When the history of Birmingham is told, pen making is right up there with every fine trade the city was founded on. The names of brothers John and William Mitchell will rightly also always be mentioned as the first manufacturers to use machines for cutting pen nibs. Wrongly, though, there are people who don’t get mentioned and on this International Women’s Day, we would like to put that right.
Except we can’t. For while women played a part in Birmingham’s successful pen making trade and they did so in their thousands, their names haven’t been recorded.
What has been recorded and should be noted is that women were employed in pen making here in perhaps greater numbers than most manufacturing. Making pen nibs is an exacting task that requires skill and precision. This is manufacturing, though, not artistry so right alongside the same talent an artist would need, the women of the pen factories needed speed.
There’s an irony in how they were making pens yet their names rarely get written down.
They should be honoured for their work: their gender shouldn’t matter. There shouldn’t be a need for an International Women’s Day at all but there is and the Pen Museum wants to acknowledge Birmingham’s debt to the thousands of Victorian women who made our industry.