International Women’s Day – March 8th 2021: The Indomitable Molly Jones.

From time to time people who I remember from my earliest days working at Keighley Library will suddenly pop into my head, usually for no particular reason, sometimes stirred by memories from a newspaper article or picture that I have been looking at. Not long ago I was thinking about a man called Reg Jones. Reg was a good man and we would often pass the time of day on his frequent visits to Keighley Library. This got me thinking again about that old adage ‘behind every good man there’s a great woman’ and in Reg’s case no truer word was spoken.

When I was invited to write this blog (my first one ever incidentally) there was one lady who’s name immediately sprang to mind. On International Women’s Day 2021 with the NHS very much to the fore, this lady’s life is well worth celebrating. In my eyes she is an unsung hero of whom Keighley owes a huge debt. I never met Molly Jones, but growing up in Keighley in the 70s and 80s I heard her name mentioned constantly. Looking back at Molly’s life and her remarkable achievements, it is only now that I have come to realise what a true pioneer she was in every sense of the word. Keighley should be extremely proud to claim Molly Jones as one of its own, she paved the way for health services that exist in this town to this day.

Molly, christened Mary, was born on a farm in Cockerham and attended Lancaster Girls Grammar School. Her father was not keen on her choice of a career in nursing, so at first Molly took a clerical job with the school health service. However her desire was such that Molly decided to leave her well paid secretarial job behind and enrolled to train as a state registered nurse and midwife on her 21st birthday. By 1942 she was working as a nurse in London and recalled that her pay was £30 a year which increased at the rate of £5 annually until it reached £75. She then transferred to St. Pancras where her work involved supporting new mothers by visiting them when the midwives ended their duties fourteen days after giving birth. As a trainee Molly had to sit with three women who died as a result of back street abortions and this horrendous experience would drive her on to campaign vigorously for abortions to be made legal.

Molly’s next move was to Keighley where she was a health visitor in 1948 on the day the NHS was born describing it as ‘a normal working day’. She was very impressed by the new council estates that were springing up all over the town. Health visitors in their navy uniforms were instantly recognisable and were often called in by mothers who saw them on their way to visit new borns. In that same year Molly married Reg Jones and settled in to her home at Utley going onto have four children of her own. It was soon after her marriage to Reg that Molly retired from paid work, however her involvement in health matters was as committed as ever.

Molly, who had taken mothers under her care in London to a family planning clinic, was by now well positioned to give advice on the subject in Keighley. She told them about a Marie Stopes Clinic in Leeds despite being warned by her superiors not to do so. A pioneer in the field of contraception, Molly was also keen to help women who did not want more children. In 1952 she worked as a volunteer at an evening clinic in Shipley set up by the Family Planning Association. It proved so popular that women started to arrive way before it opened just to make sure that they were seen. Molly would laugh as she recalled ‘they used to make a night out of it with a fish and chip supper on the way home!’

As a health visitor half a century ago Molly also set up a baby and anti-natal clinic at Westgate. She recalled giving out National Dried Milk alongside brand named baby milk, orange juice, virol and cod liver oil. She firmly believed that parenting was the most important thing for any child and that the government should not be encouraging mothers to go out to work.

Molly set about learning relaxation techniques so that women might not need pain killers when giving birth and spearheaded relaxation classes. She was keen to highlight the over-prescribing of tranquilizers and set up several support groups.
Fast-forwarding to the year 2000, Molly called on health chiefs in Airedale National Health trust to provide Macmillan nurses in order to support patients from the moment they are diagnosed with cancer. She believed that it offered a more focused and specialised service compared to district nurses.

I know that a lot of Molly’s achievements will have never been recorded so I will not be aware of them but in later years she became involved in the care of older people and founded SHAPE (a pioneering Senior Health Awareness Project) on Temple Street. She was a staunch supporter of Keighley’s Voluntary Sector through membership of several management and working groups, including Keighley Council for Voluntary Services (KCVS). Heavily involved in many other groups, such as Airedale Community Health Council (KCVS), the Women’s Health Group and a support group for Parkinson’s disease.

Her accolades include winning a Yorkshire Women of Achievement Award and Keighley Community Personality of the Year in 1989.

Molly eventually benefited from some of the services she had supported during her lifetime, such as the Parkinson’s group. She was still attending a keep fit class at the Salvation Army well into her 80s.

On Molly’s death in 2015 at the age of 98, Val Mills, the long-time leader of Keighley Voluntary Services, paid tribute in the ‘Keighley News’ to Molly’s long and active time as a dynamic and determined community health campaigner and volunteer. She said “Molly was an ardent and very vocal campaigner on public health issues, particularly for women. She was often well ahead of the game in new public health issues and growing concerns. She gave many hundreds of hours of volunteer time during 40 plus years.”

Molly’s daughter, Chris Baillie, said “some of my earliest memories are connected with mum’s tireless work for the health of the people of Keighley. She was a campaigner who always fought to right any injustices she saw. My mother’s memory let her down in the last few years, but the spirit carried on.”
Molly’s son, Mike jones was a canoeist who at 19 descended the Grand Canyon and led an expedition down the Blue Nile, later writing a book about his exploits. He drowned in 1978 in Pakistan trying to save his best friend. A film was made about his life.

Molly’s grandson, Tim Baillie, won a gold medal for pair’s canoe slalom at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Molly’s life was well lived and thinking back to Reg in the library back in the day, I think he was a very lucky man indeed to have Molly in his life. I’ll leave the last word to Molly Jones (not many people can say this) summing up her lifetime in health care she said simply “I’ve enjoyed every minute of my work.”

Janet Mawson.
Keighley Local Studies Library.

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