Monday, 23 May 2016

Happy birthday, Isabella Ford (May 23, 1855 - July 14, 1924) Pioneering British Feminist Socialist.


Happy birthday, Isabella Ormston Ford ,Quaker, Pacifist , Suffragist, Socialist,. Labor organizer. Speaker. Writer.
Isabella was born May 23 1855. She was the youngest of eight children. Her parents, Robert and Hannah, were Quakers and the young Isabella was brought up in a family greatly concerned with women’s rights and humanitarian causes, an upbringing which would affect her entire life’s work.
The family home at Adel Grange near Leeds became a place where radicals could meet and discuss politics. As a young woman, Isabella Ford met prominent feminists such as Josephine Butler and Elizabeth Garret Anderson. In 1875 Isabella met Edward Carpenter, a former Anglican priest who had began to question conventional ideas on politics and sexuality.His book 'Towards Democracy is like a Bible to me. Carpenter introduced Ford to socialist ideas and in 1883 they both joined the recently formed Fabian Society  an organisation which aimed to "reconstruct society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities through political means".
In 1885 Isabella helped Emma Patterson, President of the Women's Protective and Provident League, to form a Machinists' Society for tailoresses in Leeds. This was the start of a long campaign by Ford to improve the pay and conditions of women working in the textile industry in Leeds. In 1889 she established the Leeds Tailoresses' Union and the following year she was elected president of the organisation.
Isabella became, arguably, one of the most important women ever to write about women’s rights, and women’s working conditions, bringing to the masses, through her pamphlets, speeches and Union actions, the true plight of working-class women, and the conditions they faced in the workplace. She railed against the accepted convention which suggested that a woman should in no way revolt, but instead should accept any injustice shown to her. To be a woman and to complain was in some way almost irreligious, a woman should accept her lot, no matter how bad.Isabella truly believed, however, ‘that a better day is dawning’, and that the movements she was seeing in the burgeoning women’s trade union movements.
In 1890 helped form the Leeds Women's Suffrage Society with her sister Bessie and their sister-in-law, Helen Cordelia. Three years later, Isabella was involved in forming a Leeds branch of the Independent Labour Party (ILP). The two organizations worked closely together .. By the early 1900s Isabella Ford had developed a national reputation for her talents as a speaker and organizer. Ford was also an important writer of books on the struggle for equality. This included Women's Wages (1893), Industrial Women (1900) and Women and Socialism (1904).
In 1903 Isabella became a member of the national executive committee of the ILP. She played an important role in persuading leaders of the ILP to support women's suffrage. Isabella argued that the emancipation of women and the emancipation of labour were strongly linked and that "socialists should support the struggle of women, just as women should support socialism." In 1904, she was the first woman to speak at a Labour Party Conference, when she supported the motion that women should be given the right to vote on the same terms as men.
Some suffragists disapproved of Isabella Ford's socialism but it 1907 it did not prevent her being elected to the executive committee of the  NUWSS ( National Union of Womens Suffrage Movement.) In 1912 she upset members of the Liberal Party when she persuaded the NUWSS to support Labour Party candidates in parliamentary elections.
Isabella Ford, a life-long pacifist, was deeply concerned by the growing hostility between.Britain and Germany. the summer of 1914, Ford helped organise a peace rally in London. During the meeting at the Kingway Hall held on the 4th of August they heard the news that Britain had declared war on Germany.
The women's movement was split over the issue of what role women should play during the First World War. She was however quite capable of making fighting speeches. At the annual conference of the NUWSS in 1914 she spoke against any co-operation with the government for war purposes “with a pugnacity of word and gesture which took everyone’s breath away, and then, having had her say, stamped off the platform and down the hall in almost ferocious style”. (New Leader, 25 July, 1924)
With the outbreak of war Isabella once again found herself working closely with friends and comrades from the ILP in the peace movement.As the war went on Isabella found herself more and more isolated and in 1915 was forced to resign from the executive committee of the  NUWSS. After the end of hostilities she continued her efforts to help the movements of peace, socialism and feminism. In the years, 1919, 1920, 1921 and 1922 Ford was a delegate to the Women's International League Congress.
At the end of her days age and ill health curtailed her public activities and she never recovered from the death of her sister Bessie in 1919 who had given her so much practical and emotional support. In 1922 she moved with her sister Emily to a small cottage, Adel Willows, and it was here that she died in her sleep on 14 July 1924. Isabella Ford  a woman who fought her entire life for the causes of socialism and feminism and peace who  a sought the creation of  women and men who could realize their full potential as equal human beings. She is buried in the Adel Friends Burial Ground, Leeds, England. Long may we remember her and her valuable contribution for the advancement of social justice and equality that remains an inspiration for us because she addressed such important issues that are still relevant to the modern era , particularly the relationships between peace, socialism and feminism.
I will leave you with her  words :-

Justice is to be the foundation on which we must build, not the kind of justice we have hitherto considered for us, and which many countries pride themselves is their watchword and standard, but a justice that demands freedom for all."

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