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The Role and Influence of Women in Calderdale

Until comparatively recent times woman played a minor role in Calderdale, as elsewhere in the country. It was never recognised that a woman was in any way equipped for duties outside the home. Within the home, and in its environs, her work was multifarious and often heavy. She was wife, mother, cook, washerwoman, cleaner, and in many cases her additional chores in earlier times included spinning wool, sometimes weaving cloth, and caring for livestock and a garden. She had little time to relax and it is small wonder that although she must often have been exhausted she had no time to ponder her fate and to decide upon the kind of work she would prefer to do given the opportunity. Generally speaking this kind of lifestyle was the lot of a woman throughout many centuries, partly because men, at least, could see no reason for change and partly because both women and men could not appreciate that woman could actually aspire to much more. It was certainly ridiculous from a man's point of view that a woman could carry out any of man's more demanding tasks. They just could not see that any woman was capable of doing administrative work or running even a small business, and the idea that woman could have any understanding of politics was laughable.

Only a few women had the opportunity to give the lie to this and they had to be wealthy, independent and well-educated. The fact that few women received any real education ruled out the last provision in most cases, and equally there were few women who were both wealthy and free to make their own plans and decisions.

Such a woman, however, was Anne Lister (1791-1840) of Shibden Hall, Halifax. Anne was wealthy and had received an excellent education and she was also unmarried and therefore free to live her life as she pleased. She ran her family estate and business in an assured and capable way and made something of a name for herself as a traveller in foreign parts. Her diaries tell of these journeys in some detail and we learn of her walking and climbing hampered by voluminous skirts and underclothes. The dangers she encountered with equanimity - and a loaded pistol.

Anne Lister's diaries were written in code but have since been decoded and we are left with a clear and fascinating picture of her life, a life of business interests, estate work, travel and social connections. Her independent life and spirit are further shown by her Lesbian tendencies, which in her day were unthinkable, and certainly not spoken of.

Numerous Victorian women struck out and made a name for themselves as travellers and missionaries, as teachers, scientists and nurses, but it was not until women suffragettes fought for and finally won the right to vote that the real changes began to appear. Since then we have seen women in Parliament, as doctors, lecturers, scientists and lawyers competing successfully with men in virtually every profession, and still in many cases happily running a home and caring for a family.

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