SYLVIA IN LONDON'S EAST END
In 1913 Sylvia Pankhurst left the Women's Social & Political Union to concentrate efforts on helping the Labour Party build up support in East London. There she saw ways of improving conditions for people, and set about putting them into effect wherever she could. She persuaded the Prime Minister to have food parcels sent to hungry East Enders. When Sylvia became aware of the extreme poverty women and children in London’s East End were facing, she went to help in every way she could, opening mother and baby clinics and organising practical assistance and education.
She established a milk distribution centre for babies, many of whom were too ill to digest their food. So she also opened a clinic alongside the centre, staffed by a doctor, who treated patients without charge. Within two weeks of war being declared, as food ran short, Sylvia had also opened the 'Cut Price Restaurant.' Thanks to the superhuman efforts of local builders, tradesmen and families who donated labour, china cutlery and money. It was claimed by locals that many lives were saved. In 1915 they served about 400 meals daily and every day Sylvia joined them.
Sylvia converted a disused pub, the Gunmakers' Arms, into a mother-and-baby drop-in centre called the Mother's Arms. A new toy factory was her answer to the dozens of tiny failing workshops where women were paid a pittance. Toys were no longer being imported from Germany, so Sylvia’s factory employed 59 women to fill the gap. It was a haven for them. First they turned out wooden toys and then dolls: black, white and yellow, followed by stuffed cats, dogs and bears. One day, Sylvia took a taxi full of her wares to Selfridges new store in Oxford Street and cajoled Gordon Selfridge himself to become a stockist. No wonder the East Enders called her 'Our Sylvia.'
(From text by Shirley Harrison)