THE Durham Miners' Association resisted equality for women during the First World War, according to new research.

While the war years saw significant numbers of women entering male-dominated industries for the first time, it was a different story for those in North-East mining communities.

Research into the almost forgotten aspect of social history has been published by history graduate Leanne Smith, who has been awarded the annual Sid Chaplin Memorial Prize for the work.

Her dissertation, The Struggle over Female Labour in the Durham Coalfield, 1914-1918, has unearthed original research into how the Durham Mining Association (DMA) resisted pressure from colliery owners and the government to accept the introduction of female labour during the First World War.

The 37-year-old, from Sunderland, said: "The First World War is often seen as a watershed moment for women, as they began to enter traditionally male industries.

“But that move towards equality was not always the case.”

While some industries welcomed women into their fold, the conservative DMA resisted reforms, Ms Smith's research has found.

She added: "At the time it was claimed that the DMA’s refusal to employ women miners was based on concerns over the undercutting of wages.

“But in contrast two of the country’s largest labour concerns, The Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the Clyde Workers Committee, reacted very differently. They negotiated to protect men’s position and wages within their industry. They accepted women into their very traditional industry.

“My research shows that the Durham Mining Association resisted reforms, because they believed it was necessary to continue the status quo. The DMA were a very conservative body, who believed that a sexual division of labour was essential to coal mining communities such as the Durham coalfield.

“Women contributed not just domestically. It was women who built the Durham mining community, who held together the family unit and brought stability that made it possible for the coal mining industry to exist – and made equality impossible in the minds of the Durham Mining Association.”

The Sid Chaplin Memorial Prize is handed out each year to the winner of a labour history essay competition.

It is named after the pitman author who was a founding members of the North East Labour History Society and the winning essay is published in the organisation's journal.

Ms Smith, who has just completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Sunderland and is about to start a masters in historical research, said: “I really can’t put into words how much this award means to me. Going to University was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Dr Andre Keil, a lecturer in modern European history at the university, said: “It is a great achievement for Leanne to be awarded this year's Sid Chaplin Memorial Prize. I know she worked very hard on her dissertation throughout the year and it's great to see this commitment recognised.

“Her study made excellent use of our archives at the university library and really adds to our understanding of the history of the Durham coalfield during the First World War. I think Leanne really shows what's possible for our students."