Dame Anne Godwin
In the past, many of the women who have been awarded DBEs or Dame Commanders of the British Empire (yes, no one seems to have told the people in authority that recent history would suggest that the Empire no longer exists, despite the apparent desire of some Brexiteers to reconstitute it) came from well-to-do families, which afforded them the financial security to go on and do the good works which earned them the damehood. I am not for a moment belittling these women’s achievements – when I learn of their lives and work I am genuinely humbled by how much they have done.
Nevertheless, the life and successes of Dame Beatrice Anne Godwin are particularly notable when one learns that she left school at 15 to become a counting house clerk for a London store, working 10 hours a day on a 6-day week, for 5 shillings a week, or 20p. That equates roughly to £71 in today’s money, although during sales times she worked an extra 3 hours a day, which earned her a free supper.
During the First World War Godwin worked as an Army pay clerk. Requests by the women workers for higher wages were flatly refused, which marked the beginning of Godwin’s interest in unions and collective bargaining. In 1920 she joined the newly created Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries (AWCS), becoming a full time official – the London organiser – in 1928. The union had to battle hard to obtain rates of pay that were comparable with those of their male counterparts.
Much of Anne and her compatriots’ energies were spent in raising the awareness of the AWCS, whose members were female civil servants employed on a temporary basis. After 1930, many of the women were made permanent employees, which meant they were obliged to join the National Association of Women Civil Servants. The vacancies in the administration of the AWCS created by these movements gave Godwin opportunities to move up the ranks, chances which she seized on.
The 1930s saw the beginning of negotiations on the possible amalgamation of the AWCS with the National Union of Clerks. Godwin was in charge of negotiation and general administration, and when the merger was formalised at the end of 1939, she was appointed Assistant General Secretary of the newly created Clerical and Administrative Workers Union (CAWU), with guaranteed attendance at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Conference for five years. Godwin also edited the union’s journal The Clerk.
In 1949, one of the seats on the TUC General Council reserved for women became vacant, and Godwin won the ballot, serving until her retirement in 1962. She also became General Secretary of the CAWU in 1956; her management style was widely appreciated. She was a firm believer in equality of opportunity and that women and men should receive equal pay for the same work. One wonders what she would have made of some of the recent revelations regarding pay grade differences at the BBC and in the City, amongst others.
Godwin was also a great believer in education, serving on the National Trade Union Committee of the Workers’ Educational Association. She also campaigned for more higher education opportunities for working men and women.
Dame Anne Godwin spent the last year of her career as President of the TUC – one of the first women in this role – and was awarded the DBE in 1962. She left a strong record of committed involvement to improving the lives and working conditions of all working men and women.