Ethel Williams’ Campaign for Educational and Employment Opportunities for Women

Ethel Williams was also heavily involved with the development of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) in the North-East. In particular, Williams was interested in promoting educational opportunities for women. Indeed, the WEA was open to women, and during the Great War women took an active role in keeping the WEA going. Twenty-seven classes were arranged for women on the themes of Literature, Hygiene, Home Nursing and First Aid – Williams taught on some of these courses. By 1916 a local women’s advisory committee was set up, amongst the 18 members of the committee were Ethel Williams and Lisbeth Simm. (see blog post on Lisbeth Simm) These women kept the WEA afloat during the war; Williams recruited new tutors from the Durham University Women’s Graduates’ Union, which she chaired. Her car was useful, enabling her to tour the region, setting up courses on ‘Famous Englishwomen’ and women’s health. Williams also worked with Hilda Trevena to launch women’s courses with the Women’s Co-operative Guilds (WCGs) across the North-East. The Women’s Co-operative Guild was founded in 1883 and was popular amongst housewives, introducing them to the principles of co-operation and formed as the women’s branch of the co-operative movement. The WCGs sought to raise the status of women, as keepers of the home. After the war, the Guilds educated women about citizenship and in 1933 they produced a white poppy to wear on Armistice Day, promoting peace alongside remembrance.

During the war, Lisbeth Simm and Ethel Williams also worked together to provide support for women as their husbands went off to serve on the front line. In April 1915, Williams addressed a meeting about women’s work during the war. She argued that women who took up jobs during the war should receive equal pay to their male counterparts and adequate training. Indeed, many women were employed at the Armstrong-Whitworth armaments factory in Elswick. Williams helped working women to find clothing and healthcare during the war.

Ethel Williams was a remarkable figure. She was active in a range of causes relating to women’s rights, peace, health care, and social reform in the North-East and at the international level. She retired from her medical practice in 1924 and moved to Stocksfield on Tyne, near Hexham. She remained active in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom throughout the 1920s and 1930s, travelling to international congresses and the League of Nations Conference on the Traffic of Arms in 1925. She died in 1948.


Sarah Hellawell

This entry was posted in 1914, Lit and Phil, Newcastle, Northumbria University, volunteers, World War 1 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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