Reddish, Sarah (1850–1928), co-operative movement activist and suffragist
by Serena Kelly

Reddish, Sarah (1850–1928), co-operative movement activist and suffragist, was born into a working-class family in Bolton. She started work as a child, leaving school at the age of eleven. Her first job was at home winding silk for her mother and her neighbours to weave on hand-looms. She then went to work in a cotton mill where her responsibilities included giving first aid to women who had suffered from the frequent machine accidents.

Sarah Reddish joined the co-operative society in 1879 and became a respected figure in the local and the national hierarchy. In 1886 she became president of the Bolton Women's Co-operative Guild, a post she held for the next fifteen years. In 1889 she was first elected to the guild's central committee and in 1897 was its national president. For two years from 1893 she was appointed as a regional organizer for the Women's Co-operative Guild in the north of England and succeeded in increasing membership throughout the region. Through her the guild became a meeting-place where suffrage speakers were always sure of a sympathetic audience. She was also involved in the guild campaign to improve the wages of female co-operative employees.

In the late 1890s Sarah Reddish developed her public-speaking skills travelling around the north of England with a small group of women in a caravan holding public meetings on the value of socialism. In 1899 she was appointed a part-time organizer for the Women's Trade Union League which was concerned with providing support for women workers.

Sarah Reddish was an active supporter of the suffrage movement, and she was closely involved in the 1900–01 campaign to petition women factory workers in support of women's suffrage. When a group of women presented the resulting petition to Westminster, Sarah Reddish, as the most senior and influential woman present, introduced the deputation. The campaign was judged to be so successful it was decided that the wool workers in Yorkshire and the cotton and silk workers of north Cheshire should also be petitioned on this subject. It was partly due to pressure from Sarah Reddish that the Women's Cooperative Guild voted at its annual conference in 1904 to support the latest franchise bill.

A number of suffrage organizations made use of Sarah Reddish's skills as an organizer and public speaker. Between 1903 and 1905 she acted as an organizer for the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage but resigned in 1905 in disagreement over tactics to secure the aim of women's suffrage. In 1903 she was a founder member, and later treasurer, of the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile and Other Workers Representation Committee formed to select a suitable parliamentary candidate who would fight for the enfranchisement of women workers. On occasions she was also employed as a salaried organizer for the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in London. She was a member of the Manchester and Salford women's trade and labour council and the National Industrial and Professional Women's Suffrage Society. Sarah Reddish felt that it was vital for women to stand for local elections, as this would strengthen their claim for the parliamentary franchise, a view she put forward when she wrote Women and County Borough Councils: a Claim for Eligibility (1903). She herself served on the committee of the Bolton Association for the Return of Women as Poor Law Guardians from its establishment in 1897 although, because of other commitments, she did not stand for election herself until 1905. Once elected, however, she remained a poor-law guardian until 1921, when she was over seventy years old. In 1898 she was one of the successful candidates in the Bolton school board elections and in 1919 she organized the Bolton Women's Citizens Associations. In 1911 she was made president of the Manchester and Salford Women's Trade Society. She was forced by illness, however, to give up her many public campaigns. Sarah Reddish died at Townleys Hospital, Farnworth, Lancashire, on 19 February 1928.



J. Liddington and J. Norris, One hand tied behind us: the rise of the women’s suffrage movement (1978) · O. Banks, The biographical dictionary of British feminists, 1 (1985) · d. cert.


photograph, repro. in Liddington and Norris, One hand tied behind us

Wealth at death  

£1403 10s. 7d.: probate, 12 April 1928, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Sarah Reddish (1850–1928): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/50079