JANE DUFFUS AND THE WOMEN WHO BUILT BRISTOL ( 27th September and 4th October 2018 )
“Where are all the women?” asked Jane Duffus when she discovered the history of Bristol was dominated by men, “they can’t all have been mousey types sitting at home.” So she started to research Bristol’s women and found that many have helped shape not only the city, but also our everyday lives.
Jane discovered so many inspiring stories that she collected them into a book, The Women Who Built Bristol 1184-2018, which was published earlier this year to raise funds for Bristol Women’s Voice.
Like many other people, we were fascinated by Jane’s book and invited her to give two talks at the library – the second arranged by popular demand – so that she could tell us some of her favourite stories. Here are just a few:
Frances Power Cobb (1822-1904) Suffragist, Campaigner
“If you are a woman and you have graduated from university, you have her to thank,” said Jane.
Frances not only fought for women to take university examinations and be awarded degrees, she also wrote widely on women’s suffrage and the legal rights of married women. Her pamphlet Wife Torture ultimately influenced the Matrimonial Causes Act 1878, which gave abused wives not only the right to a separation, but also custody of any child under the age of ten.
Seeing a link between some men’s attitude towards women and cruelty to animals, Frances also established the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the Anti-Vivisection Society, for which she won the support of Queen Victoria.
Persuasive and indefatigable, Frances was much admired by her contemporaries. In 1902, to mark her 80th birthday, she was presented with an album signed by 300 respected women – including Florence Nightingale and Millicent Fawcett. Given “as an expression of sincere regard,” the album commemorates the “philanthropic activity and high moral purpose” of Frances’ long life.
Matilda Bennett (born 1830) Pottery Maker
Matilda’s story offers a snapshot of a working-class child’ life during the Industrial Revolution. Starting work as a painter at Bristol Pottery when she was just nine years old, Matilda became a case study for an inspector checking on the pottery’s working conditions in 1841.
According to the inspector’s report, Matilda “paints cups and saucers from 6am to 6pm with a half hour for breakfast and one hour for dinner….Is paid as much as she earns and gets 4s 6d a week at most or sometimes 2s 9d. Has her health very well and likes her work and treatment.”
Jane pointed out that we do not know what happed to Matilda. There is a report in the Western Daily Press of 20 August 1906 about a woman called Matilda Bennet who was found dead by the Victoria Pottery in St Philips, having been knocked over by a train. But whether this is the same woman, it is impossible to say.
Elsie Stephens and Violet Frampton (dates unknown) Nurses
On night during the March 1941 air raids, Lilian Braund went into labour while trapped beneath the rubble in the cellar of her bombed house. Braving the raid – and the broken gas mains – Assistant Matron Elsie Stephens and Nursing Sister Violet Frampton, volunteered to help.
The two nurses made their way into the cellar although, as the London Gazette reported in May 1940, “There was considerable danger as the whole building was liable to collapse.” Eventually, Lilian gave birth in the rubble, but remained trapped until 1.00pm the following day, when she and her baby were taken to hospital and found to be in good health. A few months later, both Elsie and Violet were awarded the George Medal.
In its report the London Gazette paid tribute to the fact that despite danger all around, “the Sisters carried on.” As Jane said, this phrase could be used for most of the women in her book because as her research shows, “Women will pull together and get things done.”
The Women Who Built Bristol 1184-2018 can either be reserved online through Libraries West at: www.librarieswest.org.uk or you can buy a copy from Bristol Women’s Voice at: https://bristolwomensvoice.bigcartel.com/product/the-women-who-built-bristol-book