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The Women of Steel

Friday, May 3, 2013

The following was published on the Progress website.

On a Sunday afternoon in a Sheffield Park a small group of women, now in their 90s, stepped forward to lead a 370-strong group on a sponsored walk.  The people had gathered to raise money for a new very special public work of art - a statue to pay tribute to the ‘Women of Steel’; the women who kept the steel industry going during the First and Second World Wars whilst men were called to duty.

The ‘Women of Steel’ fundraising campaign has caught the public’s imagination across South Yorkshire.  The local media have carried stories about how the young women stepped into the shoes of the men and ensured that steel production continued, so that the vital machinery parts reached our troops overseas.

The campaign was started by my constituent, Kathleen Roberts.  When she heard that, finally, the women of the Land Army and the armed forces were to be officially recognised for their war time contribution she wondered why the women who kept industry going were not included. After talking it over with her family she contacted the local paper believing that at best this might result in an article. To her astonishment the Star took up the cause - which led to a visit to meet the Prime Minister, a book and now agreement for a permanent memorial.

Kathleen learned to maintain machines when many qualified male engineers were called up.  She had to resist prejudice from male co-workers and supervisors, and along with her colleagues, Kathleen worked 12 hour shifts (day and night), six days a week. During air raids the women had to keep working in order to keep levels of steel production high. As safety was poor many women including Kathleen suffered injuries.

Seventy years on Kathleen says that working for the war effort made her strong.  She felt she could stand on her own two feet, make her own decisions, and earn her own living.  Kathleen wants the ‘Women of Steel’ statue in Sheffield to celebrate the sacrifices made by those who kept production going. She hopes that once built, it will receive wreaths on Memorial Day, or even flowers for a grandmother’s birthday, in recognition of their valiant war efforts.

The ‘Women of Steel’ story is an inspiration - they were strong individuals who knew they could accomplish anything if they put their minds to it.  After the war the men returned to take their place in the factories and the women were no longer required. The country was right to recognise the efforts of men in war but wrong to bury the story of women’s contribution.  We all owe a huge debt to these women. 

The ‘Women of Steel’ statue has been designed by Martin Jennings as an important new public artwork for Sheffield city centre to recognise the role of women in the steel works during both world wars.  The statue will convey the youth of the young women, like Kathleen, who went to work in the steel works.  It depicts them wearing the ill-fitting men’s boiler suits, which they were made to wear, and striding confidently forward arm in arm.  These women are an important part of our history and their work and sacrifices for our country should never be forgotten. 

Recognising the ‘Women of Steel’

The ‘Women of Steel’ fundraising campaign is unique in recent times.  Sheffield City Council is making a contribution towards the costs, but the majority of funds will be raised by ordinary people showing their support for these inspirational women.  Seventy years is already late to be showing our support, let’s get the statue erected before it is too late.

For more information on the ‘Women of Steel’ campaign visit:



To make a donation go to https://www.justgiving.com/womenofsteel/


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