Clementina Black

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Clementina Maria Black (27 July 1853 – 19 December 1922) was an English writer, feminist and pioneering trade unionist, closely connected with Marxist and Fabian socialists. She worked consistently for women's rights at work and for women's suffrage.

Early life[edit]

Clementina Black was born in Brighton, one of eight children of the solicitor, town clerk and coroner of Brighton, David Black (1817–1892), and his wife, Clara Maria Patten (1825–1875), daughter of a court portrait painter.[1] She was educated at home, mainly by her mother, and became fluent in French and German.[2]

In 1875, Clementina's mother died of a rupture caused by lifting her invalid husband, who had lost the use of both legs. Clementina, as the eldest daughter, was left in charge of an invalid father and seven brothers and sisters, as well as doing a teaching job. Her siblings included the mathematician Arthur Black and the translator Constance Garnett.[2] She and her sisters moved in the 1880s to Fitzroy Square in London, where she spent her time studying social problems, doing literary work, and lecturing on 18th-century literature.


Black made the acquaintance of Marxist and Fabian socialists and became a friend of the Marx family, notably Eleanor Marx.[3] She was involved over a long period with the problems of working-class women and the emerging trade union movement. In 1886, she became honorary secretary of the Women's Trade Union League and moved an equal-pay motion at the 1888 Trades Union Congress. In 1889, she helped to form the Women's Trade Union Association, which later became the Women's Industrial Council.

Black was among the organizers of the Bryant and May strike in 1888. She was also active in the Fabian Society. In 1895 she became editor of Women's Industrial News, the journal of the Women's Industrial Council, which encouraged middle-class women to report on the conditions of work for poorer women. In 1896 she began to campaign for a legal minimum wage. By the early 1900s she was also active in the burgeoning women's suffrage campaign.[4]


Black's first novel of seven, A Sussex Idyl (sic), was published in 1877. An Agitator (1894) concerned a socialist strike leader. It was described by Eleanor Marx as "a realistic account of the British working-class movement".[3] Her others were non-political, the last, The Linleys of Bath (1911), being among the most successful.[5][6]

Black's two political works, Sweated Industry and the Minimum Wage (1907) and Makers of our Clothes: a Case for Trade Boards (jointly with C. Meyer, 1909) have been called "powerful works of propaganda".[3]


Details from the British Library catalogue.

  • A Sussex Idyl (novel, London: Samuel Tinsley, 1877)
  • Orlando (novel, London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1879)
  • Mericas and other stories (London: W. Satchell & Co., 1880)
  • Miss Falkland and other stories (London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1892)
  • An Agitator (London: Bliss, Sands & Co., 1894)
  • The Truck Acts: what they do, and what they ought to do (with Stephen N. Fox. London: Women's Trade Union Association, 1894)
  • The Princess Désirée (London: Longmans, 1896)
  • The Pursuit of Camilla (London: Pearson, 1899)
  • Frederick Walker (London: Duckworth & Co.; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1902)
  • Kindergarten Plays (verse, London: R. B. Johnson, 1903)
  • Sweated Industry and the Minimum Wage (London: Duckworth, 1907)
  • Caroline (London, John Murray, 1908)
  • A Case for Trade Boards (1909)
  • Makers of our Clothes: a case for trade boards. Being the results of a year's investigation into the work of women in London in the tailoring, dressmaking, and underclothing trades (with Adele Meier. London: Duckworth, 1909)
  • The Lindleys of Bath (London: Secker, 1911)
  • Married Women's Work, with others from the Women's Industrial Council (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1915)
  • A New Way of Housekeeping (London: Collins, 1918)

Personal details[edit]

Clementina Black, who remained unmarried, took into her home her niece Gertrude Speedwell, after the girl's father, Clementina's brother Arthur, had murdered his wife and son before committing suicide (reported in The Times, 21 January 1893). She died at her home in Barnes, Surrey, on 19 December 1922 and was buried at East Sheen Cemetery, London.[3][7][8]


  1. ^ Ross, Ellen, Slum Travellers: Ladies and London Poverty, 1860–1920.
  2. ^ a b Spartacus Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Grenier, Janet E., "Black, Clementina Maria (1853–1922)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004). Retrieved 2 May 2015, pay-walled.
  4. ^ Turbulent Londoners Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  5. ^ Webbiography. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  6. ^ British Library catalogue. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  7. ^ Famous graves
  8. ^ "People of historical note buried in the borough A to L". London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2016.