On the shoulders of co-operative women – the story of Ada Salter

The co-operative sector stands on the shoulders not of giants but of working people who together achieved giant-sized success. Co-operation is something not just of its day but that cascades down the generations.

One of the co-operative women I have met, or rather whose statue I have visited, is Ada Salter.

The first female Mayor in London, Ada Salter was a Quaker, a pacifist and a socialist. With her husband, Alfred, a pioneering doctor, she transformed residents’ lives and hopes in and around the South London quarter of Bermondsey, focusing on improving the social and environmental conditions in which people lived. Health outcomes improved, but before they did, her own daughter was one to have died, age ten, of Scarlet Fever. By the 1930s, 7,000 trees in the area had been planted thanks to her work.

In 1913, thanks to the Ada Salters, the Labour Co-operative Bakery was created. This started with a staff of 9 baking 5,000 loaves a week. By 1924, there were 100 staff baking 94,000 loaves a week – of good daily bread, and in the co-operative tradition, unadulterated. They paid above the union rate, with hours and conditions among the best of any.  

Beauty and peace was at the heart of her vision, as they can be ours today.

2 thoughts on “On the shoulders of co-operative women – the story of Ada Salter

  1. Good post. Useful also to note that the Peckham Experiment – an integrated approach to Health Care – was the brain child of Alfred Salter, a doctor and the ILP MP for West Bermondsey, and the husband of Ada Salter, the first woman Labour mayor of Britain. Salter was determined to bring together ‘a solarium for tuberculosis, dental clinics, foot clinics, ante-natal and child welfare clinics’, formerly scattered in ‘ordinary dwelling houses’, into one building that would serve as ‘the Harley Street of Bermondsey’, where the range of services would provide the poor of the borough with ‘the best diagnosis and advice that London could provide … as good as any the rich could secure’.

  2. Great story – as always Ed. Thank you.

    I wanted to share the case studies around two women coops that we have showcased recently.

    One is an education cooperative from Iran http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/news/WCMS_577533/lang–en/index.htm

    The other is a cooperative federation of self employed women across sectors from insurance and finance to care and marketing http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/news/WCMS_569960/lang–en/index.htm

    For more on women empowerment and gender equality among cooperatives you can always visit ILO’s cooperatives website where we are showcasing publications, events, partners and tools working in advancing this important area of work http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/areas-of-work/WCMS_543735/lang–en/index.htm

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