Queen Coal? Why Remember Women in Post-War Mining Communities
These extracts are from a history book called Pit Women: Coal Communities in the Early 20th Century, and from a sociological text book, Coal is Our Life. The academic authors have observed and interviewed members of the coal mining communities, and have interpreted the evidence to describe everyday life.
Monday, washing day; Tuesday, cleaning up; Thursday, baking day; Friday, cleaning and polishing day; Saturday, brasses and clean household gear to put down; Sunday, no sewing or cleaning. [Quoted in Pit Women: Coal Communities in the Early 20th Century, p. 35]
The wife’s position is [. . .] she must keep in good order the household provided for by the money handed to her each Friday by her husband. While she is at work she should complete her day’s work – washing, ironing, cleaning or whatever it may be – she must have ready for him a good meal, unless he is one of those who eats canteen meals . . . The wife’s ability to complete these tasks by the time of her husband’s return from work is very commonly under discussion. The miner feels that he does an extremely difficult day’s work; he makes it plain that he thinks it is ‘a poor do’ if his wife cannot carry out her side of the contract. The wife is invariably found to support this view strongly. Housewives boast of their attention to the needs of their husbands, of how they have never been late with a meal, never confronted a returning worker with a cold meal, never had to ask his help in household duties. [ Coal is Our Life p. 180]
The pitman, doomed to an arduous, dirty and dangerous occupation, expected his home to be a clean and tidy haven, a calm refuge from the noise and squalor of the pit. As he ‘flogged his guts out’ underground, so his wife drudged in the home, often working almost as hard as he did and certainly for hours far longer. . . among such women there was . . .’an acceptance of toil. Work was the motive for her whole life, the source of her self respect and the quality above all other that her husband valued. Such women were always tired. This was in part due to the shift system. If a father and working sons were of different shifts, the men, as Sid Chaplin remarks, would be coming in at all hours of the day . . . [ Pit Women: Coal Communities in the Early 20th Century p.34]
The worksheet link below provides additional extracts on three key areas of 'women's work': shopping, food and washing.
Find out about work for Victorian mining women
Find out abut women's work during the 1984/85 Miners' Strike