No, not a woman but a Luddite leader in drag.
Exactly 200 years ago this month West Yorkshire and Lancashire Luddites began smashing new technology because it was ‘hurtful to commonality’. In Huddersfield of the weekend 27-29 April we are celebrating our own very specific 200th anniversary of the Luddites’ actions there. It was in early Spring 1812 that unrest emerged in West Yorkshire. Wool shearers started attacking the new shearing machines in the wool industry. Weavers opposed the steam looms that wove cotton, replacing the cottage-based hand-loom lifestyle.
Women aplenty are at these 21st century celebrations. Not least among them is singer Annie Dearman, whose voice was raised in ’The Noisy Frame’, a compilation of song and testimony telling the lives of cloth makers 1780-1840.
But were women really Luddites, back then? Yes, but not many. There were activists (and stool pigeons) as well wives who supported and daughters who turned their backs and went off to work in the new mills.
Of the activists, the best-known are the Molyneux sisters: ‘Set fire to it! Now lads!’ the two very young women urged Luddite men on 24 April 1812, at Westhoughton Mill near Bolton, Lancs. It was only an hour after the soldiers sent to protect it had gone away. The mill was a cotton mill, newly driven by steam.
‘About fifty assembled near the mill…[descending on it]… they smashed through the gates and started to break windows in the mill, led by two young women, Mary Molyneux, 19, and her sister Lydia, 15, who were seen, according to court papers, “with Muck Hooks and coal Picks in their hands breaking the windows of the building”… shouting “Now Lads” to encourage the men on.
‘With the windows broken, men took straw from the stables and set a series of fires inside: “The whole of the Building,” wrote the Annual Register correspondent, “with its valuable machinery, cambrics, &c, were entirely destroyed. “’
Four days earlier four women had led an attack on Burton’s power loom mill, Middleton (now part of greaterManchester). It was 20 April and the women were Alice Partington, Anne Dean, Ann Butterworth, Millicent Stoddard. For rioting, making a tumult and breaking windows they were sentenced to six months apiece.
By contast Mary and Lydia Molyneux were acquitted. This was despite clear evidence to support the charge of ‘wilfully and maliciously & unlawfully setting Fire to and burning the Weaving Mill, Warehouses and Loop Shop of Messrs Rowe and Duncough at Westhoughton with intent to injure the said Messrs Rowe & Duncough’. They were not executed or deported, as Luddite men were, not least because of being female.
There are also women involved in the 1812 food protests in Leeds reputedly calling themselves ‘General Ludd’s wives’ , with one claiming to be their leader under the name of ‘Lady Ludd.’ 
There’s evidence that at least one woman sought to undermine the Luddites, or was suspected of doing so. On Friday (pay night) 24 April 1812:
‘Betty Armstrong was at the door of an Inn in Huddersfield when she was set by a group of people. Nearby were a group of cavalry soldiers, and one of them managed to get her away from the crowd before she was too seriously hurt. She was suspected of having given information about people held by the authorities on suspicion of being Luddites.
‘At midday on Saturday 25th, she was on her to way to see Joseph Radcliffe when she again set upon and badly beaten by a group of people. In the fracas, she had suffered a fractured skull.’ 
NOT REALLY WOMEN
Spoofy cross-dressing was not unusual, as a disguise; it was part of the prankishness too. ‘Ned Ludd’ (there are thought to have been many Neds) was said to have many wives. In April 1812 two men in womens’ clothes, claiming to be Ludd’s wives, attacked a Stockport factory owner’s house and his machines.
How do we know about such Luddite women?
1. Through court cases. http://ludditebicentenary.blogspot.co.uk/
2. But it’s through song we know about the conditions that brought about Luddism: In Weave by Steam (attributed to John Grimshaw), we hear the mother’s lament about generational change, indeed, betrayal:
…if you go into a loom-shop
Where there’s three or four pair of looms,
They are all standing empty,
Encumbrances of the rooms;
And if you ask the reason why,
The old mother will tell you plain
‘my daughter has forsaken them [the handlooms] and gone to weave by steam
So come all you cotton weavers, you must rise up very soon,
For you must work in factories from morning until noon.
You mustn’t walk in your garden for two or three hours a day,
For you must stand at their command and keep your shuttles in play.
And singer Annie Dearman has created an extremely cheeky song, The Weaver and his Shuttle, from a text in Bodleian library. It’s about a domestic row between a rebellious daughter and her mother who opposes her relationship. The chorus line is a defiant ‘I’ll have my weaver and his shuttle’ and there’s definitely double entendre there.
3. Fiction writer Rosanne Rabinowitz has written interestingly about women and Luddism in the novel Noise Leads Me. Mara, the vampire protagonist who strongly identifies with the have-nots and discontented, travels from 18th-century Montenegro and Vienna to the Luddite uprisings of 19th-century England and ends up squatting in Brixton and Reclaiming the Streets in the 1990s. 
 ( http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no6/luddites.htm, from a quote in Kirkpatrick Sale’s Rebels Against the Future, London 1995, p 143. )
 (See Malcolm I. Thomis, Jennifer Grimmett, Women in Protest, 1800-1850, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1982.)
 (Malcolm I.Thomis, The Luddites: Machine Breaking in Regency England, David & Charles, Newton Abbott, 1970, p22.)
 (Leeds Mercury of 2.5.1812 and other sources)
On 13 and 14 April, the University of Newcastle hosted the conference ‘Moving Dangerously: Women and Travel, 1850-1950’. Organised by Dr Emma Short, two keynote addresses and eighteen parallel sessions held participants entranced, enlivened and enthused. Literature graduates and academics predominated. At the same time, an interdisciplinary flavour was much in evidence, through the literary theme’s being interspersed with papers presented by graduates, academics and practitioners in film, history, geography, anthropology, engineering and law. Air travel and travel by boat, riding on camels and bicycles, motoring and travelling by tube, taking buses and trains locally, venturing abroad in urban and metropolitan climes, or internationally – women were revealed as intrepid travellers, sometimes itinerant, often times perpetual. The dangers of travel and the notion of women as dangerous travellers were explored, along with women as initiators of travel, as inventors and designers of many modes of travel, and women as everything other than ‘only’ ‘armchair travellers’ filled two intense days of presentations, discussions and debates.
Participation in the conference confirmed that women remain committed to travel – by whatever means available. Women came from London, Newcastle, Germany, Canada, the United States, Scotland,Portugal and Madeira, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands, Canary Islands, Australia, Poland, Switzerl, Italy, Wales – and north, south, west, east and central England. A plethora of universities was represented, as well as independent scholars contributing.
Avril Maddrell of the Universityof West England and Alexandra Peat of Franklin College, Switzerland presented keynote addresses. In ‘Women on the Move: Moving and Being Moved’, Dr Maddrell opened the conference, bringing a lyrical dimension to the notion and the reality of women travelling and women as travellers. Moving from place to place engages the traveller in ‘seeing the sights’ as well as ‘feeling’ them. Feeling and feelings are integral to the experience of travel, with women’s writing on and of their travels being incorporated into Dr Maddrell’s presentation to illustrate the travel experience as seen through women’s eyes, as heard and as felt by women’s bodies and women’s brains both physically and emotionally.
This setting of the scene was enhanced by Associate Professor Peat on the second day, when she took travelling to another dimension, in ‘The Limitless Horizon: Travelling in the Home’. The idea that the woman at home is nothing but ‘of the home’ was contested by reference to travel artifacts in the home; through furnishings as redolent of places far away – as in drapes and couches, wall hangings and bedding; by use o f cooking utensils such as the wok and bain-marie; so, too, styles of cooking and kitchen, breads and beverages. The challenge of the exotic nature of what is so often classed as ‘domestic’, together with the concept of the window as a ‘window to the world’ whilst also being a window into the world, affirmed both the vitality and the importance of seeing anew.
The renunciation of the tendency to be accepting of old, established ways of seeing was replicated in panel presentations. As is always the case, choice was difficult. The first day saw participants having to decide between ‘Middle Eastern Journeys’, ‘African Adventures’ and ‘Extreme Movements’, with the afternoon being a question of whether to attend ‘Class, Femininity and Travel’, ‘Empire and Travel’ or ‘Emancipatory Movements’, and, later, ‘Transatlantic Travels’, ‘Travel in the Press’ or ‘Movement Through Film’. For day two, decisions were equally complicated, with morning panels on ‘Modernist Movement I’, ‘Crossing the Boundaries of Eastern Europe’ and ‘Automotive Travel’, then ‘Autobiography and the Travelogue’, ‘Anthropology and/as Travel or ‘Politics and War’. The afternoon required decisions as to attending ‘Moving Through London’, ‘National Identity and Travel’ or ‘Modernist Movement II’.
Referring to some presentations rather than others presents as many conundrums, for even as to those sessions it was impossible to attend, the vigour of exchanges over coffee and tea, lunch, drinks and dinner was indicative of the high benchmark reached by all presenting and the content of all presentations. Nevertheless, for two that stepped outside the literary theme, Emma Baumhofer’s ‘On the Road: Passing Women inAmerica, 1890-1910’ and Nina Baker’s ‘Women Car Designers and Designing Cars for Women: The Arrol Galloway and the Volvo YCC’ were notable. An engineer, Baker looked at ‘designing women’ from the turn of the last century, illustrating her presentation with images of early motorised carriages which were not built to accommodate full skirts, yet which women drove, anyway, as well as contributing significantly to car design in those early days. Baker spoke, too, of the Volvo all-woman team which, although wrongly presented as a ‘first’ in terms of women car-designers, developed a prototype from which Volvo incorporated particular aspects and which remain integral to some Volvo models. In a completely different approach to ‘travel’, Baumhofer took as her focus women who ‘passed’ as men – taking men’s jobs, drinking in ‘all-male’ bars, swearing and gambling, marrying as men and being discovered, sometimes, only upon death. Women masqueraded as sailors, soldiers, pirates; worked in factories – as hard and as long as the men; changed names, identities and locations; and were the subject of scandal upon being ‘outed’ – whether alive or dead.
Meanwhile – one of the literary contributions to the conference, Ellen Turner’s ‘EM Hull’s Camping in the Sahara: Desert Romance Meets Desert Reality’ provided an insight into a woman-of-mystery of another kind. EM Hull’s famous sheik novels made both her and Rudolph Valentino famous – Hull for her graphic scenes of love-in-the-desert, Valentino for his depiction of Hull’s sheik who loves-in-the-desert. Hull’s pig-farmer husband simply ‘got on with it’ down on the farm, whilst Hull – and later she and their daughter – travelled the desert sands in (part at least) emulation of Hull’s heroines.
‘Love and romance’ in the context of travel and woman’s place was an element of two presentations on film, too. Andrew Hogan’s ‘Red Women on the Move: Soviet Representations of Women Travelling, 1925-35’ and Anna C. Sloan’s ‘Virgins inItaly: Tourism, Imperialism, and the American Women in 1950s Hollywood Melodrama’ sparked lively debate around the presentation and representation of women through film. Presenters and participants engaged in a thoughtful exchange on the role of ‘the journey’ both as figurative and literal cinema archetype in films featuring women protagonists, taking women forward in self-development, -confidence and -esteem, and ways in which that journey may be enhanced by travel into previously unknown climes.
In travelling, women show themselves to be brave and courageous, intrepid and innovative, inquisitive and, sometimes, supremacist, racist and even, perhaps, unbearable. ‘Moving Dangerously: Women and Travel, 1850-1950′ brought home so clearly the importance of exploring and affirming the many dimensions of women and women’s lives, all over the world.
Note: The conference programme in its entirety, including all titles of papers and presenters, may be found on the University of Newcastle website.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s books include No Fear of Flying – Women at Home and Abroad, one of twelve volumes in the ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series which contains autobiography by women of a broad range of backgrounds, ages and identities.
In 1825, Harriet Moore, a native of Sligo, Ireland, found herself the subject of national publicity after it emerged that she had lived as a man for the last six or seven years. At age 14, Harriet’s parents died and finding herself without protection, she donned her brother’s clothes and began working as an Irish grazier. She later came to England as a drover’s lad and went to work in the stables, where she got promoted to groom, then footboy. After two years Harriet was discharged and went to work in a salt yard, lodging with a woman named Lacy who discovered her sex by accident. Lacy blackmailed Harriet into marriage with her pregnant daughter Matilda, promising a never-received dowry. While successfully managing to work in the male guise, Harriet found that marriage unmanned her. Supporting a wife and child, and a wife’s mother into the bargain, was no easy matter- especially once Matilda became pregnant for a second time! Harriet left home to find work elsewhere, but found herself being prosecuted for wife desertion by the parish officers. As the law bore down, Harriet donned her petticoats, extricating herself from the obligations of marriage and fatherhood, and began looking for a job in domestic service.
Harriet was not alone in trying to pass as a member of the opposite sex. The history of cross-dressing and transgendering has highlighted both the numerous instances of individuals who dressed as the opposite sex and the multiple reasons for doing so. In the eighteenth century, there were numerous tales of female soldiers and sailors who enlisted and had long-successful careers in male guise. Their motives were varied from those who enlisted as it paid better than female occupations, to those for whom it was the only way to follow a male lover, to those who wished to fight for their country. There were often very practical reasons for donning male clothes with women, like Harriet, finding that being a lone woman was an unwelcome prospect and that male clothes offered a degree of protection against rape, seductions or other forms of violence. In Ireland, where the abductions of young women to force a marriage were common in the early nineteenth century, many a girl donned her brother’s clothes to protect her from raiding parties who invaded homes during the night. Some women may have been forced to cross-dress- the daughter who was born in place of a longed for son and dressed in male garb by parents was not just a modern phenomenon.
For other women, like Eleanor Butler and Anne Lister, cross-dressing marked their desire for other women, their affinity to a culture of like-minded women, and perhaps even suggested they wished to explore or challenge constructions of gender (like modern transgendering). Similarly, in the eighteenth-century dressing as women or behaving in effeminate ways began to be associated with some homosexual male sub-cultures, and some men chose to live their whole lives as women. Yet, men, like women, could have economic reasons for disguising themselves as women- a number of male thieves were found operating in female dress; there were male prostitutes who dressed as women, while men who wished to get access to a lover trapped by a family may seek employment as her maid. A number of men also dressed as women to escape detection- like Bonnie Prince Charlie who clad himself in a maidservant’s outfit to escape capture.
Even when women dressed as men for more ‘practical’ reasons, the act of cross-dressing was a challenge to the status quo, destabilising the gender norms so central to cultural hierarchies. The woman who became a successful man disrupted traditional notions of women as the weaker or second sex. Indeed, that transgression was at the heart of cross-dressing meant it was often central to early modern festivals, where the ‘world turned upside down’ was a key theme. Women dressed as men, men dressed as women, children dressed as kings and queens, beggars disguised themselves as rich men- the powerless became the powerful, if for a day. Cross-dressing was often a key component of the carnival, allowing people to vent frustration at social hierarchies- seen as natural or God-ordained- and at the same time, reinforcing their importance to community order.
Part of this tradition also saw men dressing as women in order to participate in social protest. Across Europe, it was common for male peasants to dress as women when participating in acts of vandalism, violence, theft or kidnapping that were committed in the name of social justice. Their clothing made them difficult to identify and perhaps made them seem less threatening from a distance- but also highlighted the symbolic nature of their actions. It was not violence committed by individuals for personal reasons- but an act of resistance towards or punishment upon those in the community who had transgressed social norms or failed in their responsibilities.
Far from cross-dressing being a sexualised or secretive act performed in private bedrooms (although no doubt examples of this also existed!), cross-dressing could be central to social order within the community. It could be used to transgress gender norms, but also to reinforce them. It was a vibrant social phenomenon that held different meanings in different times and places- and perhaps leads us to ask complex questions about its role in the modern world.
Ballina Impartial, 13/07/1825.
Alison Oram, Her Husband was a Woman: Women’s Gender Crossing in Modern British Popular Culture (Routledge, 2007).
Dianne Dugaw, Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850, (Cambridge U.P., 1989).
David Jones, Rebecca’s Children : a study of rural society, crime and protest (Clarendon Press, 1994).
Katie Barclay finds it fascinating that women could pass as men for decades, working alongside them, without raising raising questions of identity. She wonders what this tells us about appearance and constructions of gender in the past.