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Women

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Until the Mines Act of 1842 women were employed underground in the South Wales coalfield, hauling coal to the pit-bottom, working alongside and in the same conditions as the men. Women also worked on the tips, sorting and collecting coal, or in brickworks; whatever the occupation, such work was heavy, dirty and often dangerous. But the largest single occupation for women at the turn of the century was domestic service. Many girls, often as young as 12 or 13, who were "in service", were sent away to work in London, or other large cities, far away from families and friends and the life that they new. Others would remain in their own communities, working for and living with the wealthy middle classes, such as industrialists, bankers and doctors.

But many women's lives were dominated by one thing: the coal mine. Miners' wives were busy from dawn till dusk, struggling to win the never ending war against dust and dirt from the mine. Husbands, sons and lodgers would often work shifts, so there would be a continuous tramp of dust through the house, hot baths would have to be prepared several times for a day for those returning from the pit, and meal times would be staggered to fit the hours of the working men. As well as this, the house would be cleaned from top to bottom, the children would have to be cared for, and many women also took in washing or mending to supplement their meagre incomes.

Times were hard, but during disputes and strikes the situation was much worse, with women having to manage on even less money than usual. But the sense of community and unity amongst women of the coalfield was historically very strong, as can be seen relatively recently in the creation of the Miners' Support Groups, fund raising activities and the collection and distribution of food parcels by women during the 1984/1985 miners' strike.

FURTHER READING:

Andrews, Elizabeth. A woman`s work is never done. (Cymric Democrat publishing society 1957).

Arundell, Lucy. Living with grandma: a Hull woman recollects her childhood in Monmouth and Rhondda. (Highgate, 1987).

John, Angela V.By the sweat of their brow : women workers at Victorian coal mines. (Croom Helm, 1980).

Miller, Jill. You can't kill the spirit : women in a Welsh mining village. (Women's Press, 1986.)

Salt, Chrys and Layzell, Jim (ed.) Here we go! : women's memories of the 1984/85 miners strike.(Co-operative Retail Services Ltd., London Political Committee, 1985.)  

Seddon, Vicky (ed.) The cutting edge : women and the pit strike (Lawrence and Wishart, 1986).

Stead, Jean. Never the same again : women and the miner's strike 1984-85. (Women's Press, 1987.)

All items listed in the further reading are available for consultation in either the South Wales Miners’ Library or the Library and Information Centre, University of Wales Swansea. Click here to link to the library catalogue. 

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