Hancock, Florence (1893–1974)

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Hancock, Florence (1893–1974)

British trade unionist. Name variations: Dame Florence Hancock. Born in Chippenham, Wilshire, England, in 1893; died in 1974; one of 14 children of a woolen weaver; attended Chippenham Elementary School until the age of 12; married John Donovan (a unionist), in 1964.

One of 14 children of an English weaver, unionist Florence Hancock was strongly influenced by her radically inclined father, who took her with him when she was ten to hear an address by David Lloyd George, the future prime minister. One of her lasting childhood memories was a phrase that Lloyd George uttered that day: "To deceive is always a contemptible thing, but to deceive the poor is the meanest trick of all." Building on that message, Hancock devoted her life to upholding the rights of England's laboring class.

At age 12, Hancock went to work as a kitchen maid in a cafe, then at 14 was employed at a condensed milk plant, where she worked for six years. She received an early lesson in gender and age discrimination when she was denied the highest wage for a woman (eight shillings, nine pence), because she had yet to reach the age of 21. In 1913, when the Workers' Union sent an organizer into the plant, she became one of the union's first recruits and was also instrumental in signing up 20 of her fellow workers. When the recruits were threatened with dismissal for their actions, Hancock helped organize a strike which lasted two weeks, but ultimately brought the workers a pay raise of three shillings a week. When work resumed, Hancock became dues collector, then branch secretary of the union. By 1917, she had risen to district officer for Wiltshire and Gloucester. The added responsibilities added hours to her day, as she had also been keeping house and caring for her brothers and sister since her mother's death in 1901.

As district officer, Hancock participated in a number of strikes, one of the bitterest against a laundry in 1918. The work stoppage lasted a month but resulted in a 100% raise for the employees. With the merging of the Workers' Union with the Transport and General Workers' Union in 1929, Hancock was sent to Bristol as a woman's officer, a post she held until 1942. In 1935, she was elected to the general council of the Trades Union Congress, which at the time controlled 7,500,000 organized workers. Elected president of the Congress in 1947, she became one of only two women to ever hold that British labor post. During World War II, she had also served as an advisor to the Ministry of Labor on women's war work.

In Hancock's ongoing campaigns for better standards for workers, she insisted on pay equity for women performing the same work as men, a principle that had the backing of the entire Trades Union Congress. She also worked to improve conditions and raise the status of domestic workers in the country (mostly women at the time). She once said that she would like to see the future domestic worker a college-trained girl, "not a left-over in a last-resort job." Hancock was equally concerned with children's issues, working to establish day nurseries for the children of married women.

During the 1950s, Hancock, who was described as an energetic, cheerful woman, full of good will, served on several government commissions. She was also governor of the BBC (1955–62) and director of Remploy (1958–66). In 1964, at age 71, she married a fellow unionist, John Donovan. She had been named a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in 1951.

sources:

Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography 1948. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1948.

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Hancock, Florence (1893–1974)

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