Alice Arnold of Coventry : trade unionism and municipal politics 1919-1939
The central focus of the thesis is Alice Arnold (1881-1955), women's organiser for the Workers' Union in Coventry between 1917 and 1931 and Labour councillor on Coventry City Council from 1919. The adoption of a local, biographical approach highlights the need to move beyond generalisations about 'Labour women' and encourages examination of the diverse political experiences of women who worked within trade unionism and municipal labour politics in interwar Britain. Within the context of Coventry's early twentieth century industrial and political development, Arnold's politicisation is explored and her experiences compared with those of men and women activists who worked in the industrial and political wings of the Coventry Labour movement. Additionally material that allows comparisons to be made with national figures as well as those from other localities is employed. As well as emphasising the influence of factors including gender, class and political affiliation upon Arnold's position within the male dominated labour movement between the wars, there is consideration of the effect that her status as a single woman had upon her career. The thesis advances what is known about the development of regional labour politics and emphasises the effects that local political, economic and social factors had upon both the involvement of women and on the attitudes of male colleagues towards women's participation. The study is situated within a tradition of feminist history that seeks not merely to draw attention to what women did but questions their motivations for doing it and how they were able to pursue their political ambitions. Through analysis of a range of primary sources, it examines the effects that gendered perceptions and sexist stereotypes had on the ways in which women were able to work within trade unionism and municipal politics. It places women's interests first in an area of history that has traditionally been dominated by accounts of men's involvement and it challenges the construction of historical accounts that have ignored or marginalised women. The influence of masculine epistemology on the ways in which women's political work has been recorded both nationally and at a local level is examined throughout the thesis.