Henry Pelling in his book "Origins of the Labour Party 1880-1900" states that
"The "New Woman" was almost as important an element in the leadership as the "New Unionism".
It is therefore surprising that very little has been written about these " New women". Information on the life and great work of great women like Julia Dawson remains hidden from history.
It was Julia Dawson, who famously planned and championed the Clarion Van's which spread the creed of Socialism throughout Britain from the smallest villages to the largest towns.
Julia Dawson was in fact the pen name of Mrs Myddleton-Worrall of Wallasey, Cheshire. Mrs Worrall had been active in the Liverpool and Lancashire Socialist movement for a number of years.
In October 1895 she was asked to become the editor of the letters page "Our Women's letter" of the Socialist newspaper "The Clarion", a position Julia Dawson held until 1911. She had taken over the role from fellow Liverpool socialist Eleanor Keeling Edwards wife of the Joseph Edwards, Editor of the Labour Annual.
At the time the Clarion, as Robert Blatchford the Editor stated many years later "had, more influence on the public opinion in this country than any other English journal, The Times included".
Prof Krista Cowman has stated, the Julia Dawson's Clarion column "Became an important forum for developing and promoting ideological positions around issues with particular relevance to women". Topics included women's suffrage, contraception, divorce, children's health and working conditions.
But undoubtedly one of Julia Dawson's most important achievements, which represented a major step forward in the development of British Socialism was her plans to establish Clarion Vans to promote Socialism.
Julia Dawson announced in the Clarion on 29th February 1896, a plan which she said had been taking shape in her mind for some time. This plan was for a thirteen week Clarion women's van tour starting in June 1896. She proposed that Socialist women speakers would tour with the Clarion van two or three at a time; and that they would be accompanied by a boy ("somebodies younger brother perhaps") who would "volunteer to look after the horse, make fires and wash up dishes - without wages".
William Ranstead (1859-1944), the Cheshire businessmen and Clarion supporter offered a suitable vehicle (later known as the Clarion pioneer van). The same van had been used before on the streets of Liverpool as a soup van, selling bowls of soup for a farthing to the poor and unemployed. As well as acting as a bill board for posters advertising the Clarion .
The previous summer the van it had been part of the Clarion camp at Tabley Brook near Knutsford.
Dawson's plan was for Socialist leaflets and literature to be distributed and sold at the open air meetings held in village greens and in the market places of small towns throughout the country.
Julia Dawson's appeal was for women volunteers to speak at the meetings, for the loan of a horse, and for money (about £80 initially) to buy food, fuel and equipment. If successful she stated this could be an annual summer activity, eventually with four or five vans on the road in various parts of the country.
She also envisaged the Clarion Van speaking tour securing significant strategical support from the Clarion Cycling Club and Clarion Scouts "big brothers" there on bikes to greet the Van's arrival in towns and villages, and that sisters will get their work done early that day to join the gatherings".
The call for money and volunteers was quickly answered. A leading socialist speaker Caroline Martyn, undertook to join the van for a whole month, helped by young and able workers such as Ada Nield, an elected socialist member of Crewe Poor Law Guardians and Catherine Mayo an organiser and lecturer for the Women's Co-operative Guild.
Julia Dawson proudly announced that this would be
"The first Socialist Van ever put on the road by women" The Van's route in Summer 1896 was to be Chester, where the "Lone Scout", Bob Mason and his Liverpool comrades would provide assistance; then the Clarion van would travel through Shropshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire concluding in County Durham.
Liverpool Clarion Cycling Club announced to its members in the Clarion that there would be a big send off for Julia Dawson's Clarion van from Chester market place at 4.30 pm on Saturday 13th June 1896.
Two members of the Clarion board would be present Bob Mason "Lone scout", Joe "the Waggoner" O'Donnell and his son Will - all three veterans of the Liverpool soup Clarion van. On the appointed day thousands of well wishers turned out in brilliant sunshine to see the first Clarion Van on it's way, headed by the Liverpool Clarion Brass Band and followed by a column of fifty Clarion cyclists and a crowd on foot marching to the inspiring strains of the "Marseillaise".
As for the Clarion van tour, the Clarion reported that despite constant rain, it had been a successful venture. One of the Clarion women speakers Ada Nield had according to one report developed into an effective speaker, with clear head and firm grasp of facts, her hold over audiences resided in her gift for telling phrases, her eagerness and animation, and her sincerity; also, according to several witnesses, in her appearance - her colouring, and her mobility of her expression. she was very pretty, with grey blue eyes, a fair complexion and beautiful curling auburn hair.
The Clarion Vans were initially met with great hostility, but the women speakers soon became very adapt at handling hostile crowds, a hostility often brought on by drink and Conservative Party agitation.
Caroline Martyn the founder of the Glasgow Socialist Sunday School and trade union organiser was one of the greatest women orators of the time, she was due to join the Clarion van tour in August, however she tragically died of pleurisy, while organising women textile workers in Dundee on the 23rd July 1896 aged just 29. A fund was established to build a second Clarion Van known as the "Caroline Martyn Clarion Van" and this was unveiled in front of a crowd of over one thousand out side St Georges Hall, Liverpool on 1st June 1897.
By the end 1907 there were six Clarion Van's operating in different parts of the country and they continued their valuable work of Socialist propaganda until 1929.
As for the original Clarion "pioneer" van it ended up a wreck in St Annes on Sea on the Lancashire coast, having been used for a number of years as part of a summer camp for poor children.
Julia Dawson was also heavily involved in working with the children of the poor in Liverpool, through the Clarion Cinderella Club, becoming it's first National Secretary.
The background to the development of the Clarion Cinderella Club's was that Robert Blatchford had been asked by a correspondent to raise his powerful voice in a good cause" the correspondent had suggested that "the difficulty with the children of the poor was to get them to employ their time profitably after leaving school" he suggested that Blatchford should recruit a corps of ladies and gentlemen who would give their services graciously" to instruct the children at free night schools in the poor districts.
The first club was organised in Manchester in October 1889 and soon spread to many industrial towns in the North organising education, clubs, trips, holidays and even convalescence children's homes (Birmingham, Dundee, London, and Nottingham) for the poor. Bradford socialist Margaret and Rachel McMillan were also heavily involved in the Cinderella Clubs movement. According to the Liverpool Mercury of 11th January 1911, a Mrs Julia Dawson gave her annual super and concert for the cockle pickers on New Brighton Pier.
While at the Clarion, Robert Blatcford received a letter from arts and craft promo tour Godfrey Blount 1901 (Clarion 1st June 1901) encouraging the Clarion to establish a Clarion handicraft Guild to promote arts and crafts. While Blatchford was less than keeen on this new adventure Julia Dawson set about the task with great enthusiasm establishing a Clarion handicraft guild with the motto "Joy in work, and hope in leisure", becoming its firs Secretary.
The Guild encouraged the art of jewelery making, pottery, book binding, furniture and printing. By 1904 the Clarion handicraft Guild had 30 branches throughout Britain and was holding annual exhibitions of its work, its first in 1901 and largest group unsurprisingly being in Liverpool.
Jeannie Mole another early Liverpool Socialist and adherent to dress reform wore a Greek gown, the patten she handed down to Caroline Martyn and Julia Dawson.
Julia Dawson was also active in the Independent Labour Party, writing circa 1904 a booklet for the ILP entitled "Why Women want Socialism".
"under socialism every woman and child would be looked after by the State. the removal of poverty would alter relationships within the family and transform the quality of domestic life."
She also attended the first Socialist Women's conference in Stuttgart, Germany in August 1907.
Dawson championed the rights of the Lancashire cotton workers, who had became some of the most highly unionised, best paid women workers in the country with a commitment to equal pay, full suffrage and reproductive self determination.
We know very little else about Julia Dawson life, except that she may have died around 1947. Surely one of the most important British socialist deserves better recognition
Any additional information on Julia Dawson - Mrs Myddleton-Worrall most welcome.
Ref: Fellowship is life Denis Pye
Working Class Movement Library - Salford
Husband Harry Myddleton Worrall (Export Clerk) born Letherland, Lancashire living in Liscard Cheshire 1901 aged 40
I believe Julia Dawson in the 1901 census is Harriet A Worrall living at Liscard, Cheshire born Liverpool aged 42
Information points to " Julia Dawson" - Mrs Myddleton-Worrall dying around 1947
Other great Labour women include:
Caroline Martyn (Glasgow); Enid Stacey (Bristol); Julia Varley (Bradford & Birmingham); Ada Neild Chew (Potteries) Rachel McMillan and Margaret McMillan (Bradford & Lewisham) Sarah Reddish (Bolton) Mary Fenton MacPherson (Women's Railway Guild) Catherine Mayo (Women's Co-operative Guild), Mary MacArthur (National Fed of Women Workers);Jeannie Mole (Liverpool) Mary Barbour (Glasgow), Mary Middleton (ILP) Mary MacDonald; Dr Ethel Bentham(Newcastle); Ada Salter (Bermondsey) Katherine St John Conway Glasier (Bristol); Julia Scurr (Poplar); Caroline Ganley (Battersea); Clara Rackham (Cambridge) Beatrice Drapper (Deptford) Isabella Ford (Leeds) Isabella Bream Pearce (Glasgow) Mary Gawthorpe (Leeds); Hannah Mitchell (Ashton) Selina Cooper (Burnley) Mary Taylor (Halifax) Harriet Beanland (Burnley) Margaret Llewelyn Davies (Women's Co-operative Guild) Mary Gray (Battersea) Minnie Lansbury (Poplar); Kath Duncan (Deptford); Helen Crawford (Glasgow)
Councillor Brabara Chard at Southall