On 5 January 1839 the Northern Liberator recorded that a meeting had been held in the New Lecture Hall to form a 'Female Political Union'. No women spoke at the meeting—those who did deliver addresses were all prominent North East male Chartists—but at its conclusion 139 women had enrolled as members. There was no indication at this meeting that the organisation would campaign for votes for women, nor did it gesture towards a 'feminist reconstruction of social life' (as one historian has put it). The speakers instead focussed on the role that women would play in Chartism as wives and mothers: their role was to agitate for the male vote so that the legislation that oppressed the working classes—such as the Corn Laws, the New Poor Law and the acts that restricted trade union activity—could be repealed. While there was little suggestion of a modern feminist agenda at the meeting, it was clear that by forming the Union women were extending the boundaries of the political. For instance, the manifesto of the Union—issued in February 1839—denied that 'the province of woman is her home, and that the field of politics should be left to men'. The manifesto continued: 'Is it not true that the interests of our fathers, husbands and brothers ought not to be ours? If they are oppressed and impoverished, do we not share those evils with them?' In addition to campaigning for parliamentary reform, the Female Political Union also collected money to support other aspects of the Chartism movement: money was raised to cover the legal costs of arrested Chartists, to support delegates to the National Convention, and to support the families of striking workers.
The New Lecture Hall no longer exists, but a blue plaque, commemorating Charles Dickens’ lecture tour, marks the space which the hall occupied on Nelson Street.
D. Thompson, The Chartists (1984), pp. 138-9; D. Thompson (ed.), The Early Chartists (1971), pp. 128-30 (for the manifesto of the Female Political Union); E. Yeo, 'Some practices and problems of Chartist democracy', in J. Epstein and D Thompson (eds), The Chartist Experience (1982), p. 349; Northern Liberator, 5 January 1839.