In the first phase of Chartism, women were especially active in mass demonstrations and street activity. The cohesion built up in women’s campaigns against the New Poor Law and for the limitation of factory hours carried through into Chartism. In Bradford, for instance, women had agitated against the New Poor Law, and in August 1839 women radicals marched in procession through the streets, with banners at their head. Their membership included women working in the worsted mills, as well as the wives and daughters of male Chartists in other trades, and there was some overlap between their commitment to industrial action and to Chartism. Thousands of women attended mass meetings, Chartist processions. Women signed petitions and helped to gather names. In 1842, nearly 11,000 women in Merthyr Tydfil signed a petition for the reprieve of those who had been the leaders of the rising in Newport. And though women's participation is often thought to have died away after 1842, there was clearly still much continuing activity and a revival of female associations in the years 1847-50.
Source 1: ‘The Address of the Female Political Association of Nottingham to the Patriotic Women of England’, Northern Star, 8th December 1838, page 6
Sisters and fellow countrywomen,
At a time like the present, when your important energies are required in aid of those measures in which our husbands, fathers, brothers, and children are now so actively and zealously engaged, headed by the first men and patriots of the day, using every exertion - every possible legal means in their power, towards the uprooting of that oppression and injustice which have so long characterised the legislative measures of this country, and laid its best interests prostrate at their feet, and sacrificed our industry, and that of our husbands, fathers and friends, at the shrine of misrule and extravagance , unprecedented in the annals of British legislation, and brought upon us those heart rending scenes of misery and woe, until the heart sickens in despair at the mere contemplation of such horrifying misery and uncalled for wretchedness of a people and nation proverbial for its industry and unceasing toil, the fruits and sweets of which are dashed from our lips by misrule and oppressive taxation, that others may revel in all the gaieties and luxuries of life; while, alas! millions upon millions of yourselves, husbands, children, are doomed from early life - from infancy to old age, scarcely to taste its common comforts, and to descend into the grave, sickened and wearied of an existence embittered to the last moment by cruelty, misrule and oppression, wickedly and basely called government; existing for no other purpose than the participating in the sweets derived from the long and arduous toil of the people. Yes, sisters, and fellow countrywomen, these are facts, or your situation would not have been what it is; you would not have beheld the tattered garments of your children, nor their poor pallid countenances, nor the care worn looks of your husbands, who, with their many hours of slavish toil, cannot provide food and raiment convenient for them to satisfy Nature’s cravings. Thus situated, what must be your feelings towards those who have had the base temerity, by the craftiness of their legislative measures, to bring you into this state of wretchedness, and your children to want. Sisters and women of England, much is yet in your power, to aid the great and holy cause now so gloriously spreading throughout the land. Aid your husbands, brothers, friends and children. Urge and demand, at their hands, the fulfillment of their duty in the great and holy cause of freedom and eternal justice. Let them know that the union of millions is strength and power, not to be resisted by tyrants. Urge upon them the necessity of throwing in their mite to the general and national fund, in order to give strength and power to those deputed by the people, to fight the great and glorious fight of freedom. Sisters and women of England, all this is in your power to perform, nay more; and we would feign draw your most serious attention to it, namely, from the immensity of public meetings and demonstrations taking place in every town, city and village throughout the kingdom, it cannot but be evident to you all, that a most important impression has been made upon the public mind, and of some of the middle classes too, that they are now beginning to manifest their doubts and fears; and yet, even with this before their eyes, they are fearful and cowardly enough still to keep aloof from the cause espoused by the people. In a short time they will be too late to be considered of the least importance; in fact, they must ever be considered in the light of false friends, and of no moment whatever to the people, only to be closely watched to prevent them doing mischief by their treachery to the common cause because they might be tempted to betray, for the sake of the shop - to gain the smiles of and custom of the Aristocracy, the great enemies of the liberties of the people. Much, sisters, is said of the important services of the middle class men who in the scale of number and intellect are very inferior indeed to the rough and hardy diamonds of the industrious classes, your husbands, sons &c , who if once called out to the field of honour and patriotism, as no doubt they very soon will be, the job - the affair will soon be terminated; we shall then see in whom and where the physical and intellectual powers are to be found, whether in the thousands or in the millions bent on justice &c, the former priding themselves on their importance behind their counters, with as little claim to your respect as possible, and who, if deserted by the working classes like yourselves, would very soon be under the necessity of changing their tones and closing their shops, in which so much miserable sycophancy is displayed, most contemptible in the eyes of the people. Under these considerations we respectfully suggest that the shopocracy be left to their fate, and that no persons are so well qualified to bring these very important personages to their senses as the women of England upon whose minds we would impress as a public duty the necessity of expending their money only with the people or shopkeepers friendly to the cause of freedom, justice, Universal Suffrage, &c. In a very few months the common enemy would be made to bite the dust of their empty shops and empty tills. You, sisters, the patriotic women of England, in these transactions are the most fit and proper persons to deal out the blow and most effectually too; the lead and completion of this, if properly conducted and with spirit would soon be productive of beneficial results. Let every shop and shopkeeper be noted in a book kept for the purpose, stating name, residence, trade, and whether Whig or Tory; also, another book containing the names of those friendly to the cause of the people and the great enterprise in which you and they are embarked as brothers and sisters in the sacred cause of liberty, humanity, and justice to encourage each other by mutual dealings in the way of trading, and not to spend your hard earnings with men opposed to the bettering of our common country. Sisters, oppressed countrywomen, we have too long witnessed exclusive dealing as the motto of our political opponents, necessity and self-defence compel us reluctantly to recommend its adoption. It is no sin to return the compliment, and we pray that it may be done effectually in order to convince our enemies of their weakness if not their wickedness in setting the example of exclusive dealing; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth shall be our motto until the system undergoes a change and our self-willed opponents think proper to set an example worthy to be followed by us whom they so meanly treat with cruel contumely, without the shadow of a reason for so doing. But we pity their want of charity and reason in thus acting, and that from necessity we feel it a duty to fight them with their own weapons and on their own terms, and in thus doing we feel confident of the support of our husbands, friends and children, whose battle we do most solemnly pledge ourselves to fight until the glorious shout of victory and liberty shall echo through the vast canopy of heaven, and be sanctified by that God who had promised to protect the poor and needy from the hands of their oppressors. Therefore, sisters and countrywomen, we say to you be of good cheer; the time must and will arrive when your aid and sympathies may be required in the field to fight, for be assured a great and deadly struggle must take place ere our tyrant oppressors yield to reason and justice. They mean to fight and to slay the people; while our and yours will be the solemn duty to aid the wounded to dress their wounds, and perhaps to afford the last sad solace of our affections in the hour of death. 'Tis better to die by the sword than by famine, and we shall glory in seeing every working man of England selling his coat to buy a sword or a rifle to be prepared for the event. Under these circumstances, we again repeat, urge on your husbands, fathers, brothers, friends, and neighbours to be prepared and ready for the conflict. Urge upon them the necessity of calm reflection and duty to be sober, frugal, patriotic and to consider themselves bound by the sacred ties of nature to protect and shield their wives and children, now stalking through the land, alike degrading to the legislature and the religion of the country. Trusting, sisters, and countrywomen that you will respond to us in your kindest and most patriotic sympathies and services in the cause of our common country in every legal manner possible.
We remain, your devoted friends and sisters,
The Members of
THE NOTTINGHAM FEMALE POLITICAL UNION
Nottingham, Nov. 26, 1828
Source 2: ‘The Females of Holbrooke to the Chartists of Great Britain and Ireland, in Behalf of Mrs. Frost, Mrs Williams, and Mrs. Jones’, The Northern Star, 5th February 1842, page 7
Brethren and Sisters in the cause of liberty, permit us to call your attention to an appeal in the Star of the 15 January, in the behalf of the Whig made widows of the Welsh patriots who it appears are in a very distressed state, and having nothing to depend on for their support, but what little they can obtain by their own limited exertions. Mrs Jones considers herself neglected by her husband's pretended friends. Have you responded to this call? If not, hasten to do so; for remember, their husbands were banished for their devotion to that good cause for which so many have been made martyrs. Their only crime consisted in their hatred of tyranny, oppression, and injustice; with a determination to have to comforts of the poor restored, and their rights and liberties protected. Has the call from Mr. Wilkison aroused you to a sense of your duty? The claims of the destitute and disconsolate widows, at this time are imperative. We are aware that unsolicited gratitude is the most valuable, but consider it better late than never. Come then to work in good earnest, and make amends for the past by working double tides for the future. One million of pence amounts to the considerable sum of £4166 13s 4d to raise this sum would only require one penny from every six families in the United Queendom. Surely, if every exertion was made, this sum might be raised, which would not only place them beyond want for ever, but we are inclined to think, would restore the patriots back to their country and friends. Recollect what a few pounds the last convention cost the country, who by their ale exertions obtained a level vote in the house of commons, and had it not been for the casting vote of that marble-hearted wretch, the speaker, in all probability ere this, they would have been restored to their destitute and disconsolate wives and families. Come, then, ye good and true, stain not the Chartist banner with ingratitude, but show your hatred to tyranny, injustice, and cold blooded despotism by doing all that lies in your power for its victims. We particularly request that the females of every place where Chartism has taken root, will appoint individuals to wait on all whom they conceive might be prevailed upon to give something towards relieving these much injured and heartbroken individuals. We think if this plan was carried out effectually, it would be attended with good effects. Though living in a remote village on one of the frigid mountains in Derbyshire, we pledge ourselves to do our duty and hope all good Chartists will do theirs.
Source 3: Northern Star 30th April 1842, page 4
Caroline Maria Williams writes us to complain that having recently opened a school for infants, at Bristol, with a fair prospect of success, the parish clergyman took the trouble to go round the neighbourhood and advise people not to send their children to her as she was a Chartist, by which her school has been very seriously injured. We can only say that if it be so, the parson is a busy, dirty, meddling fellow.