Feminist, journalist, organiser, activist and the first female president of the TUC. Here’s what you need to know about Anne Loughlin.
She had a tough start in life
Born in Leeds of Irish descent, Anne’s mother died when she was just 12, leaving Anne to look after her four sisters. Her father died just four years later, forcing Anne to start work at a nearby clothing factory, where she joined the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers (NUTGW).
She had a flair for industrial action
Aged 21, as a full-time organiser for the NUTGW, Anne led a 6,000-strong strike of clothing workers in Hebden Bridge. She soon led another in the Burberry factory near Reading, before taking a (perfectly orderly) group of a thousand women to protest at an industrial magnate’s mansion in Leicester.
She was a natural marketer
Anne wrote for her union’s paper, The Garment Worker. She wanted to appeal to young female readers, so wrote The Woman Worker at Home – a series of articles for ‘bachelor girls’ on health, exercise and make-up.
She was the first female president of the TUC – sort of
For its first 75 years, no woman held the post of president of the TUC for a full term. Margaret Bondfield was actually the first female president, but resigned soon after taking on the role in order to serve in the Ministry of Labour. For most historians, Anne Loughlin therefore qualifies as the first female president of the TUC. She was elected in 1942.
She was a Dame
In June 1943, King George VI knighted Anne Loughlin, giving her the title of ‘Dame Anne’. Another first for Anne: the first woman in Labour’s ranks to be given an honour
Though small in stature, she knew how to make an impression
Standing at around five feet tall, Anne was known for her powers of persuasion. She was not afraid to speak out – taking on (and occasionally praising) employers of all shapes and sizes, from small, back-street clothing workshops to large public companies employing thousands of workers.
She campaigned for equal pay
Anne was asked to serve on the 1944–46 Royal Commission on Equal Pay, where she took an alternate stance to the majority, passionately arguing there was no reason to pay women less than men if they were performing the same job.
She travelled to America during the war
In April 1944, Anne was busy planning for life after the war and took the brave decision to travel across the Atlantic to attend the historic International Labour Organisation’s conference in Philadelphia. With fellow union leader Anne Godwin, the women managed to include a clause for equal pay in the motion for “The social question for the post war world”.
She became the first woman leader of her own union
In 1948, Anne took over from her mentor and close friend Andrew Conley as general secretary of the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers. She stood down four years later in 1952, and retired from the union.