MARGARET Beavan, (1875– 1931), was born at 28 Bowring Street, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, on 1st August 1875, she was the eldest daughter of Jeffrey Beavan, a bookkeeper and later fire insurance manager, and his wife, Ellen Catherine Williams. The Beavans were a close family who lived in comfortable circumstances. The family did at one time briefly emigrate to the United States, however, the climate proved unsuitable for the younger children. Margaret herself suffered from bronchitis, so they returned home.
The Beavans strongly believed in educating their daughters, and both Margaret and her younger sister Jessie attended Liverpool’s Belvedere School as day pupils. A popular choice among the local middle classes pupils at the school included Maude Royden, a preacher and suffragist. Established in 1880 and housed in a row of elegant period villas, the school looked every inch the independent establishment it was designed to be.
Margaret was not a particularly clever academic however she was a diligent and popular pupil, and in her final year she became head girl. She went on to Royal Holloway College at Egham, Surrey, where she studied mathematics, French, and English for three years (1894–7) although she decided against sitting for a formal degree. Returning to her family she took over responsibility for running the home and caring for her recently widowed mother. Margaret began teaching for the Earle Road Mission, a working-class Sunday school overseen by Sefton Park church. Her work was on a voluntary basis but she discovered an aptitude for teaching and especially for coping with the more difficult adolescent boys.
Through Belvedere Old Girls’ Association, Margaret Beavan renewed an acquaintance with Edith Eskrigge who was now working at the Liverpool Victoria settlement on Netherfield Road North, Everton. The settlement was looking for a teacher to run small classes for disabled children who had no formal educational provision in the city, and Margaret was persuaded to undertake this work. The community centre, founded in 1897, crossed all the age boundaries with its community work and was still going strong up to the 1970s. The centre worked with people from some of the worst slums in the North West and pioneered many developments in social work. However, its main priority was community development in Everton, reaching out to the families in those steep terraced streets in one of the most densely populated areas of the city. In the early days the Settlement concentrated on poverty relief for the people living in squalid conditions, including the provision of food and medical attention.
Margaret’s move from Earle Road Mission to the Victoria settlement was a significant one as it took her out of the realm of Christian voluntary work. She quickly established herself at the as a worker with a special interest in invalid children, often referred to as the ‘Little Mother of Liverpool’. As well as working in the Victoria settlement school she became a visitor for the Kyrle Society later the Crippled Children’s’ Workshops, a charity working with invalid children. In January 1908, the Invalid Children’s Association was founded. The name was changed in 1919 and it became the Liverpool Child Welfare Association. Margaret Beavan was its chief from its inception in 1907 until her death in 1931.
This new group was tremendously successful in promoting child welfare. Its most famous success was the establishment of the Leasowe Open-Air Hospital for Children, on the Wirral peninsula, which pioneered treatment of paediatric tubercular cases. Before Leasowe Open Air Hospital was completed most TB children were in non-specialised adult hospitals in Liverpool. They would attend Leasowe for short stays, and Margaret Beavan often transported them herself, treating them to café teas which formed a vital part of her holistic approach to patient care. She believed in helping mothers as well as children, and organized several holidays for ‘tired mothers’, which she always extended to unmarried women.
Her dedication to children kept Margaret Beavan away from political matters, however, she remained passive advocate of constitutional suffrage campaigns, but was never very involved in this work. She did however occasionally appear in support of her sister Jessie who held office in the local branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. It was only after the war that she took advantage of the new political climate, seeing this as a way to advance her deep concern for children and their welfare. It was in 1920 she became Liverpool’s first woman magistrate, selected for her record of work with disadvantaged youngsters. Despite her privileged background she was sympathetic to many of the cases she encountered. She used her position on the probation committee and her philanthropic contacts to establish a working boys’ home aimed at giving first offenders a new start in life.
Margaret eventually stood as a council candidate and was elected in 1923 as a Coalition Liberal, although she quickly switched to the Conservatives. Her high public profile and attachment to children’s causes made her a popular figure in the council chamber, and in 1927 she was selected as Liverpool’s first woman lord mayor serving the year from 1927 to 1928. However, despite her popularity she was a less than successful politician. She rejected the option taken by Eleanor Rathbone, Liverpool’s first female councillor, to stand as an independent, but in council she continued to fight for single issues with little regard for party lines or her new position as a Conservative representative.
Her lack of political astuteness was painfully obvious when she undertook a civic visit to Italy in May 1928. She was greatly impressed by what she perceived as advances in child welfare under Mussolini, and greeted him warmly in Rome. Such ill-considered actions undermined public confidence and in the May 1929 general election when Margaret stood as a Conservative parliamentary candidate for Everton, she was defeated by her Labour opponent. This was the first time she had lost a campaign, and she took it very much to heart. However she was far more concerned that the errors she had made as a politician were damaging the reputation of her children’s charities.
She died, unmarried, after an attack of influenza, with chest complications, on 22 February 1931 at the Hospital for Children at Leasowe, which she had helped to found, and was buried at Childwall parish church, Liverpool. Her death allowed for some rehabilitation of her reputation at a large civic memorial service. However, the achievements of her public life have never been fully separated from the mistakes of her final years, and she remains an obscure historical figure in Liverpool, despite her dedication to the people of the city and her prominence in Liverpool life.