Wednesday 8th March is International Women’s Day and today we feature two ‘Women of Conviction’ active in local historical reforms: Frances Smith and Margaret McMillan.
Frances Smith was the first woman to winboth a municipal council election in Keighley and sit on the town’s Industrial Co-operative Society in the 1940’s and 50’s. One of her roles was chair of the council’s maternity and child welfare committee..
Margaret McMillan worked in deprived areas of Bradford in the 1890’s and agitated for reforms to improve the health of young children.
Frances Maddocks was born at Hope St, Pennington, Leigh, Lancashire on the 1st August 1891. One of five children her father Edwin was a coal miner and her mother a silk winder. Her father premature death at the age of 44 from TB had a lasting effect on Frances. The family had to become resourceful. Aged only 9 Frances and her siblings sold fruit to the queues of people outside the local theatre and her mother took in boarders. Frances first job was as a Silk weaver and it was through seeking work in this industry that she moved to Keighley some time before the First World War.
In 1915 she married local man Harry Smith an iron Moulder and they went on to have one son Edwin in 1916. It is no longer possible to find out what stirred Frances’s involvement into the Co-operative moment or Local Politics but by 1943 she was actively involved in the movement and became the 1st woman to be elected to the board of directors of the Keighley Co-operative Society Ltd.
But Frances involvement in local issues did not stop there. By 1945 she had been working for the labour party for some years. Frances had forged a friendship with Ivor Thomas who in July 1945 took up his seat as Labour MP for Keighley on the labour parties winning of the general election. With his support, Frances was invited to stand as candidate for the 1945 municipal election. In November 1945 Frances won her seat with the biggest majority of the day. She signed the declaration book on 2nd of November 1945, and made history again by becoming the first woman to win a contested municipal election.
For more information on Frances Smith see the full article ‘A Woman of Conviction: Councillor Mrs Frances Smith, First Lady of Keighley by Frances Gilbert and Angela Speight, published in Bradford Antiquary (2012) Volume 16 available at Bradford and Keighley Local Studies Library.
Working in deprived districts of Bradford and Deptford, Margaret McMillan agitated for reforms to improve the health of young children, wrote several books on nursery education and pioneered a play-centred approach.She was born in New York in 1860. Her parents, were from Inverness but had emigrated to the United States in 1840. When she was four, an epidemic of Scarlet fever killed her father and sister. Mrs. McMillan returned to Scotland with her daughters Margaret and Rachel, where both attended the Inverness High School. Margaret went on to study Psychology and Physiology, followed by Languages and Music in Germany.
By 1888 both sisters had become active in local politics.In 1889, Rachel and Margaret helped the workers during the London Dock Strike. In 1892 they moved to Bradford. There they joined the Fabian Society, the Labour Church, the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party.
With Bradford’s school medical officer, Dr. James Kerr, Margaret carried out the first medical inspection of elementary school children in Britain. They published a report and began a campaign for local authorities to install bathrooms, improve ventilation and supply free school meals for children, after seeing the success of Bradford Cinderella Club providing a warm meal to underprivileged children.
Their experiences in Bradford were to shape their later work in Deptford.
For further reading about Margaret and Rachel McMillan we have a good selection of books in Local Studies, please see the list below:
Select reading list of Margaret McMillan books in Bradford Local Studies Library
Margaret Macmillan: portrait of a pioneer by Bradburn, Elizabeth. Routledge (1989), 9780415012546
All children are mine: inaugural Margaret McMillan lecture by Greenwood, Arthur London U.P (1952)
Margaret McMillan in Bradford, with reminiscences: fourth Margaret McMillan lecture by Lord, Miriam. London U.P (1957)
Our children: Margaret McMillan and the open air nursery school by Lord, Miriam. Lund Humphries
Margaret Mcmillan the childrens champion by Lowndes. Museum P (1960)
Margaret Mcmillan:founder of the open air nursery school by Margaret McMillan Memorial Fund
Camp school by McMillan, Margaret. George Allen & Unwin (1917)
Margaret McMillan: ‘I learn, to succour the helpless’ by Moriarty, Viv. Nottingham Educational Heritage (1998) 9781900219136
The young child and the life of today: third Margaret McMillan lecture by Niblett, William Roy. London U.P (1956)
Margaret McMillan, 1860-1931: reminiscences by Rachel McMillan College Association
Social and political change in England: Margaret McMillan and the battle for the slum child by Rees, Rosemary. Longman Resources Unit (1986) 9780582173637
Childhood, culture and class in Britain: Margaret McMillan, 1860-1931 by Steedman, Carolyn. Virago (1990) 9781853811234
Margaret McMillan: prophet and pioneer: second Margaret McMillan lecture by Stevinson, Emma.