Champ Of The Poor Finally Has Her Name Set In Stone

Bob Edwards is the author of the book Liverpool In The 1950s and created the www.LiverpoolPicturebook.com website which currently has in excess of 2.3 million viewers worldwide. In this column Bob aims to bring you some of the wonderful history of our great city along with some photographs that illustrate our past, we hope you enjoy it!

ARTWORK commemorating Eleanor Rathbone, one of Liverpool’s greatest political figures, is now there for all to see at the walled garden of Greenbank Park, formerly the estate of the Rathbone family.

The tribute created by renowned artist Lulu Quinn is a significant contribution to the national “Remembering Eleanor Rathbone” campaign marking the 70th anniversary of the great woman’s death.

Eleanor Florence Rathbone was born on 12 May 1872 she was the daughter of the social reformer William Rathbone VI and his second wife, Emily Lyle. Her family encouraged her to concentrate on social issues. Eleanor went to Kensington High School, London, and later studied in Somerville College Oxford, she studied Litterae Humaniores the honours course in classics, philosophy, and ancient history at Oxford University.

At Oxford, she became friends with Hilda Oakeley, Margery Fry and Barbara Bradbury and developed a passion for debating, joining the highly selective group known as the ‘A.Ps’ (‘Associated Prigs’).

Eleanor earned a reputation for her strong, clear voice and her ability to clarify the most difficult of discussions. However, she was not allowed to graduate as graduation was not allowed for women at Oxford until after October 1920.

She later began working alongside her father to investigate social and industrial conditions in Liverpool until William Rathbone died in 1902. She was without doubt one of Liverpool’s foremost pioneering daughters, campaigning to improve the lives of other women she was a self confessed “whole-hearted feminist”, and one of six women to appear on a commemorative set of stamps.

Eleanor Rathbone was the first woman elected to Liverpool City Council as Independent councillor for Granby.

She represented Granby ward for 25 years, from 1909 to 1934. In a letter from Eleanor Rathbone to her mother on October 5th 1909. She said:

“People seem to think that I ought to be safe to get in, but you never can tell: it is a queer sort of election…. The meeting last night was very successful, the room quite packed before it began, and hundreds turned away…. but of course that merely means curiosity at the novelty of a woman candidate.”

At the beginning of World War I, when many suffragettes called time on their campaigns, Eleanor continued, and set up the Town Hall Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Organisation, helping the women and children left behind.

In 1919, she became the leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, she firmly believed “The interests of women should be directly addressed by someone of their own sex”.

She became an independent MP in 1929, a job she kept until the year before her death in 1946. She was always dedicated to relieving the country’s poverty-stricken people. From 1918 onwards she campaigned for the introduction of a family allowance to be paid to the woman of the household. The Family Allowance Act became law in 1945, the year before her death.

In 1919, when Millicent Fawcett retired, Eleanor Rathbone took over the presidency of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (the renamed National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies), and as such was responsible for the creation of the Liverpool Personal Service Society.

The Eleanor Rathbone Charitable Trust was settled by Trust Deed (charity no. 233241) on February 4th 1947 by the late Dr. BL Rathbone with money left by his aunt Eleanor.

Eleanor wrote a number of books and supported socialist and feminist causes around the world.

After World War II broke out in 1939 Eleanor became increasingly concerned about the plight of refugees. She organised numerous relief programs and performed many acts of assistance to individuals. Her encounters with Jewish exiles led her to an awareness of Nazi atrocities against Jews.

In 1943 she published a commission report documenting this persecution entitled Rescue the Perishing. By the end of the war she had developed strong sympathy for the Zionist cause. (At that time Palestine was a British protectorate; the state of Israel was not proclaimed until May 1948.) Her own home in London was destroyed in the blitz.

Eleanor Rathbone died in London on January 2, 1946. She left her mark not only as a tireless campaigner for social and economic justice but as a pioneer of women’s participation in government. She will also be remembered as one of Liverpool’s finest campaigners.

The artwork unveiling ceremony was attended by Lulu Quinn, Cllr Ann o’Byrne, the Deputy Mayor, Louise Ellman MP, Lesley Urbach, from the Remembering Elaenor Rathbone campaign, Lynn Collins, Secretary of the North West TUC, councillors and community representatives.