Annie (Rowe) Laver

Margaret  Ann  Rowe was born in winter 1889 in Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Her mother, Martha, ran a local shoe shop, while her father, Alfred, was also a part-time ‘Rural Post Messenger’.

Annie was one of six children and as a teenager her died mother of pleurisy at the age of 48. Nevertheless, Annie continued with her schooling and passed the entrance scholarship to ‘County Intermediate School’ with ‘470 Marks’ in September 1903. With career aspirations, Annie went on to become a pupil teacher. An article in The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser on 6th January 1905 reported:

‘At a meeting of the Narberth No 10 group of Schools held at the Narberth Board School, on Wednesday evening last, Miss AnnieRowe, daughter of Mr Alfred Rowe, High Street was appointed probationer pupil teacher’.

In her memoir, Annie’s daughter, Margaret, concludes however, ‘my mother had hoped to be a teacher…but at the age of 17 became very ill with rheumatic fever- a grave and chronically debilitating illness in those days before antibiotics- forcing her to give up the idea of continuing with academic studies’.

The impact of illness on Annie’s life, from the death of her mother to the crushing of her career goals reveals much about the instability of life before effective medical treatment was widely available. Her daughter describes how she continued to love reading, but that the domestic role of wife and mother made little time for this later on. This is particularly evident when we compare her experience with that of her husband Harry Laver who she married in June 1916.

Harry and Annie met when ‘one of Mrs. Pankhurst’s campaigners came to the town to run a meeting rallying support for the (Suffragette) cause’. They were liberal supporters who supported the rights of working people. However, Harry (despite working over 50 hours per week) was free to ‘listen to lectures or take part in discussions, many of which were political’ as a member of the Reading Room in the High Street. He had access to newspapers and magazines and was captain of the local football team. Annie’s life, in contrast, is summarised by her daughter as follows:

‘Her days were filled with housework, cleaning, cooking, washing up, laundry and ironing, as well as shopping and visiting her family, and attending chapel. She also did some decorating, wallpapering and painting…’

We do, however, find further glimpses into Annie’s political stance. Her daughter Margaret claims that she ‘made (her husband) join a non-combatant unit (during WWI) and never carry a rifle’, suggesting she was a pacifist, and she is described as possessing ‘constant kindness….(as the) spirit and soul of all us Lavers’.

Annie Laver Died 18th November 1959 in Swansea. Her domestic life of ‘cook(ing) on a paraffin stove’, bathing her children in a ‘metal bath-tub’ from ‘kettles and saucepans’ and flattening ‘damp clothes’ with an iron heated on the fire, was coloured with tragedy, academic achievement and political engagement with events that changed the course of history.

Categories: Arts & Literature | Education | Survivors

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