Click here to skip to main content.
Discrete CollectionsThe Women's Library
TitleStephen, Miss Jessie
Ref No8SUF/B/157
Box Fetch NoBox 1: Disc 32 & Disc 33
Date1 Jul 1977
Extent157a - 81:43 mins, 157b - 48:49 mins
Admin Biographical HistorySee biography for Jessie Stephen
DescriptionInterview took place at 27 Chessel Street, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 3PD. The interview is in two parts: 157a and 157b.

Interview summary:
0:00 mins:
Her father's life and politics: a member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), committed to social justice, collected money for poor in the community, his children attended Socialist Sunday School, his reading interests, his belief in 'Living Socialism', the Rationalist Press. Influence of father on her ethics and reading habits. Her siblings. Close-knit family. Born in 1893 and had an Edwardian childhood. Mother's religion (Presbyterian). Father self-employed in tailor business. Father's dislike of Glasgow vernacular and dissuaded children from using it.

15:00 mins:
Her intention to be a school teacher. Work in domestic service. Her education. Teachers. Enjoyment of languages. Left school at fifteen. Paid for by scholarship. Her close relationship with mother. Mother defended her conscientious objector son in the First World War. Mother's skill at cooking and cleaning and trained Jessie in housework. Her parents' loving relationship. Her childhood house: rented accommodation, four rooms for family of twelve. Their positive family relationship. Father tee-total. Chairman of branch of ILP. Jessie vice-chairman of ILP at 16.

30:00 mins:
Her freelance journalism. Political career started in Labour movement. Lifelong interest in women's rights. Joined Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) branch when it opened in Glasgow, 1916 or 1917. Trustee for battered wives in Bristol in the 1970s. Class composition of WSPU - middle-class and working-class members. Working women's suffrage deputation to London, 1910. Demonstration broken up and Jessie's hair pulled out and coat torn. Joining WSPU, and strength of Glasgow branch. Outdoor meetings. Admiration of Teresa Billington-Greig's oratory and knowledge of women's rights. Flora Drummond. Description of first WSPU meeting. Militant tactics. How the firing of letters was organised by the WSPU in Glasgow. Putting acid in pillar boxes but nobody caught. Range of militant activities. Disruption of political speeches of Conservative politicians. Support from dockers in the suffrage campaign - defended the suffragettes at meetings against hostile interrupters.

45:00 mins:
Emmeline Pankhurst. Worker's Suffrage Federation. Relationship to Adult Suffrage movement. Jessie's parents' relationship to the suffrage movement. Apathy among Glasgow University students to suffrage movement. Selling suffrage papers in the street. Anti-suffrage attitude from women on the streets. Pavement chalking. Formation of Domestic Worker's Union in Glasgow at aged 17 [c. 1911]. Trained people in public speaking. Went to London in1912. Campaigning on conditions of domestic servant workers. First meeting of union. Recruited 200 people. Improved working conditions for domestic workers / servants. Difficulty in organising domestic workers. Sacked for being an 'agitator.'

60:00 mins:
Importance for a trade unionist of high standards of work. How her WSPU activism helped her as a union organiser. Process and organisation of union. Workers Domestic Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Keir Hardie and his 'votes for women' speech at ILP meeting. Humiliations of a servant's life in the early 20th century. Difficulty in finding employment in Glasgow so went to London. Lived in Purley in good working conditions. Peaceful meetings in London. Involvement with Sylvia Pankhurst and East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS). Split from WSPU due to patriotism in First World War. Mrs Dacre Fox, her involvement with fascists. Oswald Mosley and ILP. Work in Bermondsey with Dr Salter before 1924. Work with National Federation of Women Workers in South-East London. Involvement in the WSPU choir.

75:00 mins:
Attended all WSPU demonstrations. WSPU activity in London, their disruptive tactics. Sylvia Pankhurst appointed her national organiser for ELF. Opened branches in Yorkshire and Lancashire during First World War. Sylvia Pankhurst - admired by working women. Selling the newspaper the 'Woman's Dreadnought'. Norah Smyth.

0:00 mins:
Living in Bermondsey. Stops work as a domestic servant. Work in Glasgow during the First World War. Return to London and work for Sylvia Pankhurst. Continued political work around domestic service - contributed to government enquiry in 1919. Jessie's Labour candidature at Southsea in 1923; Kidderminster in 1931; Weston-super-Mare in 1964. Women in politics. Fund-raising for political campaign. Active in the General Strike in London [1926]. Work for ILP in Bermondsey,1919-1924. Freelance journalist until 1935. Secretarial agency in Lewes in 1935.

15:00 mins:
Work as a cleaner. Work for Murphy Radio in Welwyn Garden City during Second World War. Move to Bristol in 1944, worked with National Union of Clerks until 1949. Elected executive of National Union of Clerks in 1950. Work for CWS [?] as a shorthand typist. Trade union work. Service in local government and Labour Party career. Involvement in Women's Co-Operative Guild. Workers' Birth Control Group. Dora Russell. Discussing contraception with her mother, and at inter-war open-air ILP meetings. Work for Leonora Eyles.

30:00 mins:
Reasons for getting involved in the Birth Control Movement. Relationship with her mother. Birth control and poverty. Work in the Glasgow WSPU branch. Importance of political allies. Mass-canvassing in Portsmouth. Ability to generate mass support. Fighting the Tory Party at Dartford in 1919 and at Carshalton later for Chuter Ede. Socialist Sunday schools. Strong foundation for the Labour movement in Scotland.

45:00 mins:
Death of her parents. Doubts about reformist direction of Labour party since 1945. Her traditional socialism.
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsInterview recordings are available online and can be accessed at the link provided in this record.
Former Reference NumberTape 58
    Powered by CalmView© 2008-2024