Famous for: Campaigning on behalf of miners’ wives and for the installation of pithead baths
Greatest Achievement: Appointed as one of the first female organisers of the Labour Party
Elizabeth Andrews was born in Penderyn near Hirwaun in Glamorgan. She was the third of eleven children born to Samuel and Charlotte Smith. They were a Welsh-speaking, mining family. She was forced to leave school at the age of 13 as she was the eldest daughter, and was expected to help her mother in the house. When she was 17, her parents decided to send her to learn a craft, and she spent a year learning needlework. Soon she had her own workshop.
She moved to Llanwrtyd Wells in 1905 to be responsible for a workshop in one of the town’s shops. She was there for three years before she accepted a post in the Rhondda as a supervisor in a large sewing workshop. It was in the Rhondda that she met her husband, Thomas T. Andrews, one of the founders of the Rhondda branch of the Independent Labour Party. Elizabeth Andrews accompanied her future husband to a number of political meetings, and was the only woman present at most of them. They were married on 15 June 1910.
Her interest in politics had begun when she was very young and in 1904, she caused quite a stir in the area when she sent an anonymous letter to the local newspaper supporting Evans Roberts and the Methodist Revival. It was whilst she was at the Rhondda that she developed her interest in politics. She worked to establish branches of the Co-operative Women’s Guild and she became secretary of the first branch in Ton Pentre in 1914. She became a member of the suffragettes and was elected as a member of the Rhondda Borough Labour Party Executive.
She became well-known nationally when she and two miners’ wives presented evidence to the Sankey Commission in the House of Lords in 1919 on the lives of women in mining areas. When presenting their evidence they emphasized the importance of having pithead baths for the miners to reduce the pressure on women and the mortality rate amongst children.
Elizabeth Andrews described living conditions in the mining areas and how the women had to boil water for their husbands to wash themselves, and for washing clothes because the houses had no boilers. She said that the strain of lifting heavy tubs full of water was responsible for most of the premature births and serious illnesses amongst these women. She also noted that the children were in danger of being seriously scalded by the boiling water and that drying clothes in small kitchens was having a detrimental effect on the children’s health. The evidence she gave was paramount in the battle to secure pithead baths.
Women were given the right to vote in 1918 and after that, the Labour Party appointed their first female organisers. In March 1919, Elizabeth Andrews accepted a post with the Labour Party in the women’s section in Wales. One of her first tasks was translating two leaflets from English to Welsh, encouraging women to use their vote. She remained in this post until 1947. During the Second World War she was appointed liaison officer for the women’s section of the Labour Party in Wales, for numerous ministry committees.
She was actively involved in attempts to improve the health and education services. She concentrated on living standards, women’s work, and working class families, writing points for families. She was also active on issues regarding the welfare of mothers and children, and was responsible for opening the first Nursery School in the Rhondda in the 1930s. In 1948 she was elected a member of Glamorgan executive health committee by Aneurin Bevan.
She received an OBE in 1949 for her public services and published a book in 1956, A Woman’s Work is Never Done, relating her life story.
She died on 22 January 1960 aged 77.