The joint guardian of Salford’s Working Class Movement Library, Ruth founded the library with husband Edmund Frow (see separate entry) more than 50 years ago and it grew into one of the country’s most important collections of working class history. The library’s priceless collection of 30,000 books, pamphlets, periodicals and 2,000 items of memorabilia started life crammed into the Frows’ home in King’s Road, Old Trafford, in the 1950s.
Ruth Frow was born in 1923. After service in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Ruth’s interest in labour politics led her in 1945 to join the Communist Party, in which she found "enormous comradeship and warm-hearted generous people." She was involved with the British Peace Committee and became the secretary of the Teachers for Peace group. At a Communist Party summer school, she met her future husband Eddie, finding that they had a common interest in books, particularly on labour history. They saw their respective collections as complementary and so decided to merge them into a rudimentary history library.
Ruth moved to Manchester to eventually set up house with Eddie, who was then an Amalgamated Engineering Union official. Partly influenced by the Communist Party historian James Klugmann, they spent their holidays scouring the country to buy books and memorabilia of the broad labour movement. On each trip, they filled their little 1937 Morris van, which was always driven cheerfully by Ruth.
As secretary of the Stretford Communist Party branch in the early 1960s, Ruth worked hard for the Daily Worker bazaars and was the branch delegate to the 26th congress of the Party. She was also secretary of the Manchester Peace Committee and the first vice-chairman of Manchester CND. Ruth was also an active member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and represented Manchester Teachers Association on the Manchester and Salford Trades Council. She was president of Altrincham NUT in 1970. In her professional career, she became deputy head at a large comprehensive, Parr’s Wood School in Didsbury.
For years the formidable couple travelled the country, building a library which today tells the story of working people’s fight for social justice and political rights over the past 200 years. As Ruth and Eddie’s collection grew, it filled more than just the walls of every room at 111 Kings Road. Many of the books that they had unearthed were irreplaceable gems. Apart from on open days and other events, the couple always welcomed visitors to see the collection. In 1972, a charitable trust was set up and, in 1974, Ruth and Eddie gave the free use of their home to the North-West Labour History group to pursue its activities.
In 1987, Salford City Council generously decided to move the library at its expense into Jubilee House, a former 40 room nurses’ home. A lottery award enabled the library to create its own website and put its catalogue online, allowing anybody could search its contents. E-mail enquiries poured in from many countries and the library gained an international reputation. Visitors from home and abroad were always greeted with a really warm, personal welcome by Ruth. All felt the friendly hospitable environment she created, particularly the students who came to further their research. She was happy to conduct a tour of the library’s 40 rooms and draw on her detailed encyclopaedic knowledge of working-class history to answer any questions.
The Friends of the Library society was started by Ruth and Salford MP Frank Allaun became its president. Ruth’s organisational skills were put to good use in mounting many exhibitions in the library and elsewhere and also events in the library annexe. She had a major input into all the books and pamphlets published jointly by her and Eddie.
Her research for her MEd at Manchester University on the half-time system of education was later published in a book, which is now a standard work on the subject. Both Ruth and Eddie were later awarded honorary degrees from the Central Lancashire and Salford Universities for their services to the labour movement.
When Salford Council reduced its support, Ruth played a large part in winning financial and other support from trade unions and friends, thus making possible the library’s continued independent existence.
Apart from her politics, Ruth specialised in English literature. She was passionately fond of poetry, particularly Shelley. She kept herself up to date with the latest developments in the theatre and film, regularly attended Hallé concerts and was an opera enthusiast. The couple lived in a flat within the library before moving to a home in Salford.
Unsurprisingly, Ruth’s wide circle of friends extended well beyond the labour movement; she made an indelible impression on all she met.
When Eddie died, she carried on undaunted working for the library. Never did she see herself as a leader, though many others did, but rather as the servant of the library – that was what mattered to her.
Ruth died suddenly, aged 85 years of age, on January 11th 2008, after a stroke and a heart attack, just a month after she welcomed news that her ‘labour of love’ had won a £313,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant to be spent on its project `The Past Meets the Present: a History of Working Lives’. She said at the time: "This project will ensure the collections are accessible for generations to come." With the collective that she was instrumental in developing and the support of the labour movement, her dream will surely be realised.
Sources: Bernard Barry, Morning Star 21 January 2008; additional information – Deborah Linton Morning Star 15th January 2008