22 March 2021
Recording of the week: Women’s lives in pre-war Leeds
This week’s selection comes from Daisy Lindlar, Marketing Manager for Sound.
Women’s History Month is marked in March every year to celebrate and recognise women’s contributions to society and history.
Our archives are full of sounds that lift the lid on the experiences of women through the decades. From Florence Nightingale’s voice, to Grace Nichols’ poetry, to accounts from Holocaust survivors like Elizabeth Abraham and Eva Neumann.
Oral histories about women’s day-to-day lives offer unparalleled insight into what life was like for them in days gone by. As the saying goes, “the personal is political”.
This recording features Olive Metcalf talking about her life in working class Leeds before World War II. She talks about her weekly schedule of household chores, detailing how she ran her home in a time before gas ovens, loos in the house and electric irons. She also recalls reading her female neighbours’ letters out to them, as they couldn’t read themselves. One of them hadn’t had the chance to learn as she started working in a mill aged eight.
The recording is also full of laughter. My personal favourite moment is Olive remembering her “Romeo and Juliet act” to passers-by when sitting out to wash her windows. And with the Yorkshire accent regularly named one of the most friendly, trustworthy voices around, it’s simply a joy to listen to.
This oral history was recorded in 1981 and is part of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture (C1829). It’s from a collection of recordings from the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life studies, and was gifted to us in 2019 to be digitised by our Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project (UOSH), which is generously funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.