Ever since I first entered upon club work, about nineteen years ago, I have been impressed by the want of co-operation and by the overlapping which distinguished our branch of social work. I feel that much more good could be done by club workers if they obtained better knowledge of method and wider organisation. Many pieces of work which it is impossible for an individual club to undertake can be accomplished by clubs working together.
As a club worker, I joined several existing unions, and received much help from each organisation, but I felt that there were great possibilities in having a link and clearing house between all these various unions, so that information about the work undertaken separately might be communicated.
It was for these reasons that, at the beginning of 1911, I helped to start the National Organisation of Girls' Clubs, Mrs. Creighton, whose interest in working girls is so well known, becoming our first president. The starting of this organisation enabled us to knit together, so to speak, the scores of girls' clubs throughout the country, and also to educate working girls in matters of vital interest to themselves. As a matter of fact, however, much work in this direction had been accomplished by what might be termed the forerunners of the National Organisation of Girls' Clubs - i.e., the Girls' Clubs' Sectional Committee, and the Clubs' Industrial Association. The former, which was founded in 1895, and which consisted of representatives from girls' clubs throughout the country, did much valuable work in the way of supplying information to club leaders about to start new clubs, providing workers and speakers for important meetings (paid and voluntary) whenever possible, arranging conferences for club leaders, and drawing up a directory of girls' clubs and lists of holiday homes.
Mrs. Arnold Glover, the hon. sec. of the Sectional Committee, became one of the two honorary secretaries of our wider organisation, and many of our activities were inspired by her, and owe their continued existence to her energy and devotion. We do not desire to interfere in any way with the scope or management of any union of clubs or single club. Our aim is to supply information, when desired, and to create the machinery by which club workers can unite for any useful purpose.
A Beneficent Association
In 1898, the Clubs' Industrial Association was founded by the Organisations Committee of the Women's Industrial Council. This was an association of leaders and representative members of working girls' clubs, who were bound together in order to study, and, when opportunity arose, to improve the lives of working girls. The fact that working girls have little time or opportunity to study the laws enacted for their benefit was realised, and club leaders were appealed to by the founders of the Association to help in the educational work of spreading a knowledge of factory laws and of strengthening the sense of responsibility among girl workers. Matters of the greatest importance to working girls have been dealt with by the Association. It has drafted petitions to the Home Office, asking for an increase in the number of women factory inspectors and for stricter regulations regarding the sanitary conditions of factories and workshops. It has also endeavoured to alleviate the lot of girls who toil in underground workrooms. Ultimately, on account of the demands made upon the Association, it was decided to merge the Sectional Committee and the Association into one, and thus the National Organisation of Girls' Clubs was formed, a movement which is closely associated with the National Union of Woman Workers.
The organisation is very far-reaching in its influence and work. As I have already intimated, it serves as a link between all existing associations and unions, and transmits information concerning their work. By uniting all voluntary recreative societies for girls over school age, the organisation hopes to develop a spirit of comradeship which will satisfy the increasing desire on the part of the girl population of the United Kingdom to serve their families and their country with more whole-hearted devotion to the best examples in the past and with greater hopes for the future.
Perhaps I may be allowed to give a few more details regarding the work of the organisation. In the first place, the cost of affiliation is 2s. 6d. for a single club, 5s. for unions of clubs not exceeding twenty clubs, and 10s. for unions exceeding twenty clubs. Every assistance and advice is given in the organisation or reorganisation of clubs. We take part in any national scheme for girls, and promote interest in the provision of hostels or residential clubs. Perhaps there may be a district in which it is felt that a club for working girls would be of great benefit. In such a case we are able to advise those who wish to found such a club as to what has already been done in the district - for instance, suggest methods of working which have already proved successful in other similar districts, and lend the assistance of experienced speakers and workers who will help to make the club a success. It so often happens that a club for girls is established by kind-hearted persons which after a time fails because of lack of practical knowledge in regard to the carrying on of such a club.
Then, again, we prepare lists of lodgings, holiday places, dispensaries, etc., useful to club members, form a registry of voluntary workers, and supply, whenever possible, the needs of affiliated clubs. We are also prepared to form, with the aid of the Workers' Educational Association, small reading parties for club members, with girl graduates from the universities, and arrange conferences and lectures, or series of lectures, among club leaders and working girls in central places or districts convenient to groups of clubs to discuss matters of general importance.
A very important part of our work consists in striving to improve the industrial conditions in workshop and factory life by means of petitions and deputations and through the Press. We circulate in clubs tracts on factory laws and other literature, with a view to increasing members' knowledge of industrial law, and we seek to stimulate the sense of responsibility among wage earners towards themselves, towards their employers, towards each other, and towards posterity.
A Guild of Health
Exceedingly beneficial, too, is our guild of health scheme, by which we seek to show girls how to maintain their health. The working of the guild is exceedingly simple. One club member is appointed as promoter and secretary, and she acts as correspondent with the Social Organisation Committee of the National Organisation. Twelve club members can form a guild of health, the subscription being one penny a year. The secretary then sends a correct list of the members' names and their private addresses and a badge of membership, and a little book is sent to the address of each individual member. Health lectures are given, and, among other advantages of the guild, it might be mentioned that every year open-air excursions are arranged for health guild members.
It is, however, specially in industrial work that club leaders and club members can make themselves a real power in the community, and there can be no doubt, I think, that the best means of benefiting the working girl of to-day is through the medium of social clubs. A girl's outlook on life is broadened, her prospects brightened, and her life made happier and more comfortable by associating with other girls who wish to better themselves. Many useful conferences held under the auspices of the organisation have proved the girls' interest in social and industrial work. Women, the circumstances of whose lives afford them a certain amount of leisure, are able to share their advantages of education with the weekly wage-earners on terms of mutual friendship.
Before the formation of our organisation, Mrs. Glover, helped by a special committee, secured the provision of rest-rooms, food supplies, and fair sanitary conditions for employees in exhibitions. It had been hoped that this work would have been taken up by the Government through the enactment of their Shops Bill, but the important work is still dependent on voluntary effort, and Mrs. Glover and her colleagues are organising the work through the N.o.g.c., who have made themselves financially responsible. By careful management, a good proportion of the cost is covered by the proceeds of the refreshment bar.
Our able secretary, Miss Levy, is always glad to answer inquiries and give information to anyone calling at the office of the National Organisation of Girls' Clubs, 118, Great Titchfield Street, London, W.