Elizabeth Hanson was born in 1797. She married Abram Hanson, a shoemaker, who lived in Elland, near Halifax. She had her first child in 1827. Others followed in 1829 and 1834. Elizabeth became politically active after the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834. The act stated that: (a) no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law authorities except in a workhouse; (b) conditions in workhouses were to be made very harsh to discourage people from wanting to receive help; (c) workhouses were to be built in every parish or, if parishes were too small, in unions of parishes. (1)
Elizabeth was furious that the legislation "cast women in the role of dependants on their husbands' incomes rather than as contributors to the family income on their own right". Elizabeth had three children and none were yet contributing to the family's income and saw the legislation as a "major assault on the integrity of the family". (2)
At a meeting in February, 1838, Elizabeth told the audience that local women who were living in the workhouse were being forced to wear shoddy clothes and had their hair cropped. Most importantly, they were being separated from their children. Elizabeth suggested that in order to stop this outrage women had to join together to form political organisations. (3)
Abram Hanson became one of the most important Chartist leaders in the area. In one speech he launched an attack on the clergy of every denomination: "They preached Christ and a crust, passive obedience and non-resistance. Let the people keep from those churches and chapels. Let them go to those men who preached Christ and a full belly, Christ and a well-clothed back - Christ and a good house to live in - Christ and Universal Suffrage." (4)
Elizabeth Hanson and Mary Grassby, formed the Elland Female Radical Association in March, 1838. She argued "it is our duty, both as wives and mothers, to form a Female Association, in order to give and receive instruction in political knowledge, and to co-operate with our husbands and sons in their great work of regeneration." (5) She became one of the movement's most effective speakers and one newspaper reported she "melted the hearts and drew forth floods of tears". (6)
Elizabeth and her fellow members attempted to improve their political knowledge by attending evening-classes. The Leeds Times reported: "The Ellanders seem determined not to wait the time of government appointments for national education, but to begin to educate themselves." (7)
In 1839 Elizabeth gave birth to a son, who she named after Feargus O'Connor. She continued to be involved in the campaign for universal suffrage. Abram Hanson acknowledged the importance of "the women who are the best politicians, the best revolutionists, and the best political economists... should the men fail in their allegiance the women of Elland, who had sworn not to breed slaves, had registered a vow to do the work of men and women." (8)
Elizabeth and Abram sustained "a close and affectionate relationship" and although he frequented "the public house too much" the couple "managed to bring a family up in decency, considering his station in life". After 1840 Elizabeth was less active in the Chartist movement. This was probably because of having a very young son to look after. However, as late as 1852 Elizabeth was sending small donations to Chartist causes. (9)
From the summer of that year onwards, recorded instances of both Hansons' participating in politics rapidly diminished. Little Feargus was doubtless the main reason for this, but there may have been other contributory factors. There was a sharp decline in reports from Elland itself in Northern Star, an incidental consequence of the latter's evolution from a mainly regional to a truly national newspaper. Second, the New Poor Law, while remaining a perpetual plevance, receded somewhat as an immediate issue of contention. Third, early Chartism derived much of its strength from communities, like Elland, where political activity waned in step with the fortunes of domestic industry.
The decline of handloom-weaving subdued the political temperament of the villge. Though its Chartists formed themselves into a branch of the National Charter Association in 1840 and later supported the Chartist land plan, autonomous political activity in the village appears to have lessened. Furthermore, after 1840 outdoor mass-meetings, to which Abram's demotic style was ideally suited, were less frequent. All the Hanson children were raised in Elland but when their father warmed to familiar themes during the 1840s it tended to be in nearby Halifax, not Elland, that he spoke. Abram still represented Elland's Chartists at West Yorkshire delegate meetings as late as 1852, and Elizabeth continued sending small donations to Chartist causes.