Ellen Gordon

East Belfast comrade of James Connolly

Ellen ‘Nellie’ Gordon was born around 1886. By her twenties she was working as a ‘doffing mistress’ at the Owen O’Cork spinning mill on the Beersbridge Road in east Belfast. Employed by James Connolly’s Irish Textile Worker’s Union in August 1912 (at 5 shillings a week, less than a third of her mill wages) she signed, with Connolly and Winifred Carney, a 1913 manifesto (To the Linen Slaves of Belfast) that described the mills of Belfast as ‘slaughterhouses for the women and penitentiaries for the children.’

Ellen Gordon represented the Belfast branch of the Irish Women Workers’ Union at the Irish Trades Union Congress in Cork (1913) and Dublin (1914). An impressive speaker at factory gate meetings and public demonstrations, she provoked the newspaper headline ‘Mrs Gordon Doesn’t Give a Damn.’ Her group of comrades within trade union and socialist circles became known as the ‘Don’t Give a Damn League’.

An Irish republican as well as a socialist, she joined Cumann na mBan on its foundation in April 1914.She married her fellow radical James Grimley in September 1915. In the 1920s the couple kept a second hand clothes shop off the Newtownards Road. They moved to Dublin following sectarian pogroms in 1935.

Further reading:
Winnie Carney, a silent radical: a short biography (1995) by H Woggon; Dictionary of Ulster Biography (1993) by Kate Newmann; Labour and Partition: the Belfast Working Class 1905-23 (1991) by Austin Morgan.