Campaigning for baths might seem like an unusual cause for a suffragette, but for Elizabeth it was one of her most important battles. With no facilities to wash at the pithead miners came home tired, often wet and always blackened with coal dust. It was the miner’s wife’s job to heat up enough hot water to fill a tin bath for her husband to wash in. This was a laborious and often dangerous activity. It wasn’t unheard of for children to be scolded or even die after falling into a bath of boiling water. And it undoubtedly contributed to premature births and miscarriages. As a miner’s daughter Elizabeth’s campaign for pithead baths came from the heart.
Her moto was ‘education, aggravation and organisation' and in 1919 she and two miners’ wives gave evidence to the House of Lords and the Sankey Royal Commission which was investigating the lives of women in mining areas. Describing many women as ‘nothing but slaves’, her words did much to persuade the mine owners and the Government that pithead baths were essential. In Europe pithead baths had been used since the 1880s, and following a Welsh delegation to see these facilities the first baths had been built at Deep Navigation Colliery in Treharris, in 1916. Eventually a special fund, administered by the Miners’ Welfare Committee, was established in 1926 to build pithead baths and between 1921 and 1952 more than 400 pithead baths were built in Britain.
Elizabeth was interested in much more than baths. In 1910 she had married Thomas T. Andrews, one of the founders of the Rhondda branch of the Independent Labour Party. She was the Labour Party's first Women's Organiser for Wales from 1919-1947. Her actions led to the first Nursery School in the Rhondda opening in the 1930s and in 1948 she was elected a member of Glamorgan executive health committee by Aneurin Bevan. In 1949 she was awarded an OBE and in 1957 published her life story - A Woman’s Work is Never Done – a first-hand account of life at the end of the 19th century in the Rhondda. Not bad for a girl from Penderyn. She died in 1960 aged 77.
Where to Visit?
Big Pit, Blaenavon, where the pit head baths have been preserved in the National Mining Museum
A Blue Plaque on 73 Bailey St, Ton Pentre, marks Elizabeth Andrews' Rhondda home.
Heritage Trails - The Rhondda Valleys
This car tour around the Rhondda passes the home of Elizabeth Andrews.