Feminist, socialist, trade unionist, dress reformer– here’s what you need to know about Jeannie Mole.
She was born Harriet Jones in 1841
Her mum was Harriet too, so the baby was called Jeannie. At 19 she married fruit merchant Robert Willis. And then, in allegedly controversial circumstances, Jeanie divorced Robert and married another fruit merchant, William Mole. And so Jeannie Mole was born –a woman who wasn’t afraid of scandal.
Jeannie was pretty well-off, but she chose to move beyond fashionable society
She travelled to New York and got involved in the black rights movement at a time when slavery was yet to be abolished. Back in England, she worked in London’s slums. She moved to Liverpool with Mr Mole in 1879 and began her quest to improve the lives of Liverpudlians living in poverty. Recognising that people could not “afford out of their wages such food as would give them energy and vigour,” Jeannie funded a ‘socialist food van’. She also campaigned for a ‘people’s hall’ for the working classes.
She played a huge role in bringing socialism to Liverpool
Jeanie found just six socialists in Liverpool. So she hosted propaganda meetings at her home on Bold Street and formed the Worker’s Brotherhood, the first socialist society in Liverpool. She became vice president of the Liverpool Fabian Society in 1895.
She organised poor working women
In 1889 Jeannie helped set up the Liverpool Workwomen’s Society, which represented book-folders, tailors and cigar makers. These were poorly paid trades and women dominated them – there were four women for every man. Later, the society became the Liverpool Society for the Promotion of Women’s Trade Unions, expanding its membership to other trades in response to the city council’s inaction over the appalling conditions in sweatshops. Jeannie set up various unions including one for laundresses and washerwomen, most of whom were Chinese. In 1894, Clementina Black set up the Women’s Industrial Council and Jeanie quickly helped found a Liverpool branch. Unions sprang up for upholsteresses and marine sorters (or fish processers).
She helped rope workers to strike – and win
In 1895, Jeannie used her position in the Liverpool Women’s Industrial Council to encourage Liverpool’s women rope workers to strike. They were being fined for minor wrong doings like turning up late. The strike was a success but other parts of the council disapproved of the action. As a result, Jeannie had to distance herself from the group that she had helped to found.
She fought for justice
When a woman was killed in an accident at the Old Swan Rope Works, Jeannie was determined that the bosses wouldn’t just sweep the tragedy under the carpet. She attended the trial and ensured that the jury made recommendations to prevent future accidents. She also made sure that the woman’s grieving family received compensation for their loss.
She rejected corsets
Jeannie wasn’t going to let the restrictive clothes of the era hold her back. As an early supporter of dress reform – a feminist movement against impractical, uncomfortable Victorian fashion – Jeannie wore a comfy Grecian-style gown. Other prominent socialists like Julia Dawson soon copied her style.