Isabella Ford

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Isabella Ford
Isabella-Ford 1924.jpg
Born23 May 1855
Died14 July 1924
Nationality United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Isabella Ormston Ford (23 May 1855–1924) was an English social reformer, suffragist and writer. She became a public speaker and wrote pamphlets on issues related to socialism, feminism and worker's rights. After becoming concerned with the rights of female mill workers at an early age, Ford became involved with trade union organisation in the 1880s. A member of the National Administrative Council of the Independent Labour Party, she was the first woman to speak at a Labour Representation Committee (which became the British Labour Party) conference.

The National Administrative Council (NAC) was the executive council of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), a British socialist party which was active from 1893 until 1975.

Independent Labour Party UK political party

The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was a British political party of the left, established in 1893, when the Liberals appeared reluctant to endorse working-class candidates, representing the interests of the majority. A sitting independent MP and prominent union organiser, Keir Hardie, became its first chairman.

Labour Party (UK) Centre-left political party in the United Kingdom

The Labour Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom that has been described as an alliance of social democrats, democratic socialists and trade unionists. The party's platform emphasises greater state intervention, social justice and strengthening workers' rights.



Isabella Ford was born 23 May 1855 in Headingley, Leeds, in the north of England. She was the youngest of eight children of Quakers Robert Lawson Ford and Hannah (née Pease). [1] Her mother was a cousin of abolitionist Elizabeth Pease Nichol. [2] Her father was a solicitor who ran a local night-school for mill-girls. [3] Contact with these girls gave Ford and her sisters an insight into class differences and an interest in working conditions. [3] When she was 16, she began teaching at her father's school. [1]

Headingley suburb of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England

Headingley is a suburb of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, approximately two miles out of the city centre, to the north west along the A660 road. Headingley is the location of the Beckett Park campus of Leeds Beckett University and Headingley Stadium.

Leeds City in England

Leeds is a city in the United Kingdom, located in the county of West Yorkshire in Northern England, approximately 170 miles north of central London. Leeds has one of the most diverse economies of all the UK's main employment centres and has seen the fastest rate of private-sector jobs growth of any UK city. It also has the highest ratio of private to public sector jobs of all the UK's Core Cities, with 77% of its workforce working in the private sector. Leeds has the third-largest jobs total by local authority area, with 480,000 in employment and self-employment at the beginning of 2015. Leeds is ranked as a High Sufficiency level city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. Leeds is the cultural, financial and commercial heart of the West Yorkshire Urban Area. Leeds is served by five universities, and has the fourth largest student population in the country and the country's fourth largest urban economy.

Abolitionism in the United Kingdom Movement to end slavery in the United Kingdom

Abolitionism in the United Kingdom was the movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to end the practice of slavery, whether formal or informal, in the United Kingdom, the British Empire and the world, including ending the Atlantic slave trade. It was part of a wider abolitionism movement in Western Europe and the Americas.

In the 1880s, Ford became involved with trade unions. [1] She worked with tailoresses who were campaigning for better working conditions; she helped them to form a trade union and was involved when they went on strike in 1889. [1] [3] In 1890–91, she marched with workers from Manningham Mills in Bradford. As a result of her involvement, she was elected a life member of the Leeds Trades and Labour Council. [3]

Trade union Organization of workers with common goals

A trade union is an association of workers forming a legal unit or legal personhood, usually called a "bargaining unit", which acts as bargaining agent and legal representative for a unit of employees in all matters of law or right arising from or in the administration of a collective agreement. Labour unions typically fund the formal organization, head office, and legal team functions of the labour union through regular fees or union dues. The delegate staff of the labour union representation in the workforce are made up of workplace volunteers who are appointed by members in democratic elections.

Lister Mills factory in Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK

Lister's Mill was the largest silk factory in the world. It is located in the Manningham district of Bradford, West Yorkshire, England and was built by Samuel Cunliffe Lister to replace the original Manningham Mills that were destroyed by fire in 1871. The mill is a Grade II* listed building, built in the Italianate style of Victorian architecture.

Bradford City and metropolitan borough in West Yorkshire, England

Bradford is a city in West Yorkshire, England, in the foothills of the Pennines, 8.6 miles (14 km) west of Leeds, and 16 miles (26 km) north-west of Wakefield. Bradford became a municipal borough in 1847, and received its charter as a city in 1897. Following local government reform in 1974, city status was bestowed upon the City of Bradford metropolitan borough.

She helped found the Leeds Independent Labour Party (ILP) and was president of the Leeds Tailoresses' Union. [1] Her concerns were trade union organisation, socialism and female suffrage. She overcame a natural shyness to become an experienced public speaker, speaking at many meetings related to socialism, workers' rights and women's emancipation. [1] She wrote many pamphlets, as well as a column in the Leeds Forward. In 1895 she was elected parish councillor for Adel cum Eccup in Leeds. [1]

Suffrage right to vote

Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise is the right to vote in public, political elections. In some languages, and occasionally in English, the right to vote is called active suffrage, as distinct from passive suffrage, which is the right to stand for election. The combination of active and passive suffrage is sometimes called full suffrage.

A parish council is a civil local authority found in England and is the first tier of local government. They are elected corporate bodies, have variable tax raising powers, and are responsible for areas known as civil parishes, serving in total 16 million people. A parish council serving a town may be called a town council, and a parish council serving a city is styled a city council; these bodies have the same powers, duties and status as a parish council.

In the 1900s, Ford increased her focus on her work for the ILP, and was elected to the national administrative council. [1] She became more involved in the national women's suffrage movement, but felt that feminism and the labour movement were equally important. [1] In 1903 she spoke at the annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee (later the British Labour Party), and was the first woman to do so. [3]

Following a 1904 debate with future politician Margaret Bondfield, Sylvia Pankhurst described Ford as "a plain, middle-aged woman, with red face and turban hat crushed down upon her straight hair, whose nature yet seemed to me ... kindlier and more profound than that of her younger antagonist". [1]

Margaret Bondfield British feminist and trade unionist

Margaret Grace Bondfield was a British Labour politician, trade unionist and women's rights activist. She became the first female cabinet minister, and the first woman to be a privy counsellor in the UK, when she was appointed Minister of Labour in the Labour government of 1929–31. She had earlier become the first woman to chair the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Sylvia Pankhurst British suffragist, anti-colonialist

Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst was an English campaigner for the suffragette movement, a prominent left communist and later an activist in the cause of anti-fascism. She spent much of her later life agitating on behalf of Ethiopia, where she eventually moved.

Personal life

Ford formed friendships with Labour politician Philip Snowden, socialist writer Edward Carpenter, poet Walt Whitman, Josephine Butler, Millicent Fawcett and Olive Schreiner. [2] [3] She lived most of her adult life with her sisters Bessie and Emily in Adel Grange, the Leeds home that the family moved to when she was 10. Bessie Ford died in 1919 and her sisters moved to a smaller property called Adel Willows in 1922. [1] Isabella Ford died 14 July 1924. [1]

Posthumous recognition

Adel Grange Home of Isabella Ford Adel Grange (39027958660).jpg
Adel Grange Home of Isabella Ford

Ford's name and image, and those of 58 other women's suffrage supporters, are etched on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London that was unveiled in 2018. [4]


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Hannam, June (2004), "Ford, Isabella Ormston (1855–1924)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , Oxford University Press , retrieved 19 April 2010
  2. 1 2 Crawford, Elizabeth (2001). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928. Routledge. p. 226. ISBN   0-415-23926-5.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 A Historical Dictionary of British Women. Routledge. 2003. p. 172. ISBN   1-85743-228-2.
  4. "Millicent Fawcett statue unveiling: the women and men whose names will be on the plinth". iNews. Retrieved 25 April 2018.