Playwright Marie Cooper’s poem for The Matchgirls Memorial

Arm in Arm in 1888

Reading Time: 2 minutes

My short poem, ‘Arm in Arm in 1888’ celebrating the achievements of the Matchgirls, is included in the book ‘Feathers and Pennies: Poems and Stories for the Matchgirls’. Published by Thamesis.

The book is a compilation of poems and stories written at the end of 2020 with Pen to Print and entered into their Matchgirls Memorial Writing Competition. 

The book celebrates what was achieved by the girls at the Bryant & May match making factory in East London in 1888. The conditions there were horrific. The pay was dismally low. The matchgirls were akin to slaves back then. Working 12-14 hours a day, they worked incredibly longs hours in a toxic environment. White Phosphorus vapour was in the air, on their workbenches, in their clothes and on their skin. It caused cancerous tumours, bone necrosis – ‘Phossy Jaw’ that made their jaw disintegrate.

It took a lot of courage for the women to do what they did. To stand up with, and for each other. To call for safe working conditions and better pay when they seemed to have no power. Though poor and relatively weak and vulnerable in a society where money and power is everything, together they found they could be strong. Collectively they withdrew their labour. The Matchgirl strike held up match production for 16 days. The matchgirls refused to work. They marched. They were in the newspaper. They made change happen.

You can read more about the struggles and triumphs of the Match girls over on the Matchgirls Memorial website.

The book ‘Feathers and Pennies: Poems and Stories for the Matchgirls’ published by Thamesis was officially launched on 27 July 2021 and is now available.

Proceeds from book sales go
to the Matchgirls Memorial campaigns.

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