Leanne Smith has been awarded the annual Sid Chaplin Memorial Prize for the best undergraduate dissertation on North East history. Leanne, who graduated from the University of Sunderland this summer with a First Class degree, chose as her subject a little known, almost forgotten aspect of social history.
Leanne’s dissertation, ‘The Struggle over Female Labour in the Durham Coalfield, 1914-1918’, has unearthed original research into how the Durham Mining Association (DMA) resisted pressure from colliery owners and the government to accept the introduction of female labour during the First World War.
“At the time it was claimed that the DMA’s refusal to employ women miners was based on concerns over the undercutting of wages,” say Leanne. “But in contrast two of the country’s largest labour concerns, The Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the Clyde Workers Committee, reacted very differently. They negotiated to protect men’s position and wages within their industry. They accepted women into their very traditional industry.”
“My research shows that the Durham Mining Association resisted reforms, because they believed it was necessary to continue the status quo. The DMA were a very conservative body, who believed that a sexual division of labour was essential to coal mining communities such as the Durham coalfield.”
“Women contributed not just domestically. It was women who built the Durham mining community, who held together the family unit and brought stability that made it possible for the coal mining industry to exist – and made equality impossible in the minds of the Durham Mining Association.”