Who was Ethel Buddle?
by Zoë Fairbairns
Imagine the scene.
You’re a volunteer worker at the Feminist Library. You arrive for your shift with a heavy heart. You’re wondering how much longer the Library will survive: money is running out, and the rent is due. To make matters worse, the morning mail has brought an envelope from a bank. This, you feel sure, can only be bad news: a bounced cheque? A request that you take your loss-making business elsewhere? A summons for non-payment of something-or-other? Nervously, you open the envelope. The letter informs you that the Feminist Library has been included in the will of a woman who died recently aged 84.The woman’s name – Ethel Buddle – is unfamiliar. There’s no trace of her being an FL member or even a visitor. But she has left the Library nearly £15,000 – more than enough to avert the immediate financial crisis.
This happened in 2008. The worker who opened the envelope, Una Byrne, recalls the huge psychological boost that came with the money. “Ethel’s legacy validated the work we were doing at the Library and encouraged us to continue,” she recalls. “It allowed us to focus on outreach and promoting the Library. It is a direct consequence of Ethel’s gift to us that the Library is in the great condition it is today.”
Another FL worker recently visited some of Ethel Buddle’s relatives to try and find out more about her. Born in Northumberland in 1924, Ethel was the youngest of five children of a coal-miner father and a full-time mother. Ethel attended Duchess Grammar School in Alnwick, and, during World War Two, worked in the Food Ration Office in Amble. After the war, she trained as a teacher, and became a lecturer in business studies at Newcastle Commercial College. A trade unionist and Labour Party member, Ethel always saw women’s issues as a priority. She urged women to get the best possible education, to be ambitious and to apply for so-called men’s jobs.
Her relatives aren’t able to say whether she had any specific connection with the Feminist Library, or why she chose it for her bequest, but they are sure she would have been aware of it from the many women’s movement newsletters and magazines to which she subscribed. The relatives recalled how Ethel’s house was full of books on women’s issues, and she was in frequent correspondence with newspapers and politicians on subjects to do with women’s education and employment.
When the time came for Ethel Buddle to make her will, she was determined that no man would get his hands on her money: she left it all to female relatives and feminist charities, including us. So what about you? Will you follow Ethel Buddle’s example and remember the Feminist Library in your will?
Perhaps you haven’t made a will, and have no plans to do so. Why? Are you OK with the idea that, when you die, all your property (everything from private papers and personal treasures, to money in the bank and your home if you own it) will be distributed in accordance with the laws of intestacy, rather than in accordance with your wishes? (Some of your stuff might even end up being handed over to the government.)
So please take legal advice and make a will. Tell the solicitor that you want to leave some of your money to:
The Feminist Library
5 Westminster Bridge Road
London SE1 7XW
Phone: 0207 261 0879
Registered charity number: 272410
You can leave either a specific sum, or a percentage of what you have. That’s up to you. But please, take inspiration from Ethel Buddle, and do it.
If you have already made a will, you probably know that it’s a good idea to keep it under review as your circumstances change. Next time you review your will, please ask your solicitor to include something for the Feminist Library.
We hope that it will be many years before the Feminist Library will actually benefit from your bequest. Some of us who are discussing it now, may not even be around. But someone will be – a future feminist who will be as grateful to you as we are to Ethel Buddle.