Women in Blantyre Mines, 1903

When we think of Coal Mining in Blantyre, we traditionally think of a very male orientated industry, but did you know at one time there were occasions where females where employed down in the depths of the pits or at the pithead, even in Blantyre!

In December 1903, the annual conference of the Miner’s Federation took place in Edinburgh and in the hair was Robert Smillie of Larkhall. Top of the agenda was the reform to ensure that shifts were in 8 hours and no longer. It was pointed out that over 1,000 deaths in mining in Britain had taken place in 1903 and over 100,000 men had been injured.

Next to be discussed was the generally frowned upon practice of women miners being employed. This had been happening in Scotland more than in England and the sole reason appeared for the Coalmasters to get their work done far more cheaply. Disparity in wages between men and women being the cause.

The conference members concluded this was not only a shame but an outright disgrace (women being employed at all, not the disparity of wage!). An example was given in December 1903 that one particular colliery in Blantyre employed women to bring up loaded hutches. These folk were no more than girls, being employed for a mere 10s per week for a whole weeks manual work. Men and boys of as young as 12 were getting 16s to 20s per week. The conference was appalled that young women could be paid at half a man’s wage, but even more appalled at how mining would remove “girlhood” from any woman employed in the depths of a pit or at its entrance.

It was agreed by all that in the forthcoming year of 1904, something should be done to prevent this from occurring further.

Pictured for illustration only are women employed in mining industry. You only need to look at their faces to see the misery of such a job for anybody, male or female.

Looking into this a little further, the resulting investigation found that the women being employed in Blantyre were at the pithead. They were generally young women of school leaving age, no more than 15, 16 or 17 years old and were locals. Observations for the report concluded these women were treated appallingly not just because of the terrible wage, but being a minority in a male industry, were subjected to constant abusive remarks by many of the miners, about their appearances and ‘physical form’. Complaints to employers had not been followed up.

1904 did see this practice of employing women at the pithead for manual work with hutches end, but females were still employed in the collieries (topside), even for some manual work and they continued to be paid well below the wages of men (and boys) even in the same job.

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