Paterson, Emma Anne (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 44
Paterson, Emma Anne

no contributor recorded

PATERSON, Mrs. EMMA ANNE (1848–1886), organiser of trade unions among women, born in London on 5 April 1848, was daughter of Henry Smith (d. 1864), head master of the schools of St. George's parish, Hanover Square. At a very youthful age she interested herself in the amelioration of the political and industrial condition of women, and in 1867 became assistant secretary of the Workmen's Club and Institute Union. She thus gained opportunities of studying the trade organisations of working men. In February 1872 she transferred her services to the Women's Suffrage Association, of which she was appointed secretary. This post she resigned in 1873, when she married Thomas Paterson (1835–1882), a cabinet-maker and wood-carver of Scottish origin, who devoted his leisure to the study of economic and philosophical questions. He was successively honorary secretary and vice-chairman of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union, and organised the Workmen's International Exhibition at the Agricultural Hall in 1870. Mr. and Mrs. Paterson spent a prolonged honeymoon in America. On her return to London in 1874 she founded the Women's Protective and Provident League, with the object of helping working women to form trade unions. The scheme was suggested to her by the Female Umbrella Makers' Union of New York. Of the Women's League Mrs. Paterson was honorary secretary and organiser until her death. Its members were largely men and women of the upper middle class who interested themselves in social reform, and were ready not only to give working women instruction in trade-unionist principles, but to pay the preliminary expenses of organising unions among women engaged in trade. A similar body was established at the same time at Bristol at Mrs. Paterson's suggestion, and was called the National Union of Working Women. The first women's union founded by the league in London was the bookbinders' in 1874. Unions of upholstresses, shirt-makers, tailoresses, and dressmakers quickly followed. In 1875 Mrs. Paterson was a delegate to the Trade Union Congress at Glasgow as a representative of the bookbinders' and upholstresses' societies. No woman had been admitted to the congress before. She attended each succeeding congress (except that of 1882) until her death, and by her tact partially overcame the prejudices of the working-men delegates against female agitators. In the league's behalf she repeatedly addressed public meetings in London, Oxford, and other cities in the provinces, and edited the ‘Women's Union Journal,’ a monthly record of the league's proceedings, which was started in February 1876. Meanwhile, in 1876, Mrs. Paterson had founded the Women's Printing Society at Westminster. To the management of that concern, which became a pronounced success, she devoted all her spare energies and personally mastered the printer's craft. Her husband died on 15 Oct. 1882. In 1886 she published, with a memoir, a posthumous work by him, ‘A New Method of Mental Science, with applications to Political Economy.’ The views advanced were original and full of promise. In spite of increasing ill-health, Mrs. Paterson never relaxed her self-denying and sagacious labours until her death at her lodgings in Westminster on 1 Dec. 1886; she was buried in Paddington cemetery.

The Women's League was rechristened the Women's Trade Union League in 1891. More than thirty trade societies have been affiliated to it. A fund, raised in Mrs. Paterson's memory, was employed in securing offices for the association in the buildings of the Workmen's Club and Institute Union in Clerkenwell Road, which were completed in 1893.

[Women's Union Journal, December 1886; Times, 6 Dec. 1886; private information; Women's Work by Misses Bulley and Whitley, with preface by Lady Dilke, 1894, pp. 67, 76.]