War Widows exhibition joins poppies in Stoke-on-Trent

“Please come and see the letters which come from every corner of the UK and depict the scale of the poverty that war widows endured.”

Alison Pope, Staffordshire University Library

Staffordshire University is hosting a special exhibition to coincide with the visit of the Weeping Window poppies to Middleport Pottery.

A collection of specially selected historical letters is now on display at the Thompson Library until Friday 14 September and includes rare documents connected to the fight to secure pensions for British war widows.

The free exhibition offers a first-hand look at the hardship endured by war widows throughout much of the twentieth century.

The Library's Special Collections is home to the War Widows Association Archive and the Iris Strange collection of war widows’ letters and material from both collections is being showcased to mark the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I.

Jan Lomas, an independent historian, has curated the exhibition with Alison Pope from Staffordshire University Library.

Jan explained: “Before WW1 there was very little monetary help for widows, or indeed any vulnerable people, and although this started to change when the War began, the tiny amounts of state aid available still left war widows impoverished.

“The letters in the Iris Strange archive chart the various ways in which widows were denied pensions after their husbands’ deaths.”

If a husband died outright it was more likely that his widow would receive a pension however if a husband died later of injuries the outcome was less certain. If the husband lived for 7 years after the injuries sustained then it was decided that he had not died as result of the war injuries.

In addition, any woman who married a serviceman already injured by the war was refused a war widows' pension if he later died of his injuries. This rule was to prevent women marrying in the hope of getting a pension at a later date. For similar reasons, no allowances were paid for any child born after the husband’s injuries had been received.

Alison Pope added: “This exhibition showcases a number of letters from war widows and graphically illustrates their plight.  Most of the letters date from the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s. They were written in response to publicity made by World War II war widow Iris Strange, an activist who looked to get the income tax removed from war widows’ pensions (the payments were at that time treated as unearned income).

“Please come and see the letters which come from every corner of the UK and depict the scale of the poverty that war widows endured.”

For more information visit https://libguides.staffs.ac.uk/warwidows or contact Dr. Janis Lomas on jan.lomas@gmail.com or Alison Pope on a.j.pope@staffs.ac.uk. The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, 9am until 4pm, until Friday 14th September. Closed at weekends.


Amy Platts
Multimedia Press Officer
Marketing and Public Relations
L600, Flaxman Building
College Road
t: +44(0) 1782 292702
m: 07799341911
e: amy.platts@staffs.ac.uk