100. Elizabeth Andrews
Groundbreakers (37 votes)
1882 – 1960
First woman organiser for the Labour Party in Wales and a tireless campaigner for better social conditions.
When three women from the mining regions gave evidence to the Sankey Commission at Westminster in 1918, the press were taken aback by their articulate self-confidence, including that of a certain representative from south Wales. How little they knew Elizabeth Andrews.
She grew up in the Rhondda, the third of eleven children - the need for extra hands at home forcing her to leave school at the age of twelve. Mending the mining clothes of her father and brothers would often keep her at work until the early hours while frequent strikes and lockouts kept money short.
Demonstrating an unusual willingness for her class and gender to get involved in public debate, the 22-year old Elizabeth wrote to a newspaper in support of Evan Roberts and his ‘Great Revival’. Though anonymous, the letter caused a considerable stir.
It was a first foray into controversy that she followed by joining the Suffragettes. She recalled later how their meetings around south Wales would often be violently broken up.
When women were finally given the vote, the Labour Party recruited four female organisers and Elizabeth Andrews was one of them. Alongside her party work she campaigned ceaselessly for better living and working conditions in the industrial communities.
Her evidence to the Sankey Commission led to the inception of pithead baths at collieries – until then the dirt and dust of the mines had been carried home each night. The drying of pit clothes in overcrowded kitchens contributed to a high infant mortality rate and the strain of shifting heavy tubs and boilers took its toll on mothers.
In 1938 the first nursery school in Wales opened in the Rhondda –the result of years of campaigning by Elizabeth Andrews.
By the time Elizabeth Andrews stood down from her party post in 1948, Labour had become the dominant force in Welsh politics. The welfare state for which she had for so long dreamed was at last a reality.