Toy Factory

In what used to be a poor district of London, East End, activist, artist and suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst established a women's cooperative with various activities: milk centers, nurseries, discount restaurants and a toy factory. The ELFS (East London Federation of Suffragettes) toy factory, founded in 1914, was located on Norman Road and provided work for women who had lost their jobs during the First World War. The workers received a living wage of 1 £ a week and were encouraged to learn toy making and giving art lessons to be able to produce their own designs. It was a minimum wage, but it helped young women to earn a living during the war years. The toys were well received and praised for their artistic quality. Artist and book illustrator Walter Crane also contributed with design. In a groundbreaking move, the East London Suffragettes also opened a nursery adjacent to the factory. Pankhurst worked politically for equal pay for work and with the establishment of the factory, she was able to act concretely on the issue. Suffragette Norah Smyth documented the activities and published photos in the ELFS magazine The Woman's Dreadnought.

Ingela Johansson has been inspired by the toys in her creating on a traveling exhibition for preschool children in Södertälje municipality.

More to read about the toy factory can be found in the essay "Milk Days for Mothers - Approaching the archive of Sylvia Pankhurst in the Age of Austerity" in the book Three Histories, Three Circles, Three Horizons.