Born in 1891 in Putney, London as Rosina Ellis, she moved to Clay Cross, Derbyshire in 1906 and Chesterfield in 1910. Rose became a teacher in an infants’ school and a member of the British Socialist Party.
In 1916 she married Alfred Smith and in the same year herself became a wartime munitions worker. She organised women newly drawn into the workforce into a union. This led to her becoming a full time union official. In 1919 she gave birth to twins, Percy and Ted and she formally joined the Communist Party in 1921.
By 1922 she had helped found the Mansfield branch of the Communist Party. As a married women, Rose Smith was barred by law from her profession of teaching and hence from regular union membership.
She became involved, between 1923 and 1927, in the Mansfield branch of the Miners Minority Movement. In 1925, during the run-up to the General Strike, Rose opened her home to the activists as a distribution and agitation centre. She became a highly popular speaker at meetings in support of the miners, accompanying Arthur Cook in March 1926 when he spoke at a Mansfield women’s meeting. Rose called for every miners’ wife to be in a special section of the union; she was also a vocal advocate of birth control.
During the summer of 1926, the president of the Minority Movement, Tom Mann, put his weight behind her campaign for trade unionism to be the concern of the whole family, not exclusively or chiefly just men and wives and daughters were accepted as associated members of the movement.
From 1929, she was a full time Communist Party organiser and from 1930-4 active in the Textile Minority Movement. Rose was active in Lancashire in the 1930s, later in Bolton where she was a full-time organiser for the Communist Party. But she was arrested early on in this period, during the “more looms” struggles of cotton workers. In 1931, she was living in Burnley with her two sons who went to school in the town. It seems that she may have been sent to the area to assist in the militant struggles of women in the textile industry then unfolding.
Rose was arrested and given a three months prison sentence for “watching and besetting” during a mill dispute. Presumably she was scouting the activities of blacklegs at their homes?)
(Another woman with her, Amy Hargreaves was given a fine of £8, as a union member was defended and may thus have avoided prison.)
Rose was to have contested Burnley in the coming general election. The Communist candidate now had to be Jim Rushton and the contest in the atmosphere created by Rose’s imprisonment created a sensation in the town. A meeting of a reported two thousand local people was held on the cattle market with Ernie Woolley and Amy Hargreaves as supporting speakers to Rushton. A Tory won the seat against Arthur Henderson for Labour and the Communist vote was thus squeezed to 512 votes.
In the 1932 Bolton council elections, Rose Smith stood as a candidate in East Ward securing 177 votes, whilst another Communist candidate was Comrade Lomax who secured 155 votes.
Elsewhere in Bolton another Smith (possibly Rose’s husband) gained 188 votes in Bradford ward.
Other Communists did as well and some very well – Walsh (207) and Derbyshire (187) in Derby ward, Bentley (310) and Holland (291) in Holliwell Ward, Wainwright in North ward (86), and Shaw (426) and Rostron (321) in West Ward.
Rose was the leader of the 1932 Women’s Hunger March and a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee from 1932 to 1938, when she was the national women’s organiser of the party.
From 1942 to 1955, Rose was a journalist with the Daily Worker. On retirement, she went to her family out in Australia. In 1960, Rose joined the staff of the official Chinese news agency in Beijing, where she remained until her death at the age of 94 years on 23rd July 1985.
Sources: Morning Star August 19th 1985 and additional miscellaneous pieces
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