Ivy Oliver was born in Holborn, London in 1914, living above the shop where her father was a grocer. In the mid 1920’s, after stopping a bailiff removing Freemason’s regalia from a tenant’s flat, he lost his trade from all the surrounding hotels when he refused to join them.

They moved to Bristol in 1926, where she lived for the rest of her life.

She worked in the Bristol Central Library, where she met her future husband, Stephen Woods (who was already in the Party), married in August 1939, and had three children. She joined the Party in 1940 (when many people were leaving!) At a time when members were encouraged to spend at least half their time on work outside the party, she joined the Sea Mills Coop Guild, and soon became secretary.

The President of the Bristol Cooperative Society was a Communist Jack Webb, and he got Ivy involved in structures in the Coop. By 1946 she was attending Society meetings. She was elected to the Society Party (Political Committee) in 1947, and immediately faced hostility as a member of the CP. This was the time of bans and proscriptions. She got defeated in 1951; she was on the Political Committee for a total of 8 years, standing 24 times! She was elected to the Management Committee in 1964 at the 14th attempt. Other than a break of a year after a defeat in 1975 for one year, she had continuous service.

She did not slacken that year, as she took on adult literacy work. It was the time of “On the Move”, and she got huge satisfaction helping Caribbean women to learn to read.

At the same time as all this Coop activity, she took on positions in the Party. She was a strong supporter of the Daily Worker /Morning Star. In the war she sold regularly at the dock gates, and was still selling at a pitch in Shirehampton, Bristol in 1988 on a Saturday morning. She was a regular bazaar supporter: her speciality was coconut ice, vanilla, pink and chocolate.

She was a member of the West of England District of the Communist Party for 30 years, 12 years in the Chair, and 9 years as district treasurer. 

She went on the Communist Party’s Women’s delegation to the Soviet Union in 1963, led by Gladys Easton, the first to visit Siberia (Irkurtz and Novosibirsk) and Leningrad and returned early to Moscow to  meet, at a party restaurant, Valentina Tereshkova, who had just returned from space, along with  Yuri Gagarin and Valery Bykovsky.

When she returned Ivy gave at least 50 report back meetings. Several of these will have been to Coop Guilds. 

She was giving talks to Women’s Guilds by 1950. There are notes on the topics of Economics of Cooperation, which started with the background to the Rochdale Pioneers, and the eight principles.  She gave a number of talks on women in the period from 1953-5 Women through the Ages, a history of women. A series of talks in 1956-7 on new prospects for women, dealing with women’s current position.

There were about 28 Women’s Guilds in the 50’s in the Bristol area, and in any on lecture year, which ran from October to May, she was doing about 20 talks or more, to a dozen guilds, with two or three topics on the go each year.

Ivy was also very active in the Peace Movement, and a lot of her talks were on peace: the immorality of war, the vested interests of the arms industry; against the H bomb tests in 1957; discussions on Unilateral Disarmament, and Aldermaston marches.

In 1968 she spoke to a rally in Bristol against the war in Vietnam.

“A real love of peace is something active. It is not passive.

It is good, but of little practical value at this time, just to want peace, if you are not prepared to do something about it.

As a woman and a Co-operator of our city of Bristol, I am speaking to the people of Bristol.

We women want peace and we women mean to have it.

Author: Eleanor Lewington