Historian Fred Hughes writes....
There have been only eleven women Lord Mayors in the 99 year history of Stoke-on-Trent council. Highly chauvinistic you might think particularly as there were only two in the first 50 years.
Jarrett was a Potteries girl born in 1890. She worked on the potbanks and
was very much aware of female inequality. She found a voice when she
became a suffragette and joined the National Union of Women's Suffrage
Societies (NUWSS) just before the Great War.
“Another 23 years were to pass before the next female Lord Mayor came to office; that was Annie Longson Barker in 1954. But this does not tell the full story of the role women played in local government in Stoke-on-Trent,” Steve adds. “More women had begun to come through the ranks of the Labour Party and the Co-op movement. Alongside Annie Barker was the formidable Blanche Meakin, a councillor for Birches Head – diminutive in size but gigantic in attitude. The unmarried Annie Barker even chose Blanche to be her Lady Mayoress. Then there was Harriet Slater, a councillor from Milton who became Member of Parliament for Stoke North in 1955 serving as a government whip in Harold Wilson’s first administration. In 1968 Doris Robinson CBE, daughter of Potteries Union leader Sam Clowes MP and sister of education reformer Sir Harold Clowes, became Lord Mayor. By this time the importance of women in the council chamber was certainly recognized.”
Even so it does seem that certain qualifications were necessary for women to achieve the status of high civic office. For instance all the women who became Lord Mayor, including Mary Bourne, Mary Stringer, Sybil Halfpenny, Lily Wall, Marion Beckett, Kathleen Banks and Barbara Dunn all belonged to one particular political party. Labour councillor Jean Edwards was the city’s last woman Lord Mayor in 2006.
“Labour certainly promoted women,” she says. “And there’s no doubt that social organisations such as the Co-op movement, workers educational programmes and other ethical societies attracted women interested in socialist ideology. Trades unions and the Labour Party gave women opportunities to engage with domestic politics. It should be remembered that women were the majority in the potteries workforce and it is only right they should be involved in democratic representation. But the meagre list of women Lord Mayors illustrates how difficult it has been to achieve impartial and equitable representation over the last hundred years. Although there were no women councillors in 1910 I think that today’s 17 female representatives reflects what federation was all about. I’m so proud that women played their part in its history.”
Jean acknowledges we are living in interesting times. A century ago the pioneering councillors took a leap of faith towards a united city. Who knows now what the next 12 months will bring never mind the next hundred years.
25 Mar 2009