Who Are The Strong Women Of Sheffield?
We only have to look back to the inspiring Women of Steel of the two World Wars to see the strength of Yorkshire lasses. Conscripted for the war effort on the home front, they produced armaments, airplane parts and tanks. Their work meant husbands, brothers, fathers and sons had the artillery and munitions to defeat the enemy.
These women kept the steel mills rolling whilst bombs dropped overhead. They put their lives on the line for the good of the country, despite the very real risk to life and limb. Female workers were at the mercy of dangerous production processes as well as air attacks.
The work that these hard-working and dedicated women did was perilous and conditions were tough. But any fear they harboured did not hold them back. The heavy industry of the Don Valley around Tinsley would not have continued without the women of South Yorkshire. These women of steel juggled single parenting with long shifts for poor pay. All of this was endured through economic hardship and food rationing.
A Hard Life For Some of the Best Nans in Yorkshire
Many of these amazing women lived well into their eighties and nineties. Thankfully, their stories live on in their children and grandchildren. I discovered that our web developer, Andy Gascoigne at ASG Media is the proud grandson of a leading light in the campaign for recognition of the women’s work in the steel city.
Andy is one of Ruby Gascoigne’s many grandchildren and we recently had a fascinating chat about her story. To Andy, Ruby is simply the best nan in Yorkshire. But as he grew up listening to his grandparent’s stories of the war years, he realised just how remarkable she was.
Darnall-born Ruby and her husband Frank were married in 1941. When Frank went off to fight, Ruby was conscripted to work at Flathers’ munitions factory in Tinsley. She fell pregnant with her first child whilst Frank was home on leave. Ruby returned to her war effort work when her son, Graham, was barely a year old.
Juggling full-time work with single parenting was difficult, to say the least. Not unlike the struggle of working single parents today. Ruby’s and Franks story is one of the happy ones. They went on to have four more sons, Greg, Brendan, Kevin and Robert after the war.
By the time she died in October 2017, aged 95, Ruby was a much-loved nan and a great-great-grandmother. Furthermore, she had achieved a long held ambition to see a tangible recognition of the sacrifices of the Women of Steel. She and her fellow Steel City lasses unveiled the plaque and commemorative statue installed in Barker’s Pool, and enjoyed the celebrity that surrounded the appeal. Television appearances, national press interviews, first class train travel to London with “the girls”. All exciting stuff at the tender age of 87.
Perhaps the highlight of their 60 year overdue recognition was their visit to No 10 Downing Street in January 2010 to meet the Prime Minister. An article in The Independent at the time provides a clear insight into how tough life was for women like Ruby. Thankfully, she and her steel pals, Kathleen Roberts, Kit Sollitt, Dorothy Slingsby, lived to see the recognition of their contribution and commitment.
The touching and inspiring story of one Yorkshire lass’s journey through the hardships and laughter of life in South Yorkshire during a World War are immortalised in Stephen Johnson’s book A Woman of Steel: Ruby – A Diamond Forever.
Modern Women of Steel
When Sheffield based Rachel Bower was commissioned to write a poem for #NationalPoetryDay in 2016 the Women of Steel sculpture was her inspiration. For Rachel, it represented women of Sheffield both then and now. As a Sheffield woman, writer, educator, editor, beekeeper and wild swimming enthusiast she wanted to celebrate the strong females of her home city.
In the article attached to the poem she describes Women of Steel as a “tribute to the amazing strength of communities in Sheffield today, and the challenges that women continue to face. Sheffield is such an amazing place with amazing people, and I hope to capture a bit of that. It’s also a poem about the long history of women’s work and powerful women in the region, which has been edited out by patriarchy – linking the Goddess stories of the Don – Goddess Danu – all the way back to the way that women’s labour continues to go unrecognised today. It’s about celebrating our diversity and solidarity, creating sisterhood and remembering the work and stories of women”.
It is easy in the midst of juggling caring, breadwinning, career development and mortgage payments to feel we are sinking, or not keeping the plates spinning. But we must pat ourselves on the back and acknowledge the strength and courage it takes to keep going.
Give Yourself A Break
Perfection is not the goal. Survival and putting one foot in front of the other are so very worthy of self-praise. A little acknowledgement that we did okay is enough. It’s true to say that in some way we are the modern day Rubys. We are women of steel, each and every one of us a Yorkshire Goddess of Don and Sheaf.
So give yourself a break. Make yourself a mug of tea, take five minutes, and write a list of everything you’ve achieved today. Then light your favourite scented candle, run a bath and celebrate the positives. When we feel like we are failing, take a moment to remember the mothers and grandmothers who came before us.
Who are the strong women of Sheffield? You are. I am. We all are. Let’s remember that and treat ourselves accordingly.