My Best Family Home Evening

I was going to start this by writing, “we aren’t super traditional Family Home Evening people…” but then I realised—who is? Hey, we do it most weeks, so I call it a win, even if we do it our own way on a Sunday (because swim team is on Monday),


So this week, among the prayer, dessert, lesson and song assignments, we also have a “something fun,” assignment. Often this is a game, or we go for a walk, or whatever. This week, we took a bit of a dive into history and the presenter taught us about the Matchstick Women (also called the “matchgirls”).


In summary, in London in the late 1880’s, these women worked 14 hour shifts in the production of match making, which at the time, saw them exposed to the deadly chemical vapours of phosphorus. The phosphorus was the chemical in which lit the match when struck. But it also rotted the jaws of the women who breathed the chemical in, causing disfiguration, and even death. Many of the women working in these conditions were impoverished immigrants or teen orphans who desperately needed employment, no matter how dangerous the conditions or poorly paid they were.


Though the male factory workers were disinterested in the conditions of the women, other women noticed. A women’s rights activist and writer named Annie Besant exposed the poor conditions in an article titled White Slavery in London.


The article caused a massive stir, inspiring the male factory owners to attempt to force the women to sign a document refuting Ms. Besant’s claims by declaring that they were happy with their disfiguring and deathly working conditions.


The women refused.

The male factory owner attempted to “set an example” by firing one of the women who refused to sign. And then another. And then another. And then…

Within days, 1,400 women and girls were on strike for better working conditions.


The improved working conditions were gradually met; first with re-employing women who had been fired for refusing to sign the document. Then for better machinery (much less slicing off of fingers) and eventually shorter hours and better wages. It would take two decades before the use of phosphorous in match making was declared illegal in England.


This event was the first strike to inspire a national movement towards unions. Especially important for today, this was the birth of Occupational Health and Safety practices and legislation which still is a positive impact on working conditions today. Do you like that you get a lunch break at work? Thank these women. Do you like being protected from chemical exposure at work? Thank these women. Do you like safe work environments in general? Thank these women. They started the revolution. Yes, the revolution is still going today for fair wages, child care, and so many other things. But these women started the work that we are engaged in. These nameless, uneducated, often orphaned, some immigrant, impoverished women inspired a workplace revolution. You can, too.


The best part? My husband. He was the presenter. He chose to share this bit of history to me and my daughters, partly because of his own work in safety in the workplace, but mostly because he wanted us to feel empowered for International Women’s Day. The next best part? He was wearing his t-shirt with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”


Best. Family. Home. Evening. EVER.


What are you doing for International Women’s Day? We are going to a feminist book launch at our local historical society. We will all be wearing our  “Well-behaved women seldom make history” t-shirts.

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.


  1. For whatever reason, we always thought our FHE lessons should be on gospel topics. Our kids are grown and gone. I wish I could go back and talk about principles rather than doctrine. This is a great lesson.

  2. This was followed by the Radium Girls, who painted glowing radium paint on watch, clock and instrument hands and faces.
    They would lick the brushes to get a better “point” on it, and ingest the radium.
    Started off just before WW1, centered around Orange, NJ.
    Now all of us are dealing with Depleted Uranium (DU) poisoning from cannon shells fired in military campaigns.
    Maybe those who are here during the millennium will help clean it up.

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