Annie Bamford Tomlinson: Co-operator, campaigner, journalist

Marking our 150th anniversary looking at another icon of co-op history – and contributor to Co-op News

This year, Co-op News turns 150, and our celebrations include a series of articles looking at our life and times. This month, Dr Natalie Bradbury looks at the life of Annie Bamford Tomlinson, co-operator, campaigner and daring journalist …

Born in Rochdale on 29 June 1870, Annie Bamford Tomlinson came from a dynasty of journalists who shaped co-operative media. A memorial in Rochdale Cemetery – better known as the resting place for several of the Rochdale Pioneers – outlines her family’s contribution to co-operative journalism. Annie’s father, Samuel Bamford, was an early editor and secretary of the Co-operative News.

Born in Wardle, near Rochdale in 1846, Bamford was originally a wool sorter in the textile industry. He became editor of the Co-operative News in 1875, continuing until his death more than two decades later. His son William, Annie’s younger brother, began as a sub-editor on the Co-operative News, before succeeding Bamford as editor and secretary, positions he held for a further 23 years. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Annie Bamford became a journalist, starting out by assisting her father and brother in their work on the Co-operative News.

Annie Bamford was brought up in Manchester, where she attended the leading Manchester High School for Girls. Her upbringing was liberal for its time, yet she was aware of women’s subordinate status. She joined the Women’s Co-operative Guild (WCG) as a platform from which to address women’s issues in the co-operative movement and in wider society.

Related: 150 years of Co-op News: Gillan Lonergan on GJ Holyoake

Her father had established a ‘Woman’s Corner’ (later renamed ‘Women’s Corner’) in the Co-operative News in 1883, edited by Alice Acland. Acland used this column as a rallying call to readers, leading to the development of the WCG. Annie Bamford was active in the guild from an early age, becoming renowned as a hard-working secretary and an eloquent speaker. She helped establish a branch in Levenshulme, Manchester and spent more than ten years as secretary of the north-western section, a role she took on at the age of just 22. She later settled in Lancashire, where she remained committed to the guild for the rest of her life.

Journalism was both a means to spread the WCG’s ideas and to connect women. Annie Bamford regularly covered the guild’s activities in the ‘Notes for women’ section of the Manchester and Salford Co-operative Herald. In 1904, she became editor of the ‘Women’s Corner’, a position she held until her death. Through her work as a journalist and a guildmember, Annie Bamford met her husband, Charles Tomlinson, in 1901: both were reporting on the WCG’s annual congress in Blackpool and they married in 1904. Charles Tomlinson became editor of another co-operative periodical, the cultural magazine Millgate Monthly, established in 1905, then foreign correspondent for the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS)’s publications. Accounts of their relationship suggest it was mutually supportive and based on shared values and ideals.  

In 1918, Bamford Tomlinson was given sixteen pages of Millgate Monthly to discuss women’s issues. While some felt women’s work should not be separate from the main body of the co-operative movement, there were growing calls for women to have their own publication to reflect their interests and advocate for their position.

This reflected a sometimes uneasy relationship between the guild and the wider co-operative movement, and between its members’ needs as women and their loyalties as co-operators. This divide had been laid bare during a dispute over the guild’s support for divorce law reform, which led to the Co-operative Union withdrawing its annual grant to the guild between 1914 and 1918.

It is in this context that Woman’s Outlook was established in November 1919 as a magazine aimed at the women of the co-operative movement, with Bamford Tomlinson as its first editor; at the same time, she continued to edit the ‘Women’s Corner’ in the Co-operative News, now renamed the ‘Women’s Page’. Initially published monthly, then bi-monthly and eventually weekly, Woman’s Outlook was aimed at “the working woman in the home, the working woman in the factory and in the stores”. Bamford Tomlinson’s first editorial set out her ambitions for the magazine, explaining:

“We hope to assist her in her outlook upon industrial and social questions, and to give her thoughts, through our pages, something of the freedom of a flock of birds … we dream of it as a friend of all, seeking always to help forward to better things — a fuller life, more social opportunities and a wider choice of spheres of civic usefulness for women.”

Although not aimed solely at members of the WCG, the first cover reproduced the guild’s membership card. Depicting the figure of the “woman with the basket”, this image reflected the power women held as consumers and controllers of household budgets. Woman’s Outlook magazine acknowledged the role that many women played as homemakers, and provided practical, domestic tips, from recipes to knitting patterns.

Yet, with Bamford Tomlinson as editor, Woman’s Outlook aimed to encourage women to broaden their horizons beyond the home and to play a more prominent part in the co-operative movement and in society. It published information about educational opportunities available for women and profiled women working in different types of careers, as well as urging them to join trade unions and take on organising responsibilities. It offered advice on how to participate productively in the WCG, from giving tips on public speaking to advising on how to chair meetings. It provided information about topical issues and debates of the day, advised on changes to the law and electoral politics, and encouraged women to campaign on issues affecting their lives and working people more broadly. Outlook also asked readers to think of themselves as part of an international movement, featuring articles on women’s rights and organisations across the world. It was forward-thinking, and even daring, on contentious topics such as birth control and divorce. 

As well as catering for women’s interests, Bamford Tomlinson established a magazine for young people, Our Circle, in 1907, which combined entertainment with education about the co-operative movement and its history, and the annual Sunshine Stories, aimed at children.  

Bamford Tomlinson continued to edit Woman’s Outlook until her death, when her role was filled by the campaigning journalist Mary Stott. Following her death, in April 1933, Woman’s Outlook paid tribute to Bamford Tomlinson’s “wise viewpoint of the world’s complicated events”. It noted that she was “eminently fitted for the post”, bringing together the understanding of a trained guildswomen who knew “the problems and difficulties and objects of the guild” with the skills of a trained journalist who was “capable of expressing with fullest understanding” guildswomen’s point of view. It celebrated her work ethic and dedication to the movement, praising her “illimitable energy with a clear, clever brain that followed the development of Guild thought and never lost sight of the pure ideals of co-operation”. 

Woman’s Outlook continued for more than thirty years after Bamford Tomlinson’s death, by which time both the co-operative movement and women’s position in society were in some ways radically different. Woman’s Outlook closed in 1967, at a time when the CWS was carrying out economising measures and had to cut its advertising budget to publications such as Outlook. It was 1972 before the Co-operative News appointed its first female editor, Lily Howe. Yet, as one of the few women journalists of her generation, Bamford Tomlinson paved the way for women’s voices to be heard and for their skills and potential to be taken seriously.

In this article

Join the Conversation