  Marr

Apologies from Miss Ashton, Mr  Herford,  Mrs Schwann , Mr  Flynn, Miss Simpson

Minutes of last two meetings were read and passed

It was reported that the Sewing Machinists had had a meeting, but the attendance  was very small. Miss Littlewood thought that a social was advisable. Miss Crompton  was willing to arrange one at the art museum and it was decided to have one about the end  of September.

Mrs Dickenson and Miss Whalley had had an interview  with Mr W Holland, he had promised to reconsider the question of the cop-winders wages. Since the interview he had written  to say that he was going into the matter and hoped to make  the conditions of workers better by opening  the ???? and providing better yarn.

It was reported that a very successful open air meeting had been held at Cleckheaton by the shirtmakers, that seven of the women were still  receiving 10/- per week from the women’s branch of the Shirtmakers Union.

The weavers were arranging a  meeting in Pendleton. Miss Keenan had been doing some visiting among members who fallen into arrears.

The correspondence  with the waiters from the Roberts Café had been held over until after the summer holiday.

The question of the  Labour Bureau was discussed and Miss Gore Booth was instructed to write to Councillor Hart and find out of anything was going to be done towards re-opening them.

Miss Pankhurst then moved the following Resolution,  “That it is now time that the Council should bring their  policy into line with that  of the unions with which they are connected by taking active part in the effort to gain  political power for the women workers.” Miss Pankhurst  based her case on the growth of the Labour Representation movement among trade unionists, and the wide felt need of the franchise for the protection of the women workers’ interests. She pointed out that the Manchester women trade unionists had taken up this question strongly  and appealed to the Council  to bring their policy  into harmony with that of the unions. The resolution was seconded by Miss Rowton.

Miss Bulley read letters opposing any change of policy from Miss Ashton, Mrs Schwann, Mr Herford, Mr Johnston.  Miss Bulley thought that  such a change would be disastrous and that it would alienate the subscribers and friends. Miss Cox  explained that that the title of the Council was somewhat misleading, as they were not a body like the Trades Council, and did not claim to represent  the Women’s Trade Unions. Miss Crompton suggested that it was time that the women  had a separate Trade Council of their own to deal with such matters which were outside the Council’s sphere. Miss Rowton drew attention to the need  that the women  workers had  for the protection of the franchise & said that it would be a great help to the Council vis the attainment  of better wages.

Miss Bulley did not think the workers would gain any benefit from the measure in question. Mr Marr was strongly opposed to any such change. After some discussion the Resolution was put to the meeting and defeated by a majority of three .

For the resolution: Miss Pankhurst and Miss Rowton

Against:  Miss Cox, Mr Marr, Miss Crompton. The chairman also voted against the resolution


Treasurer’s  Report


Subsciptions                                  £77.11.6

Donations                                         £8.4.6

Grants                                                £19.9.0

Rents                                                  £4.15.0



Rent, Rates                                         £98.6.8

Stationery, Printing                          £18.16.7

Loan Machinists                                £6..6..9

Meetings                                               £1..10..0

Petty cash                                            £18..0..0

Bank charges                                      £1..1..0

Bank overdraft                                     £71..11..4

Miss Bulley gave notice that at the next meeting she would raise the question as to why the membership of the unions did not increase more quickly.

signed  by  A Amy Bulley


Council meeting,  October 4th 1904

Present: Miss Bulley (Chair), Miss Cox, Miss  Ashton, Mrs Ashwell Cooke, Mr  Herford,  Miss Crompton, Miss Rowton, Miss Pankhurst, Miss Gaskell, Mr Marr, Mr Johnston

The minutes were read and passed. On Miss Cox’s recommendation a linoleum for the office  had been bought by Miss Gore Booth for £2.10. Mr Herford moved, Miss Simpson  seconded,  that the purchase be approved. Passed.

Miss Ashton moved that Miss Bulley attend the conference for Higher Education  of Working Men. Seconded by Mrs Cooke. After some discussion the proposal was withdrawn.

Miss Bulley bought some correspondence before the Council, a copy of an extract  from old letter of Miss Gore-Booth had been obtained from the Home Office by Mr shackleton. Miss Bulley had also written to Mr Shackleton  and to the Home Secretary. Miss Gore-Booth explained that the letter referred to was sent by the Women’s Trade  Unions to the Home Secretary, that it was the result of a difficulty among the Trade Unions. Miss Bulley was prepared to go further with the matter. Mr Herford proposed, Miss Crompton seconded,  that the subject be dropped. Carried. The Secretaries then went away.

A vote of thanks to Miss Crompton & Mr Marr for the use of the settlement for the meeting of the machinists.

Letters were  received from the Secretaries of the unions of Shirtmakers, Powerloom Weavers, Patent Cop-Winders, Bookbinders, Tailoresses, Clay Pipe-Finishers, Women’s  Federation, stating their desire to withdraw  from representation on  the Council on the ground that the unions wished to take independent action on trade matters.

Letters were read from the  the Organising  Secretaries  placing their resignations in the hands of the Council. Mr Johnston moved, Miss Ashton seconded, that the resoltions be accepted. This  was agreed nem con.

Mr Johnston moved, Miss Crompton seconded, that the Council advertise for one Secretary to devote her whole time to the work. This  was carried.

Mr Johnston moved, Miss Ashton seconded, that the salary  offered be £100 a year. This was carried.

Miss Bulley, Miss Cox and Miss Crompton were asked to undertake the adverts and to go through the applications.

Mr Harker proposed, Miss Cox seconded, that the unions be asked to send  representatives to meet the Council on Thursday evening, Oct 6, at 8 o’clock. This was carried. Miss Bulley and Miss Cox were asked to undertake the letters to the unions.

Mr Johnston proposed, Miss Ashton seconded, that the City Council be requested to  at the next election to co-opt Miss Bulley  as representative of the WTUC on the Educational Committee.

signed by A Amy Bulley

Supplementary Minutes

Miss Bulley brought  some correspondece before the Council. It appeared that in Feb 1903  Mr Shackleton, MP, was asked by the  persons representing themselves to be the Manchester Women’s Trade Union Council to introduce a deputation to the Home Secretary  on labour laws.The Home Secretary (Mr A Akers-Douglas) found that the object was to complain   of the men’s unions and to advocate women’s  suffrage, and stated that  that one of the signatories was Miss Gore-Booth, Organising Secretary of the Manchester WTUC. Mr Shackleton and  the Home Secretary both declined to go further in the matter. Miss Bulley had informed the Home Secretary  that the Council had never  asked for an interview,  or even discussed the subject indicated. Miss Gore Booth admited having signed the application as Organising Secretary  of this Council and expressed her regret. Miss Bulley enquired whether the subject should be pursued further, but it was decided to drop it.

Signed by A Amy Bulley

copy of letters from Secretaries  resigning office.

September 28th  1904

Dear Miss Bulley

In viewof the  the Resolution thrown out  at the last Council meeting (“that it is now time that the Council should bring their policy into line with the policy of the Unions with which they are connected, by taking active part  in the efforrt to gain political power for the women  workers”) and after my strong protest at the time, I am  sure you will understand that I find myself reluctantly obliged to give up my work for the Council.  The Council has finally decided to adopt a course, which, in my opinion,  cuts them off from all the broader, more progressive  & more hopeful  side of the modern labour movement,  & separates their policy from the policy of the organised women themselves  whose interests & opinions seem to me all important.  It is a profound conviction  of the absolute importance of political power to the workers, especially the women workers, that forces me to take this step. I have therefore put my resignation on the Agenda for the next meeting & hope you will  be kind enough to read this letter to the Council

yours sincerely

Eva Gore-Booth

 September 28th  1904

51 Hawthorn Road, Chorlton cum Hardy

Dear Miss Bulley

Since the last Council meeting  I have  been thinking a good deal about the attitude of the Council in regards to working women & the franchise. As a Trade Unionist I should  always wish to identify myself with the women in any effort they might make  to improve their position, politically and industrially, & I  have come to the conclusion  that it would be best  for me to sever my  connection with the Council, seeing that they are not prepared to fall into line with the Women’s Unions.

yours sincerely

Sarah Dickenson


Special meeting of Council, 3pm,  October 11th  1904

Present: Miss Bulley (in the chair), Mrs Schwann, Miss Ashton, Miss Rowton, Miss Pankhurst, Mrs Crompton, Miss Simpson, Mrs Cooke , Mrs J Gaskell, Miss Emily Cox, Mr Herford, Mr Johnston, Mr Marr, Mr Harker.

The minutes were read. It was moved by Miss Ashton, & seconded by Mrs Ashwell Cooke, that the Chairman be asked to add a supplementary minute in reference to the   correspondece with Mr Shackleton & Mr Akers-Douglas. This was carried.  After additions the minutes were approved.

The Chairman read the following letter from Miss Gore-Booth

Cringlebrook,  Victoria Park

11 October 1904

Dear Miss Bulley

You will find all the information about the different unions very carefully recorded in the diary, also there is a record of every meeting. I think you will understand that it will be pleasanter for  us all for me not to be present  at the Council tomorrow considering the repeated discourtesies of several of the members of the Council and the extraordinary language they have allowed themelves to use to me. I cannot go on listening to repetitions of such things. Mrs Dickenson agrees with me in this matter.

yours truly

Eva Gore Booth

ps in case you find the information in the Diary not full enough I enclose  some rough notes , & Mrs Dickenson will let you have a list of meetings. As this a special meeting Mrs Dickenson is holding the accounts over to to finish them up for Mr Herford to go over.

Mrs Schwann said that she had arrived at the office shortly after  two (the office hours) & had had to wait  in the passage till one of the members of the Council, Miss Pankhurst, arrived with the key. Mr Herford  said that apart from the  more serious questions involved in the absence of the Secretaries, it was an inconvenience not to be able to to make up the accounts. Miss Rowton  expressed her opinion that the position  was less painful in the absence of the Secretaries.

Mr Johnston moved, Miss Ashton seconded,  that the Secretaries of the WTUC, Mrs Dickenson  and Miss Gore-Booth, be informed that as they absented themselves from their office duties, &  the meeting of the Council to-day, without permission, their appointments  are cancelled from this date. In the discussion upon this resolution the whole conduct of the Secretaries  in reference to the  secession of the seven unions from the Council was considered. It was pointed out that each of the Secretaries had signed one of the letters of withdrawal, while an official of the Council.

The letters from the unions were read again by the Chairman, giving  as the reason for  withdrawal the wish of the union to take a line of independent action. Mrs Schwann asked if the Council had ever wished to control the action  of the unions in the management  of their own affairs, & was assured that the policy of the Council  had been in later times as in the beginning to give complete independence to the unions formed.

It was reported that all the unions invited to confer with the Council had refused the invitation,  & two of the letters were read. Attention was called to the formation of a new Trades Council by the seceding unions,  announced in the advertisment in the Manchester Guardian of October 8th.

It was pointed out that in all probability steps must have been taken to form such a society before the Council meeting on October 4th, when the resignations of the Secretaries were received. Miss Rowton reminded the Council that in the previous meeting a strong opinion had been expressed as to the desirability of forming such a Trades Council drawn  from the workers themelves, now or in the future. Miss Cox  said on of the most inexplicable points  in the conduct of the Secretaries was that in view  of this expression of opinion, the new scheme  should have been  kept a secret from the Council. Miss Rowton  thought the Council took an unjustifiably severe view of the action of the Secretaries. Mrs Schwann  considered they had been  dealt with most leniently. Mr Johnston  was of the opinion that their conduct was entirely unpardonable & urged that the Council could not continue to allow them to remain in its offices  & undo its work.  After further discussion the resolution  was part to the vote, & was carried; 11 members voting for the motion, & one against, two members not voting.

Mr Johnston moved, Mr Marr seconded, that the salaries  of the Secretaries be paid till the end of October. This  was carried nem con.

Miss Rowton & Miss Pankhurst  expressed their wish to resign their membership of the Council & left the meeting.

Mr Herford was asked to arrange an interview with the Secretaries to obtain the neccessary information to make up the accounts.

Miss Bulley expressed her regret that she was unable to undertake the duties of the Educational Committee for which the Council desired to nominate her for co-option. Mrs Cooke living out of Manchester also felt unable to undertake the work. Mrs Gaskell moved, & Mrs Cooke seconded, that Miss Emily Cox’s name be submitted to the City Council to be co-opted on the Educational Committee. This was carried.

The Council expressed its wish to leave the details of work to the Organising Sub-committee.

Mrs Schwann wished to consider how it would be possible to find out the strength  of the Council formed by the seceding unions. It was agreed that it was better to leave the unions to themselves for the present, & strong hope  being expressed that  amicable relations could be established in the future.

Mr Marr & Mr Johnston held that there was ample work  left for the Council in the formation of new unions, & the collecting of information.

Different ladies of the Council arranged to be in the offices during the usual office hours, for the next fortnight.

signed by A. Amy Bulley




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