Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council

"Any help possible will be given"

The first entry of the Womens Trades council minutes

The Minutes of the Manchester and Salford Women's Trades Union Council 1895-1919.

The Manchester and Salford Women's Trades Union Council was set up in 1895 to organise women workers into trade unions. At this time trade unions were (with a few exceptions) organisations of men, who were either indifferent to or opposed to women workers joining trade unions. 

The two volumes of the original hand-written Minutes of the Council came to light during the research into the life of Mary Quaile for the pamphlet Dare To Be Free, published by the Mary Quaile Club in 2015.  Mary worked as the Organising Secretary for the Council from 1911 to 1919, and took the Minutes with her when the office was shut down, and the MSWTUC merged with the men's Trades Council and the Manchester and Salford Women's Trades and Labour Council to form a single body.

The Minutes are a complete record of the meetings of the Council, and are a unique item of national significance. They will be a major contribution to the study of women workers and trade unionism in the late C19th and early C20th.

Mary in the Soviet Union, 1925

The Minutes tell the story of how a small group of philanthropists, including C. P. Scott, the editor of the Manchester Guardian and Julia Gaskell, daughter of author and social campaigner Elizabeth Gaskell, formed the MSWTUC, which then went onto to be shaped by grassroots activists including Olive Aldridge, Emily Cox, Sarah Dickenson, Eve Gore Booth and Mary Quaile and the many other women and men who worked hard to help women set up their own trades unions and challenge injustice and inequality at work.

The MSWTUC also lobbied at local and national level to improve the social and economic conditions of all workers, including children, influencing legislation and taking part in research and working parties.

The Minutes are fascinating vignettes of the struggle to get women organised into bodies that would lift them out of poverty and exploitation: a historical record that also shows how the campaign for the vote split the organisation with the more radical and working class based activists leaving in the autumn 1904 and setting up the Manchester and Salford Women's Trades and Labour Council. This new organisation campaigned for both trade unions and votes for women, reflecting the mood of working class women trade unionists who now moved over to the more militant MSWTLC. The MSWTUC survived the spilt and in later years worked closely with the MSWTLC, particularly during the First World War.

The story of the twenty four years of the MSWTUC, as told through the Minute Books, is important to women and the trade union movement in today's Britain, holding lessons for all workers on how they can challenge and defeat injustice and poverty and achieve self respect and self-determination.

The Mary Quaile Club raised money from the trade union movement and individuals to transcribe the Minutes and place them on this website for all to read. The website contains both the transcription made by Mary Quaile Club researcher Bernadette Hyland and pictures of the original minutes. Our thanks go to Bernadette for her huge amount of work, and also the Mary Quaile Club. Thanks too to Mike Carter for his hard work on this project in creating the website.

The Minute Books have been donated to the Working Class Movement Library ( so that they can be accessed by anybody who wishes to read the original volumes. The opening hours of the WCML are here. We hope that this website will encourage other people to become active in doing further research about women and trade unions. This is just the beginning, and we would be pleased to hear from anyone who wishes to add material to the website.

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