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Last updated:02 September 2015

Margaret Bondfield

Margaret BondfieldIn 1898 Margaret Bondfield was appointed assistant secretary of the National Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks – NAUSAWC.

In 1906 she helped to found the Women’s Labour League.

She was also chair of the Adult Suffrage Society.  Her position on suffrage was that it should be extended to all adults regardless of gender or property rather than the limited ‘on the same terms as men’ agenda of the militant suffragists.

In 1908 she left her union post and worked as organising secretary of the Women’s Labour League and later as women’s officer for the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (NUGMW).

In 1918 she was elected to the General Council of the TUC and became its chair in 1923.  In the same year she was elected to Parliament for Northampton (6 December 1923 – 29 October 1924).  In the minority Labour government of 1924 she served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour.  She was appointed Minister of Labour in the Labour government of 1929–31, thereby becoming the first female cabinet minister.  During her time in the Cabinet, her willingness to contemplate cuts in unemployment benefits alienated her from much of the labour movement although she did not form part of the National Government that followed the fall of Labour in 1931.

She remained active in the NUGMW until 1938 and during World War II carried out investigations for the Women’s Group on Public Welfare.  She died in 1953. In spite of her years of service to the union and Labour Party, she has not been greatly honoured within the labour movement.  Barbara Castle the later female cabinet minister has suggested that Bondfield’s actions in office had brought her very close to betraying the movement.  

Resources on Margaret Bondfield in the Library collection

By Bondfield

 ‘A life’s work’. London, Hutchinson, 1949  (B12)

‘Our towns, a close up: a study made in 1939-1942’. Women’s Group on Public Welfare (Hygiene Committee). London, OUP, 1943 (A24)

‘Socialism for shop assistants’. London, Clarion Press, [n.d.] (Clarion Box 2)

‘The meaning of trade’. Part of: ‘Self and society: first twelve essays - social and economic problems from the hitherto neglected point of view of the consumer’ by Percy Redfern. London, Ernest Benn, 1928 (E76)

‘The women’s suffrage controversy’. London, Adult Suffrage Society, 1905 (Suffragette Movement Box 1)

Address given by Margaret Bondfield at a meeting held by the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries at Essex Hall, Strand, 1 March 1916 (X14 AWCS Box 1)

Tape 314 - contains several pieces from radio programmes, with Margaret talking about aspects of her life and work.

Bondfield et al. ‘To the democracy: full rights of citizenship for all or votes for some women?’.  London, Adult Suffrage Society, 1907 (Suffragette Movement Box 1)

Bondfield et al. ‘Trade unions and socialism:  a report to the ILP Conference 1926 on the industrial aspect of Socialism’. London, Independent Labour Party, 1926  (ILP Conference Box 3)

Bondfield et al. ‘War against poverty’. London, Independent Labour Party/Fabian Society, [n.d.] (Independent Labour Party Box 1)

Articles in magazines

From Labour Magazine  (S11)

‘Makers of the labour movement’  [Bondfield biography] - October 1923, pp 243–245
‘The campaign against the ILO [International Labour Office]’ - May 1925, pp 5-8

‘The settlement and development of the British Commonwealth’ - November 1925, pp 302-305

 ‘This misery of boots’ [title of a pamphlet by H.G. Wells] - January 1929, pp 390–392

‘What I am doing for the unemployed’ - November 1929, pp 299-301

From Labour Woman  (S43)

 ‘The story of the Women’s Labour League’ -
Part 1 February 1933, p 25
Part 2 March 1933, p 42

‘Impressions of the Conference’ [incl. pen portrait of Ellen Wilkinson, ‘The Peterkin Touch’] - July 1933, p 107

From GMW Journal  (C57)

‘Disarmament and unemployment’ - April 1932, pp 81–82

Regular column in the journal, ‘Notes from the Women’s Department’   

About Bondfield

Gosling, Harry. ‘Up and down stream’. London, Methuen, 1927 (BO7)

Hamilton, Mary Agnes. ‘Margaret Bondfield’. London, Leonard Parsons, 1924 (BO1)

Lockwood, Annie.  ‘A celebration of pioneering labour women’. Cullercoats, Fabian Society (North Tyneside), 1995 (Labour Party Box 2)

Phillips, Marion et al. ‘Women and the Labour Party’. London, Headley, 1918 (A14)

Sleight, John.  ‘Women on the march: the story of the struggle for political power and equality for women in the North East from 1920 to 1970 - told through the lives of seven remarkable women ….’. Published by the author, 1986 (E56)

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. ‘These dangerous women’ [also includes Margaret Ashton, Sarah Reddish, Esther Roper et al]. London, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 2015 (World War One Box 2)

‘Makers of the labour movement’  [Bondfield biography] - Labour Magazine, October 1923, pp 243–245 (S11)
For other items search the Library catalogue here.