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Fanny Isabel Taylor (1884-1947)

Represented the interested of women workers in Hartlepool

In October 1918 the owners of a laundry in Hartlepool were charged with offences against the Factory and Workmen’s Act. Many of their employees, predominantly women, were working over-long shifts in the laundry, often over 12 hours with very little rest. The proceedings were reported in the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail (see “Supporting Materials, below).

One of the more interesting features of this case was the presence of Miss Fanny Isabel Taylor. She was not a local woman but was there in an official role, namely to represent the Home Office. The idea that women did have such positions of responsibility before and during the First World War is something that many of us may be surprised at.

Fanny Taylor’s career is certainly worth examining, therefore, as she was a writer, a senior civil servant and was eventually awarded the OBE for her work.

Fanny was born in 1884 in the south of England, the daughter of a retired sea captain from Liverpool. She had three sisters, Irene, Roberta and Rhoda, all of whom became civil servants also.

By 1911 she was 27 years old, living in the family home in Streatham Hill in south-west London and had already published a key work: “A Bibliography of Unemployment and the Unemployed”. The preface to this book was written by Sidney Webb, a leading economist and socialist and co-founder of the London School of Economics, so Fanny was clearly working with some very important and influential figures of the time.

By the time she came to Hartlepool in 1918 she was Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories at the Home Office and so the case of the overworked laundry girls would have been typical of the work she was undertaking. The newspaper report shows that she defended the working rights of these women and challenged the employers for failing to engage more workers which would taken pressure from the existing workforce.

In 1937, almost 20 years later, Fanny was awarded the OBE for her services to government. She never married but continued her career until the 1940s. She is recorded as a delegate to the House of Commons in 1945 where she was clearly providing evidence to some of the Committees working on public health in her role as Senior Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories, Ministry of Labour and National Service. Two years later, on 2 October 2 1947, Fanny died in hospital in Tooting, aged 63.

She left the sum of £3000 to her sister, Irene and to Bernard Goodwin, a civil servant.

Her story is a useful reminder that there were women in key public roles in the early years of the 20th century. Fanny defended not only working women in Hartlepool but around the country. It would still have been a rare sight though, a woman of authority in a court setting.

Civil Parish: West Hartlepool

Armed force/civilian: Civilian

Gender: Female

Contributed by Mel Brown