See caption
Photograph, c. 1900
Wikimedia Commons

Sarah Chapman (31 October 1862 – 27 November 1945) was a British trade unionist and one of the leaders of the 1888 Bryant & May matchgirls’ strike.[1] Sarah and others involved in the strike have been recognised as “pioneers of sex equality and fairness at work who left a lasting legacy on the trade union movement”.[2]

Sarah was born on 31 October 1862, the fifth of seven children born to Samuel Chapman, a brewer’s servant, and Sarah Ann Mackenzie. Her early life was spent in Mile End,[3] and she spent all her life in London’s East End.[4] By the age of 19 Sarah was employed as a matchmaking machinist at Bryant & May, alongside her mother and elder sister.[3]

Leadership of the matchgirls’ strike

In June 1888, at a meeting of the Fabian Society, members agreed to a proposed boycott of Bryant & May matches in response to the company’s poor working conditions and the mistreatment of its workers.[1]

The social reformer Annie Besant later met with workers outside the factory to learn more, and subsequently published an article titled “White Slavery in London” in The Link on 23 June. Although Bryant & May attempted to coerce employees into signing statements refuting the claims made in the article, but the workers refused, and on 5 July 1888 about 1400 girls and women walked out on strike.[1]

The following day 200 women marched to Bouverie Street, where The Link magazine was published, seeking Annie Besant’s support. Sarah was one of three women who met with Annie, securing her assistance in forming a strike committee.[5] The women held public meetings, gained sympathetic press coverage, and were able to enlist the support of some MPs who raised the issue in parliament.[6] Sarah and the strike committee also received help from Toynbee Hall and the London Trades Council, and – following a meeting with Bryant & May management – their list of demands was agreed to,[7] twelve days after the strike had begun.[6]

Personal life

Sarah married Charles Henry Dearman, a cabinet maker, in December 1891. The couple had their first child, Sarah Elsie, in 1892, and went on to have five more. The family later moved to Bethnal Green, where Sarah remained for the rest of her life.[3] Charles Henry Dearman died in 1922.[5]

Sarah Dearman died in Bethnal Green hospital on 27 November 1945, at the age of 83, and was survived by three of her six children.[3] Along with five other elderly people, Sarah Dearman was buried in an unmarked public grave in Manor Park Cemetery,[3][8] plot 147/D/114 in Manor Park Cemetery.[3]


The women subsequently established the Union of Women Matchmakers, the inaugural meeting of which took place at Stepney Meeting Hall on 27 July. Twelve women were elected to the committee, including Sarah Chapman, who subsequently became president.[7] Sarah was elected as the union’s first representative to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), and was among those who attended the 1888 International Trades Union Congress in London, and the 1890 Congress in Liverpool.[5][7]



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