Women, Politics and Policy-making in Education: Mapping Generations of Activism – Professor Jane Martin, University of Birmingham
A record number of women were elected to the British House of Commons in the 2017 general election. But while Westminster may look very different with an unprecedented high of 32 per cent women on the benches, progress toward more equal female representation has been slow. Women fought and won local government elections more than a century ago and lessons can be learned from their experience in London – the place where electorally, they were notably successful. In 1879, for instance, nine women (18 per cent of the membership) were elected serve on the London School Board, the world’s largest educational parliament, to help ensure the education of working-class children. For Victorian feminists, this breakthrough in political life was a spur to further social action. Today these pioneering municipal politicians are all but forgotten.
This paper takes the long view to ask what happened to the school board women and the women who came after. Women’s social action was an essential component to politics and policy making in the 120-year period that London had a single education authority, making this a good place to look for anyone interested in the question of female representation beyond Westminster. Starting in the 1870s, the contributions of successive generations of activist women are discussed, finishing with Caroline Benn, the American-born wife of British Labour party politician Tony Benn who entered British public life in the 1960s. From a shared office in the family home in London’s Holland Park, Caroline Benn secured an independent academic status through her work on educational politics. What did she do and how did she do it?
Jane Martin is Professor of Social History of Education at the University of Birmingham, where she teaches and researches on gender and history, education policy and social justice, and research methods in education. Her publications cover politics and policy-making in education in historical and contemporary perspectives and her first book, ‘Women and the Politics of Schooling in Victorian and Edwardian England’, won the History of Education Society (UK) Book Prize in 2002. She is co-editor of Progressive Education: Policy, Politics and Practice – a Routledge book series and her most recent book is ‘Making Socialists: Mary Bridges Adams and the Fight for Knowledge and Power, 1855-1939’ (Manchester University Press). Currently she is completing a manuscript for ‘Gender and History a Palgrave book series: Gender and Education in England since 1770: a social history’. Future publications include a biography of the educationalist Caroline Benn (1926-2000).
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