Rosa Bell (b. 1902): Politics, Protest & Class

Rosa does not touch upon politics in her memoir or express any particular opinions on the topic, considering the primary focus of her memoir is to reflect on her family and home life. However, she does mention in passing that she attended a “Girls friendly society” (pg. 104) and a “temperance meeting” (pg. 26)


The Girls’ Friendly Society was originally based in London during the 1870s by an Irishwoman named Elizabeth Townshend. Its goal was to help girls and women who came from the country to gain work based skills and training in order for them to find employment in the city as well as contribute to the British Empire. It was a Christianity influenced society that did require a membership, and Rosa’s group took place at the Rectory where she also taught at the Sunday schools. Since women were considered to be the oppressed sex, they had to take matters in their own hands, usually setting up organisations like that The Girls’ Friendly Society that appealed to women’s interests and prosperity.

The temperance meeting most likely will have been a reference to the temperance movement which began in the early 1800s in the United States before spreading awareness overseas to Britain. It was a social movement that focused primarily on the criticism of alcohol consumption and the promotion of teetotalism. Its aim was to demand changes in the alcohol laws to prohibit the availability of drink, and it went on to become quite a widespread movement especially in the 1840s.

There was an anxiety around the working class youth, believing that alcohol was just one of the factors that lead to crime, violence and idleness. Rosa knew various people who had succumbed to alcoholism, these include her grandmother’s husband who would spend their wages on drink, and people she generally knew in the village: “We always called him Giant… He had been a school teacher and was a Brilliant scholar – but like so many clever people Drink became his master… It did seem such a shame and we all liked him so much.” (pg. 63) So, this is a subject matter that she feels is deteriorating to people and they should be protected from its ruining effects.

The temperance movement was tied in with various religious organisations that went on to preach sobriety over in Christian groups, and as we know Rosa was a member of the church which meant she had a presence in this organisation that had continued right up to her day.


Further Reading:

  • Bell, Rosa. R.h.n. Remembers. Brunel University Library, July 1987.
  • Bourke, Joanna. Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity London: Routledge, 1994

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