The story of the Matchgirls is a story of bravery, resilience and courage which opened a path for other oppressed groups to rise up against similar situations.
In 1888 conditions were appalling for the 1,400 women and girls who worked at Bryant and May’s match factory in Bow, East London. Low pay for a 14-hour day was cut even more so if you talked or went to the toilet, and ‘phossy jaw’ - a horrible bone cancer caused by the cheap type of phosphorus in the matches – was common.
An article by women’s rights campaigner Anne Besant in the weekly paper, The Link, described the terrible condition of the factory. That came to be the most significant ‘match’, which lighted the fire of these several hundred extremely poor women. The strike eventually led to their bosses significantly improving their working situation. The decision to go on strike was truly against all odds and is now recognised as the beginning of the modern trade union movement.
The City of London took part in this fascinating story in 2013 when Bishopsgate Institute hosted an event to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the brave action which changed the world.