Working for Equality: the fight for fair pay and equal rights

April 2018 - March 2019, Barking & Dagenham

Focusing on 50 years in the struggle for working women’s rights in Britain, 1918 to 1968, our programme of public events and mobile exhibition have been exploring changing ideas about the ‘proper place’ for a woman in the 20th century.

Beginning with suffragette equal pay campaigns during the First World War and ending with the Ford Dagenham sewing machinist’s strike that inspired the Equal Pay Act, women factory workers are at the heart of the story.

Developed and delivered in partnership with Eastside Community Heritage, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.

Share your memories

Did you work in a factory in Barking and Dagenham between 1938 and 1968? Do you know a woman who did?

Perhaps you or a relative worked at Sterling Works, Samuel Williams Ltd, John Hudson Ltd, May & Bakers, Wellbeck, United Telephone Cables, Ford, Gross, Sherwood & Heath Ltd, or another factory?

The East End Women’s Museum and Eastside Community Heritage are working on a history project recording and sharing the stories of women who worked in Barking and Dagenham's factories between 1918 and 1968.

We would love to talk to you and hear your story! 😊 Please email Fani at fani@eastendwomensmuseum.org

'Women's work'

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the famous strike by women sewing machinists at the Ford motor factory in Dagenham which inspired the Equal Pay Act. The 1968 strike was a major milestone in the fight for equal pay and has become a symbol of 20th century women’s activism, as well as a source of local pride in the borough of Barking & Dagenham and in east London more widely.

However, there’s an untold story of working women’s activism which can be traced back from that event over the previous five decades, to the end of the First World War and another women’s rights milestone: the Representation of the People Act, which awarded women over 30 the right to vote. Our project focuses on women’s factory histories in Barking and Dagenham and explores the threads connecting the suffragettes to the Ford strikers.

Starting with suffragette equal pay campaigns and the wartime ‘munitionettes’ who found themselves pushed out of ‘men’s jobs’ in 1918, there is a visible pattern in this 50 year window: women factory workers were hailed as heroic in wartime, but in peacetime met intense pressure from politicians, employers, and union leaders to go ‘back to the home’. It didn’t matter if it was their home or someone else’s; in 1920 benefit sanctions were introduced for women who turned down a job in domestic service.

Although women contributed to the war effort in the 1910s and the 1940s as engineers, chemical analysts, and industrial physicists, in peacetime they were steered away from skilled, technical, and management roles towards dull, repetitive work on the assembly line, routinely faced sexual harassment and discrimination (which was even worse for women of colour), were expected to resign or were dismissed when they got married or became pregnant, and were paid half a man’s wages to boot.

Despite this, factory work offered successive generations of young working class women freedom and camaraderie, as well as opportunities to agitate for better pay and conditions. 

About the project

HLF

Our project explores changing ideas about the ‘proper place’ for a woman and celebrate the economic, cultural, and political contribution of women factory workers.

With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund we have created a mobile exhibition, put on a range of accessible public events, run workshops with local schools, and collected oral histories from women in the area. Volunteers from the local area will help to shape the exhibition and receive training in oral history, archive research, or heritage interpretation skills.

ABOUT US

The East End Women’s Museum is a public history project aiming to record, share, and celebrate women’s stories and voices from east London’s history. The project was established in 2015 in response to the 'Jack the Ripper Museum', as a positive, sustainable protest.

Eastside Community Heritage was established in 1993 as part of the Stratford City Challenge community history project and became an independent charity in 1997. Over the years, Eastside have worked with over 900 community groups, produced over 100 exhibitions, and created the East London Peoples Archive which contains over 3500 oral histories.

Thanks to National Lottery players, the Heritage Lottery Fund invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. Follow HLF on TwitterFacebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported.