Throwing a Spotlight on ILP Women

In 1993 Barry Winter wrote in his centenary pamphlet on the ILP’s history, The ILP: Past & Present, about the role of women in the early years of the organisation. He said: “From the beginning the ILP accepted women and men as equal members and … women took a leading part in branch life and as public speakers.”

To mark International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month we are highlighting the lives of nine of those early ILP women by featuring links to profiles published during our 120th anniversary in 2013.

All of these women played significant roles, nationally or locally, in the early years of the Labour movement and were tireless campaigners for women’s votes and gender equality, and against war and poverty.

Not all of them were well-known during their lives, though some, such as Jennie Lee and Isabella Ford, became prominent figures. Even fewer are still well-known today, despite valiant efforts to bring belated recognition to those, such as Ada Salter and Hannah Mitchell, whose immense contributions should never have been lost to history.

All of these women, however, could be said to have lived up to the motto of this year’s International Women’s Day – ‘choose to ‘challenge’ – and of Women’s History Month – ‘challenge to change’.

We hope you find these stories both interesting and inspirational.

Katharine Bruce Glasier – The ILP’s Spiritual Socialist

Katharine Bruce Glasier, the only woman on the ILP’s first ever national council in 1893, was later dubbed “the grandmother of the Labour Party”. But she has often been overlooked in favour of her more famous husband, John.

PAUL SALVESON describes an inspiring figure who made an immense contribution to the socialist movement.

Isabella Ford – Socialist, Feminist and Peace Campaigner

Isabella Ford also became an early member of the national body, after supporting strikers during the celebrated Manningham Mills dispute in Bradford and encouraging women textile workers into unions.

Ford’s biographer, JUNE HANNAM, traces the life of the Yorkshire ILPer whose tireless campaigning for women’s rights, ‘new life’ socialism and peace remains an inspiration today. 

Jennie Lee – A Child of the ILP

KATH CONNOLLY delves into the early years of socialist firebrand Jennie Lee, a woman steeped in the ILP and politics learned at the family fireside in Fife who went on to become an outspoken Labour MP.


Ada Salter – Sister of the People

Ada Salter’s ideas and activism transformed social and economic conditions in a poverty-stricken corner of south-east London, and revolutionised local politics in the early years of the 20th century.

GRAHAM TAYLOR unveils her remarkable story. He went on to publish a celebrated biography of the pioneering Southwark socialist who had been written out of Labour history.

Hannah Mitchell – Bread, and Roses Too

Hannah Mitchell was born on a remote Derbyshire farm but became a lifelong socialist and suffragette whose posthumous autobiography is a classic account of a working-class woman’s quest for personal and political liberation.

MICHAEL HERBERT remembers a self-educated woman who became an pioneering local councillor, magistrate and writer.

Mary Barbour – Govan’s Local Hero

CATRIONA BURNESS marked the centenary of the Glasgow rent strikes in 2015 with this account of the life of Mary Barbour, the ILPer who lent her name to the ‘army’ of women who led resistance to profit-hungry property owners more than 100 years ago.

“Direct and forthright, Mary Barbour emerges as a strong, energetic and convincing campaigner who helped to make the world a different place from the one cast in war-torn crisis in 1915.”

Mabel Tothill and the Bristol ILP

Mabel Tothill was one of a small number of wealthy women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose desire to improve the lives of working men and women promted them to take up the cause of socialism and join Bristol ILP. JUNE HANNAM tells their tale.


Enid Stacy – Bristol Pioneer of Peace and Socialism

RAE STREET reveals the life and work of another Bristol ILPer, Enid Stacy, whose contribution to the spread of early socialist ideas has long been sidelined.

Stacy died tragically young at 35 “but had achieved more in her years of activism than many do over a lifetime… We need to remember the courage of all those who struggled in earlier times, and we should redress the fact that so many, especially women, have been forgotten.”

Dorothy Jewson – Norwich Socialist and Suffragette

Dorothy Jewson was the daughter of a famous builders’ merchant from Norwich who became a suffragette and ILPer, and one of the Labour Party’s first women MPs. She fought to improve women’s status in the party and was at the forefront of campaigns for birth control and peace, but lost her seat in 1924.

“If Jewson had got back into parliament, she would probably have achieved government office,” writes FRANK MEERES.


Discover more about ILP history here.

More of profiles of ILP figures can be found here.

More information about International Women’s Day is here.

1 Comment

  1. Harry Barnes
    8 March 2021

    On Hannah Mitchell (the fifth person covered) see this fine past event which I helped to organise.

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