The former transport union official Frederick Blake, recalled: “When the Dagenham girls came down to see Barbara Castle [then employment minister] in 1968 I was asked to sit in a separate room because she wanted to see them on their own, which is fair enough.”
Mr Blake was described by newspapers at the time of the strike as “the leader of the new suffragettes”.
“Although I was in charge of the union for the Ford factory I stayed in the background because I didn’t want people to think that a man was leading the women,” he added. “I was asked by the bosses to tell them to go back to work so we could keep negotiating, but I wouldn’t do that until we had a good settlement because there were men doing the same job and getting paid far more. It wasn’t fair.”
Mr Blake explained that he was an advocate of women’s rights long before the 1968 strike that made history: “When I came home after fighting in Burma in the Second World War and saw the damage that the bombs had done to the country, I thought,
‘Why don’t the women get medals for what they’ve had to put up with, too?’ That’s what first made me think about equality.”
Image: A scene from the 2010 movie “Made in Dagenham”
.When women machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant downed tools in 1968 in protest at the fact that they were classed as unskilled workers, while male colleagues doing the same job were thought to be skilled and paid much more for their efforts, they couldn’t have imagined the ramifications.
The three-week strike brought production at the factory – which was the focus of the UK car industry at the time – to a standstill, and the dispute was resolved only when Barbara Castle was brought in to negotiate a settlement.
The Ford machinists went back to work after agreeing to be paid 92 per cent of male machinists’ wages, and the strike speeded up the introduction of the Equal Pay Act of 1970, which made it illegal to have different pay scales for men and women.
The women on the picket line in 1968 endured jeers when a photographer snapped one of their banners declaring “We Want Sexual Equality” partly unfurled, so that it read “We Want Sex”.
The machinists were also supported by the union representative Bernie Passingham, and many had the backing of husbands who worked in the factory.
At the time the practice of women being paid less than men for the same jobs was widespread – a tradition that hasn’t entirely died out
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, one in Physics and the other in Chemistry.
Marie Curie, (née Maria Sklodowska) was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1867, the daughter of a secondary-school teacher.
Her father gave her some scientific training and she then attended a secret academy, the “Flying University,” organized for young women who wanted to take college-level courses but were not permitted to attend the University of Warsaw.
The classes met in different locations to avoid the attention of the police.
Russia had invaded Poland in the 1790s and dominated much of Polish life.
In 1830, Marie’s grandfather had participated in an uprising against the Russians, and Marie followed in his footsteps.
She became involved in a students’ revolutionary organization, but soon found it prudent to leave Poland.
She worked as a governess to raise the money and in 1891, went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, where she received advanced degrees in physics and mathematics.
At the Sorbonne, she met Pierre Curie, Professor in the School of Physics, fell in love, and in 1895 they were married.
They worked closely together, studying the radioactive elements in uranium, then recently discovered by Henri Becquerel.
As Marie described their poor working conditions: “We had not even a good laboratory at that time. We worked in a hangar where there were no improvements, no good chemical arrangements.
We had no help, no money. And because of that the work could not go on as it would have done under better conditions.”
Nonetheless, their work was highly productive. Marie would later succeed her husband as Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne and then take his place as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences.
Ada Byron was the daughter of a brief marriage between the Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born.
Four months later, Byron left England forever. Ada never met her father (who died in Greece in 1823) and was raised by her mother, Lady Byron.
Her life was an apotheosis of struggle between emotion and reason, subjectivism and objectivism, poetics and mathematics, ill health and bursts of energy.
Lady Byron wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, and she saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music, as disciplines to counter dangerous poetic tendencies. But Ada’s complex inheritance became apparent as early as 1828, when she produced the design for a flying machine.
It was mathematics that gave her life its wings. Lady Byron and Ada moved in an elite London society, one in which gentlemen not members of the clergy or occupied with politics or the affairs of a regiment were quite likely to spend their time and fortunes pursuing botany, geology, or astronomy.
In the early nineteenth century there were no “professional” scientists (indeed, the word “scientist” was only coined by William Whewell in 1836)–but the participation of noblewomen in intellectual pursuits was not widely encouraged.
One of the gentlemanly scientists of the era was to become Ada’s lifelong friend. Charles Babbage, (pictured above) Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, was known as the inventor of the Difference Engine, an elaborate calculating machine that operated by the method of finite differences.
Ada met Babbage in 1833, when she was just 17, and they began a voluminous correspondence on the topics of mathematics, logic, and ultimately all subjects.
In 1835, Ada married William King, ten years her senior, and when King inherited a noble title in 1838, they became the Earl and Countess of Lovelace. Ada had three children. The family and its fortunes were very much directed by Lady Byron, whose domineering was rarely opposed by King.
Babbage had made plans in 1834 for a new kind of calculating machine (although the Difference Engine was not finished), an Analytical Engine. His Parliamentary sponsors refused to support a second machine with the first unfinished, but Babbage found sympathy for his new project abroad.
In 1842, an Italian mathematician, Louis Menebrea, published a memoir in French on the subject of the Analytical Engine (pictured above). Babbage enlisted Ada as translator for the memoir, and during a nine-month period in 1842-43, she worked feverishly on the article and a set of Notes she appended to it.
These are the source of her enduring fame. Ada called herself “an Analyst (and Metaphysician),” and the combination was put to use in the Notes. She understood the plans for the device as well as Babbage but was better at articulating its promise. She rightly saw it as what we would call a general-purpose computer.
It was suited for “developing and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity.” Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.
Ada died of cancer in 1852, at the age of 37, and was buried beside the father she never knew.
Her contributions to science were resurrected only recently, but many new biographies* attest to the fascination of Babbage’s “Enchantress of Numbers.”
Harriet Hardy was born in October 1807 in Walworth, south London, the daughter of a surgeon.
Educated at home, she enjoyed writing poetry. In 1826, she married John Taylor, a prosperous merchant and together they had three children. The Taylors became active in the Unitarian Church and in 1830 a Unitarian minister introduced Harriet to the philosopher John Stuart Mill.
Their affair was to last for more than 20 years, and was generally tolerated by Harriet’s husband.
From 1833, the couple largely lived apart, enabling Harriet to see Mill more easily. Their behaviour scandalised society and as a couple they were socially isolated. But they inspired each other intellectually and often worked together.
Mills’ ‘The Principles of Political Economy’ (1848) has a chapter attributed to Harriet called ‘On the Probable Future of the Labouring Classes’ in which she argues for the importance of education for all in the future of the nation, both economically and socially.
Her essay, ‘The Enfranchisement of Women’ (1851), considered one of her most important works, was published under Mills’s name. The essay strongly advocated that women be given access to the same jobs as men, and that they should not have to live in ‘separate spheres’ – views more radical than those of Mills himself.
Harriet’s husband died in 1849 and in 1851 she and Mill were finally married.
In the autumn of 1858, the couple travelled to France where the climate was better for Harriet’s tuberculosis.
She died of respiratory failure in Avignon on 3 November 1858. John Stuart Mills’ most famous work ‘On Liberty’, which they had written together, was published in 1859 and was dedicated to Harriet.