The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement: A Study in Gender Politics and Female Leadership, 1883-1921

The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement: A Study in Gender Politics and Female Leadership, 1883-1921

The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement: A Study in Gender Politics and Female Leadership, 1883-1921

The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement: A Study in Gender Politics and Female Leadership, 1883-1921

Synopsis

Examines the gender politics of the English Cooperative Movement between 1883 and 1921 and how it limited the accomplishments of the women leaders.

Excerpt

English cooperators, whose consumers’ movement traced its origins to the enterprise founded by the Rochdale Pioneers in the 1840s, began increasingly to talk about the Cooperative Commonwealth to come in the years after the First World War. At the 1925 Cooperative Congress the delegates approved a change in the rules governing the Cooperative Union to include among the objects of that national organization “the ultimate establishment of a Co-operative Commonwealth.” Cooperators were unable to say when the Commonwealth would arrive, but they could describe how. It would evolve gradually from the mundane business of selling groceries to working-class housewives. As these women began to realize the possibilities that the “co-ops” provided for accumulating savings and learned that cooperation gave their class an opportunity for ownership and a voice in its business enterprises, it was supposed that they would be increasingly motivated to buy their provisions from their cooperative stores and nowhere else. All over the world, not just in England, little cooperative stores would then grow in size and establish wholesale outlets from which to buy the goods they sold. This had already happened in England, and Scotland too, back in the 1860s. These wholesale outlets would then enter into the production of some items and start depots abroad to obtain imported commodities, transporting them home aboard cooperative ships, as the English and Scottish Wholesale Societies had already begun to do by the start of the twentieth century. the entire enterprise would be owned by the members of cooperative societies, the ordinary people who had taken out shares in their local stores and received returns on their investments according to the number of shares they owned and the amounts they spent on provisions. These shareholders would direct their stores, and indeed, the entire Cooperative movement democratically, by voting at the stores’ members’ meetings and by electing representatives to national cooperative bodies and gatherings.

Cooperators considered cooperation the antithesis of capitalism, so their . . .

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