Florence Anne Cooter (1912-2004): Class, Politics and Protest.

Florence’s memoir does not dedicate its time to focusing on her political or class views. However, we can make our own assumptions from studying her memoir and contacting her family. From the title itself ‘Seventh Child’ Florence already indicates at the working class family she was raised in:

“I was born Florence Anne…to Jane and Walter Watson, then 7th child, my mother being a seventh child.” (1)

Being the seventh child in her family which continues to grow even further after she is born, indicates a working class background. Their place in society as part of the working-class is also confirmed by the wide range of jobs and careers her Father takes on in order to support his family. Florence describes a traditional family set up with her Mother remaining at home to take care of the children and no mention of another career or job.

Florence chooses not to mention her views on the government or laws and only refers to politics as she discusses her experience of living through the war. Although only a child at the time, the 1918 Representation of the People Act which gave women over 30 the vote provided they, or their husband, met the property qualification would have presumably affected Florence’s mother and was a political enfranchisement for women. In 1928 when Florence was 16 years old, The Equal Franchise Act was introduced after women across England had fought for the right for women to be given the vote on same terms as men. This allowed everyone over 21 the right to vote and the right to a political voice. This was a great achievement for women and sparked the rise of equal opportunities for women that continued to grow into the late 21st century. Mike Savage explains in Social Class in the 21st Century how:

“Women were seen by men therefore as reinforcing class hierarchies, but they also had the potential to challenge them, which made them a focus of anxiety and objects to be regulated”. (2015, 28).

Suffragettes campaigning for the right to vote.

Although Florence would have been aware of the politics at the time, she refuses to mention anything political in her memoir despite this landmark event. Again, Florence does not allow her views and beliefs to influence us as readers and instead of trying to push her opinions on us, she simply allows us to enjoy reading about her life.

Florence encourages her children to work hard for what they want to achieve in life, just as she had to work hard from an early age herself. The pride Florence obtains for her children’s achievements is shown throughout the memoir when she reflects on their education:

“Some nights we would put on all the lights and just sit in the van with all the window and 2 doors open and let the moths and insects come into us. It was all very interesting. This sort of life went on, all the time the boys were at school age, it never interfered with their school work just the reverse it helped them.” (44). Selina Todd explains:

“If the past teaches us anything it is this: if the people want a better future, we can, and must, create it ourselves”

This is shown when Florence puts emphasis on the boys long term education – something which she lacked herself.

“So all the hours of studying nature must have helped them” (44).

In terms of class, it’s difficult to see where Florence fits in, as although clearly from a working-class family, Florence’s father is furious when he finds out she is a bookkeeper for a department store and refuses to let her work in a “factory”. It could be seen here that Florence’s father is refusing his class by turning his nose up at Florence’s job.

I enjoy reading Florence’s memoir even more so because she refuses to mention her personal opinion on class and politics and instead, writes with no shame of her family upbringing and who truly believed in hard work.

 

Works Cited:

181 COOTER, Florence Anne, ‘Seventh Child’, MS, pp.71 (c.71,000 words). Brunel University Library found in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989)

Savage, Michael, Niall Cunningham, and Fiona Devine. Social Class In The 21St Century. 1st ed. [London]: Pelican Books, 2015. 

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