Change-makers and unsung heroes
In 19th century Dundee, women were the backbone of the jute industry. As they went off to work in the mills – for lower wages than their husbands could earn – the men were left ‘at hame to bile kettles’, and the city became known as ‘She Town’. This panel celebrates women who may not have received the recognition they deserved in their lifetimes, including welder Bella Keyzer, suffragettes Ethel Moorhead and Lila Clunas, and councillor Agnes Husband.
1. Timex factory
By the mid-Sixties, Timex was Dundee’s single largest employer of women. Around 80 per cent of the workforce at the Camperdown watch factory were women working on the assembly lines. Many female employees took part in the six-month-long strike that ultimately led to the closure of the Camperdown factory in August 1993.
2. Lyrics from a folk song
These lyrics are the chorus from a popular Dundee ballad called ‘It’s Aa Yin Tae Me’ which promotes the financial independence that many female jute weavers experienced.
3. Ethel Moorhead
Ethel Moorhead (1869-1955) was a trained artist and a passionate supporter of the Women’s Suffrage movement for which she was arrested many times. In 1910, she threw an egg at Winston Churchill at a meeting in Dundee, and in 1912 she smashed a glass case at the Wallace monument near Stirling. In 1913, she went on a hunger strike when she was sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment.
4. Kettle bilers
When the jute industry exploded in Dundee in the early-mid 1800s, women outnumbered men in the mills three to one. Unemployed husbands and fathers were forced to stay at home to look after the kids and boil the kettle – making them ‘kettle bilers’, a term which is still used today.
5. Bella Keyzer
Bella Keyzer (1922-1992) was a jute weaver, a munitions worker, an assembly line worker and, most unusually, a welder because she worked at the Robb Caledon shipyard in Dundee during the Second World War. Bella was an outspoken supporter of women’s equality throughout her life.
6. The Washie
In the 1900s, the public steam laundry (or ‘washie’) was where women did their family’s washing. It was also a hub for local gossip, and no one wanted to be the ‘talk of the washie’.
7. Mrs De Gernier
When Belgian couple Edward De Gernier and his wife Julia settled in Dundee in the 1870s, Edward spotted a gap in the market for a Belgian-style chip stall. A ‘Dundee buster’ (chips with peas and vinegar), served up by Mrs De Gernier, quickly became a popular treat.
8. Dundee’s Suffragette Movement
In the early 1900s, Dundee had an active suffragette movement who made it their mission to gain the vote for women. Teacher and Labour Party councillor Lila Clunas (1876-1968) was the first Dundee suffragette to be imprisoned in London, after taking a swipe at the Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith. Fellow suffragette, Agnes Husband (1852-1929) was a local councillor who also worked hard to improve education and to support people in poverty. Finally, Margaret Irwin (1858-1940) campaigned hard for women’s rights in the workplace. She established the Scottish Council for Women’s Trades, and she was a driving force behind the creation of the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
Thank you to illustrator Lucy Mennim who allowed us to use her ‘Timex Worker’ image on this panel.