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Edith Summerskill, the youngest daughter of Dr William Summerskill (1866–1947) and his wife, Edith Clara Wilde, was born in Doughty Street, London, on 19th April 1901. As a child she accompanied her father on home visits and he told her about the connections between poverty and ill-health. Dr. Summerskill held left-wing political views and was a strong supporter of women's suffrage.
Edith was educated at Eltham Hill Grammar School and in 1918 won a place at King's College, where she studied medicine. Trained at Charing Cross Hospital she qualified as a doctor in 1924. The following year she married Dr. Edward Jeffrey Samuel (1895–1983).
In 1928 Edith and her husband established a joint medical practice in North London. In an interview she gave to BBC Radio 4 many years later, she recalled attending her first confinement as a newly qualified doctor. Shocked at the state of the home and the undernourishment of the mother, whose first child had rickets, she said "In that room that night, I became a socialist".
In 1930 Dr Charles Brook met Dr Ewald Fabian, the editor of Der Sozialistische Arzt and the head of Verbandes Sozialistischer Aerzte in Germany. Fabian said he was surprised that Britain did not have an organisation that represented socialists in the medical profession. Brook responded by arranging a meeting to take place on 21st September 1930 at the National Labour Club. As a result it was decided to form the Socialist Medical Association. Brook was appointed as Secretary of the SMA and Somerville Hastings, the Labour MP for Reading, became the first President. Other early members included Edith Summerskill, Hyacinth Morgan, Reginald Saxton, Alex Tudor-Hart, Archie Cochrane, Christopher Addison, John Baird, Alfred Salter, Barnett Stross, Robert Forgan and Richard Doll.
The Socialist Medical Association agreed a constitution in November 1930, "incorporating the basic aims of a socialised medical service, free and open to all, and the promotion of a high standard of health for the people of Britain". The SMA also committed itself to the dissemination of socialism within the medical profession. The SMA was open to all doctors and members of allied professions, such as dentists, nurses and pharmacists, who were socialists and subscribed to its aims. International links were established through the International Socialist Medical Association, based in Prague, an organisation that had been established by Dr Ewald Fabian.
In 1931 the SMA, after representations from Somerville Hastings and Charles Brook, became affiliated to the Labour Party. The following year, at its annual party conference, a resolution calling for a national health service to be an immediate priority of a Labour government was passed. The SMA also launched The Socialist Doctor journal in 1932. Summerskill was an active member of the SMA and as John Stewart, the author of The Battle for Health: A Political History of the Socialist Medical Association (1999), has pointed out, "she put forward the case for a socialized health service, and it was she who came up with the idea of organizing social events both to raise money and to attract publicity to the organization."
Summerskill, who was on the left-wing of the Labour Party, played an active role in supporting the Popular Front government during the Spanish Civil War. On 8th August 1936 it was decided to form a Spanish Medical Aid Committee. Christopher Addison was elected President and the Marchioness of Huntingdon agreed to become treasurer. Other supporters included Summerskill, Somerville Hastings, Charles Brook, Isabel Brown, Leah Manning, George Jeger, Philip D'Arcy Hart, Frederick Le Gros Clark, Lord Faringdon, Arthur Greenwood, George Lansbury, Victor Gollancz, D. N. Pritt, Archibald Sinclair, Rebecca West, William Temple, Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Eleanor Rathbone, Julian Huxley, Harry Pollitt and Mary Redfern Davies. Summerskill was also involved in establishing The National Women's Appeal for Food for Spain.
John Stewart pointed out in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that: "As a feminist, Summerskill paid particular attention to women's social and political issues. In the 1930s she was outspoken in her attacks on the prevailing high rate of maternal mortality and urged that the interests of the expectant mother must always be prioritized by the maternity services. She was especially critical of negligent doctors and inadequate provision, pointing out that a significant proportion of deaths in childbirth resulted from preventable, and hence unnecessary, infections. Unsurprisingly, this was related to broader claims for a publicly funded and administered health care service."
Summerskill was selected as the parliamentary candidate for Bury. In the 1935 General Election she was attacked by the Roman Catholic Church for her support for women's right to birth control. This contributed to her defeat and the following year she was was adopted as Labour Party candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Fulham West. Summerskill won the seat at a by-election in April 1938 and she now joined two other members of the SMA, Alfred Salter and Somerville Hastings, in the House of Commons. Later that year Summerskill was co-founder with Vera Brittain, Helena Normanton and Helen Nutting of the Married Women's Association. The organisation sought equal relationships between men and women in marriage.
During the Second World War the influence of Summerskill and the Socialist Medical Association increased. In October 1940, at the beginning of the Blitz, she told fellow MPs that the wartime organization of health services, and the impact of the war itself, had greatly and irreversibly changed the provision and perception of health care. Along with Somerville Hastings she was a member of Labour's advisory committee on public health, a body charged with formulating proposals for a national health service. In 1944 she became a member of Labour's national executive.
Summerskill was returned to the House of Commons at the 1945 General Election as MP for Fulham West. She was one of twelve SMA members elected and their was now a concerted effort to persuade the government to introduce a National Health Service. Hastings was considered too old to become Minister of Health but it was hoped that Clement Attlee would appoint another SMA member such as Edith Summerskill. However, Attlee rejected this advice and Aneurin Bevan was appointed instead.
Summerskill was appointed as parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Food. As John Stewart has pointed out: "This was always going to be a challenging position at a time of rationing and austerity - aspects of post-war life with which the British people were becoming increasingly disenchanted. Among her campaigns were those to make milk free from tuberculosis, an issue on which she could draw upon her medical knowledge."
In the 1950 Summerskill became minister of national insurance. However, she lost the post following Labour's defeat in the 1951 General Election. Over the next eight years she served on Labour's shadow cabinet. She was also a member of Labour's national executive and was party chairman in 1954–5. In 1956 was one of the platform speakers at Labour's famous Trafalgar Square rally against the Suez War.
In February 1961 Summerskill was made a life peeress. She was an active member of the House of Lords and her successful private member's bill, became the 1964 Married Women's Property Act. She also supported the reform of the law relating to homosexuality and for the legalization of abortion and campaigned against nuclear weapons and the American intervention in Vietnam. In 1967 she published her autobiography, A Woman's World.
Edith Summerskill died at her home in Millfield Lane, Highgate, on 4th February 1980.
Other historians have reached broadly similar conclusions. Honigsbaum describes at length what he sees as the "defeat" of SMA policies in the 1940s. Kenneth Morgan suggests that Bevan was "fully acquainted" with the Association's arguments, and then demonstrates how the Minister ignored most of them. He also, rather curiously, suggests that the SMA had "succeeded in forcing" its ideas on Labour Party conference in 1934; and makes the interesting remark that Bevan's own experiences had made him deeply sceptical of "the vested interests of middle-class pressure groups such as the medical profession". While it is clearly the BMA Morgan has in mind, it is worth speculating on how the working-class Bevan responded to advice - often unsolicited - given by the predominantly middle-class SMA.
Bevan's biographers, and that of his wife Jennie Lee, also help throw light on his relationship with the Association. Lee later recalled her partner's problems in persuading both parliament and his Labour colleagues of the merits of his health service plans. These problems were in part due, she claimed, to the public attacks by "hot-heads, led by the Socialist Medical Association". Bevan's private response was to see the demands of "Dr Stark Murray and his Socialist Medical Association colleagues" as "pure but impotent", a revealing comment from a politician at once highly principled and highly pragmatic. John Campbell suggests that Murray in particular "never forgave" the Labour Health Minister for his neglect of a key Association demand, health centres. Michael Foot, a great admirer of Bevan, has little to say directly about his relationship with the SMA, although he does claim that the Association's 1945 conference resolution was directed more against the actions of Conservative government ministers than it was to "the kind of service which a Labour government should consider". This, it might be argued, tells us as much about Foot's desire to let Bevan off the hook for ignoring established Labour policy as it does about the SMA.
Finally, Patricia Hollis, in her biography of Lee, sees Bevan as situated between the demands of the SMA, "which had drawn up Labour's health policies"; and those of the BMA. In the end, she continues, Bevan was probably right in his judgement that "most of these issues did not matter greatly", a telling remark on the importance of internal democracy in the Labour Party. Nonetheless Hollis also notes that Bevan's scheme had "heavy costs", for example in its administrative structures, but concludes that: "the
strain on Nye, and on Jennie, as he was denounced by the Socialist Medical Association for selling out, by the BMA for his despotic tendencies, by the Tories... and by his Cabinet colleagues for incurring the wrath of all of them, was immense."
In fact, the SMA well understood that any Health Minister faced in the BMA a powerful and politically well-connected pressure group. It had devoted considerable energy, especially post-Beveridge, to attacking what it saw as the main professional body's reactionary attitude, and this continued after the Labour government's election. An Association internal memorandum acknowledged that Bevan faced difficulties in dealing with "vested interests", and that this had been made worse by Willink's secret negotiations with the BMA. The White Paper was therefore no longer the basis on which to proceed, raising the possibility that Bevan would have to seek Cabinet agreement to new proposals "cutting right through all the previous discussions and difficulties". In consequence this might force the SMA to decide whether it could support a system not controlled by local authorities; in which doctors were remunerated using a capitation system; and in which private practice was allowed to continue. Given Bevan's plan, this was a prescient analysis of the dilemma the Association was soon to confront.
The main point, however, is that on taking up his ministerial post Bevan did not feel obliged to take particular heed of the SMA, despite its important contribution to Labour Party health policy up until 1945; and that this was something which, unsurprisingly, the Association increasingly saw as a flaw in the Minister's strategy. The National Health Service as set up by Bevan provided comprehensive and universal medical care, free at the point of consumption. The sale of GP practices was abolished; the hospitals were effectively nationalised, thereby both circumventing and doing away with the voluntary/municipal divide; and the system was financed out of general taxation rather than through an extended version of health insurance. All this was, by any standards, a huge and radical step forward in social welfare, and achieved by extremely demanding negotiations between Bevan and the medical profession right down to the Appointed Day. Bevan's political skill in these trying circumstances, particularly as he was also responsible for the housing programme, cannot be overstated.
On the other hand, the health services were not unified. A tripartite system was created, consisting of the hospital service (with the teaching hospitals having their own special status); general practice; and remaining local authority health functions. Unification and integration through democratically controlled local authorities was hence rejected. Within this complex system, private practice remained and salaried status for doctors abandoned in favour of remuneration by capitation. The majority of practitioners therefore continued as independent contractors. Furthermore, the medical profession (although not other health workers) exerted considerable power over the NHS, in terms of both administration and policy. This was at the expense of democratic control within the service and, arguably, by society as a whole.
Edith Summerskill in the archives
The LSE Women: making history Library series highlights women’s stories from some of the archives and special collections held at LSE Library. Curator Daniel Payne shares Edith Summerskill’s fight for women’s rights.
In her first speech at the House of Commons as Labour MP for Warrington, Dr Edith Summerskill said:
“There is a saying that women are no good at figures, that they have no head for figures but I am reminded that throughout this country in thousands of homes the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a woman.”
Thus began a political career which fought for women’s rights in every sphere, and led to becoming the Minister of National Insurance under the Labour government. You can read all of Edith’s speeches in parliament by accessing Hansard Online.
Equal Pay for Equal Work: any questions?
Edith was drawn to politics after working as a medical doctor in her twenties and thirties and experiencing first-hand the effects of long-term poverty, hunger and a social service that wasn’t fit for purpose.
Edith Summerskill at the Labour Party Conference, 1949
In 1938 she became the MP for Fulham West. In her autobiography she describes parliament as “like a boys’ school which had decided to take a few girls”, and is reminded of a discussion she had on the subject of equal pay for women in her time as Councillor at Middlesex County Council. As the discussion was ongoing a male journalist handed her a note:
Altho’ the words I have to say
Are never meant to vex
A women’s only chance of equal pay
Is change of sex”.
Images of Edith Summerskill from the LSE Library archives
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, Edith recalls in her memoirs her first appearance before the sweet confectionary trade in front of the “aristocrats of the business” Mr Mackintosh and Mr. Cadbury. Edith writes:
“The department gave me a brief, but, having a sweet tooth, I thought I would open up with a reminder that…as I have always had a liking for liquorice I thought it only fair to say that while Mr Mackintosh and Mr Cadbury had played some part in my life, nevertheless I would at some time like to meet Mr Percy Bassett. There was a roar of laughter and from the back row up jumped a charming little plump man who called out, “Here I am, I’m Percy Bassett”. After that everything was easy.”
Edith Summerskill as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food
As a medical doctor, her interests in health persisted in politics. In the 1930s she and other doctors formed a group called the Socialist Medical Association, which was intended to be a “a blue-print for a National Health Service which could be implemented by the next Labour Government”.
Edith Summerskill newspaper clipping and photograph, date unknown
Edith wrote many letters to her daughter throughout her life, which covered a range of topics. Shirley Summerskill would go on to become a Labour politician herself. These are published in “Letters to my daughter”, available at the Women’s Library at LSE. Her final letter in this collection to her daughter finishes thus:
“The shades of the women who blazed the trail that you and I might be free to fulfil ourselves seemed to sit with me on the green benches of Westminster last night. I feel now that you in your turn will go forward to destroy finally those monstrous customs and prejudices which have haunted the lives of generations of women”.
Contributed by Daniel Payne (Curator for Politics and International Relations, LSE Library)
The archives of Edith Summerskill are available at LSE Library and include correspondence, speech notes, photographs, election ephemera, press cuttings and other documents. There is also material available in the Women’s Library at LSE. To find out more and to access this archive, have a look at the Library’s collection highlights webpages or get in touch.
The next in ourseries on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.
Dame Irene Ward (1895-1980) and Dr Edith Summerskill (1901-1980) were two of their parties’ longest-serving MPs. Both fought for equal pay and equality for women in the workplace, including in the House of Commons itself.
Irene Mary Bewick Ward, Baroness Ward of North Tyneside by Bassano Ltd. Half-plate glass negative, 25 November 1931. NPG x31247 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Forthright and often combative in debate, Ward’s public speaking ability led to her selection as a parliamentary candidate, but she had to run for Parliament twice before being elected Conservative Member for Wallsend in 1931, which she represented until 1945. She returned to Parliament in 1950 as MP for Tynemouth and retired from the House of Commons in 1974.
Ward was at home on topics from welfare to heavy industry – her maiden speech was on the Coal Mines Bill in 1932. In 1961, she became the first woman to ask a Prime Minister’s question. Her zeal to defend Parliament’s authority against the Executive earned her a five-day exclusion in 1968 after she protested in front of the Maceabout a guillotine motion on the Finance Bill.
Ward was an active parliamentarian and had four private Member’s Bills passed, which is a record number, on matters including the Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act 1954 and a 1937 measure to give pocket money to elderly residents of poor-law institutions. She also served on the Public Accounts Committee in the mid-1960s.
Ward was a great campaigner for equal pay, raising the topic in a debate in 1950. She also took up the case of Hansard’s sole woman reporter, Jean Winder, and dubbed the Chancellor of the Exchequer a “little dictator” for blocking a move to pay her same as the men. That campaign was won in 1953 and paved the way for Ward, alongside Labour MPs Edith Summerskill and Barbara Castle and the Ulster Unionist Patricia Ford, to present a petition of more than 80,000 signatures in favour of equal pay. Ward became a dame in 1955 and a life peer in 1975.
Edith Summerskill, Baroness Summerskill, by Bassano Ltd. Half-plate film negative, 16 August 1940. Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974. NPG x19469 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Summerskill was drawn to socialist politics by witnessing poverty and ill health during her time as a young medical practitioner, which she described in a 1948 BBC party political broadcast. She was an early campaigner for socialised healthcare and a member of the Labour-affiliated Socialist Medical Association. She was elected in 1938 as MP for Fulham West, but after that constituency was abolished, she became MP for Warrington in 1955.
From early in her parliamentary career, Summerskill took a particular interest in issues affecting women, including equal pay and women’s employment, and medical issues in particular, such as the use of anaesthetics in childbirth. In her maiden speech, she famously said, “There is a saying that women are no good at figures, that they have no head for figures but I am reminded that throughout this country in thousands of homes the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a woman”.
Summerskill founded the Married Women’s Association, of which she became president, in 1938, and was also instrumental in establishing the non-party Women for Westminster group, which aimed at encouraging more women into politics. In the early 1940s, she spoke vividly of the consequences of the war for gender equality and the “social upheaval” that would follow from women’s wider participation in the workplace. As a Pathé film shows, she was proud to carry out the “three man-sized jobs” of wife, doctor and MP.
Summerskill was appointed Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Food in 1945 and used her medical training to encourage better nutrition despite rationing. She was made national insurance Minister in 1951. After entering the House of Lords in 1961, becoming the fifth woman life peer to be appointed, she remained politically active and campaigned for the liberalisation of homosexuality laws and the legalisation of abortion, among other things. Her daughter, Shirley Summerskill, was elected as an MP in 1964.
Watch Yasmin Vossoughian teach these young girls about female trailblazers
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852): the first computer programmer
The world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, was an English mathematician and writer who assisted her mentor, mathematician Charles Babbage, in recognizing that a computing machine, which was a precursor of the computer, can do more than calculations.
Her contributions did not receive recognition until 1953, when B.V. Bowden republished her notes, which described how codes could be created for a computing machine to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense paid tribute to Lovelace by naming a newly developed computer language “Ada.”
Queen Elizabeth II also celebrated Lovelace recently in her first ever Instagram post, where she shared an image of a letter from the Royal Archives at London’s Science Museum.
Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919): self-made millionaire who empowered African-American women
Born in Louisiana in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker became one of the first American-American female self-made millionaires after inventing a chain of hair and beauty products in 1905. Her inspiration was her own scalp condition that led to hair loss.
Walker also established the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company and started a franchise system that empowered hundreds of African-American women who had limited employment options at the time.
Alice Paul (1885-1977): paved the way for women’s right to vote
Women’s rights activist Alice Paul was a leader of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. and later founded the National Women’s Party with Lucy Burns. Paul was a key figure in pushing through the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which banned sex discrimination in the right to vote, and introduced the first Equal Rights Amendment in Congress in 1923. Paul continued to campaign for civil rights and fair employment practices.
Frances Marion (1888-1973): highest-paid female screenwriter in Hollywood
Frances Marion worked as a combat correspondent during World War I and was known as the first woman to cross the Rhine after the armistice. More than a decade later, she became the most celebrated female screenwriter of the 20th century.
She was the first writer to win two Academy Awards. In 1931, she won the Academy Award for Writing for “The Big House” and a year later, won the Academy Award for Best Story for “The Champ.” With nearly 200 writing credits throughout her career, she was also known as the highest-paid female screenwriter, reportedly earning $50,000 a year.
Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987): educator and civil rights activist
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called Septima Clark “the architect of the civil rights movement.” She was a teacher of some of the most influential activists, including Rosa Parks, Diane Nash and Fannie Lou Hamer. She taught young students for more than 40 years and also held informal literacy classes for adults. Clark worked with the NAACP and other civil rights organizations.
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979): leader in astronomy
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who earned a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard, was the first astronomer to discover that stars are made primarily of hydrogen and helium. She also became Harvard’s first female professor and department chair. She published several books during her lifetime, including “The Stars of High Luminosity” and “Variable Stars and Galactic Structure.”
Edith Summerskill (1901-1980): advocate for equal rights for women
British politician and physician Edith Summerskill was a fearless advocate for equal rights for housewives and divorced women. Her efforts led to the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1964, which entitled a woman to keep half of any savings she had made from the allowance given by her husband, and the Matrimonial Homes Act in 1967, which allowed a woman to stay in her matrimonial home after divorce.
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The origins of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975
Not everyone’s insomnia cure is to pore over Hansard archives but here follows a thread (which I might continue to add to, depending on future incidences of insomnia) about the origins of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
It received Royal Assent on 12 November 1975 and is regarded as landmark legislation for women’s rights in the UK. Many of the principles contained within the Act have been carried over into later legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010.
The UN had designated 1975 International Women’s Year and there appears to have been a raft of work in the run-up to explore discrimination against women, as this excerpt from ‘The Official History of the British Civil Service’ (by Rodney Lowe) indicates.
Margherita Rendel states in 1978 (‘Legislating for Equal Pay and Opportunity for Women in Britain’) that there was an unsuccessful attempt to amend the Race Relations Bill (which would become an Act in 1965) so that it covered discrimination against women.
Rendel goes on to note that in each subsequent parliamentary session, attempts were made to introduce a private member’s bill on discrimination against women. They received increasing support in the House of Commons but were defeated.
Eventually the Anti-Discrimination Bill, defeated in the House of Commons, was introduced in the House of Lords in 1971 by Baroness Seear, a member of the Liberal Party. At this point, Seear was also President of the Fawcett Society.
Unusually, the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, which then took two years gathering evidence on the discrimination faced by women. It concluded unanimously that there was a need for legislation.
Rendel states that Conservative members of the Select Committee “angrily defended their report on the floor of the House of Lords against the attempts of their party leaders to denigrate their recommendations”. We now dive into a House of Lords debate on 14 May 1973… You can read the Hansard transcript here.
Baroness Seear kicks off the debate, first thanking the Chair of the Select Committee, Lord Royle. (You’ll note that what was the Anti Discrimination Bill has been renamed the Sex Discrimination Bill. I’ve not been able to establish the exact point at which this happened.)
Lord Royle starts by noting how procedurally unusual it is for a Bill to be referred to a Select Committee. (A similar process had taken place in the House of Commons. Hence his reference to “parallel activity in another place”).
Some frustration voiced by Lord Royle, who has read in the press suggesting that the Government did not intend to proceed with the legislation but instead introduce legislation of its own in the next parliamentary session.
The Minister, Viscount Colville of Culross responds indicating that whilst the Government is “fully in sympathy with the underlying purposes of the Bill”, they have various reservations.
Interesting to note this comment from Viscount Colville: “the nature of discrimination on grounds of sex is different from discrimination on grounds of race. That is so both in scale and in history, though it may be that both have similar roots in prejudice.”
We can see origins of the single-sex exceptions and General Occupational Requirement (both features of EA 2010): “There are also likely to be many jobs where public taste or decency establishes at any rate a strong presumption in favour of the employment of one sex or the other.”
Next the Minister moved on to talk about education. Even four and a half decades later, still shocking to see these figures on the numbers of girls in education. But a reminder of what progress there has been too.
The Select Committee appears to have recommended that there should be a move towards the discontinuation of single sex schools. The Minister objects, saying: “The Government think it right that as much freedom of parental choice as possible should be maintained.”
The Minister expresses a hope that there will be a change in the “social climate” that enables girls and boys to study any subject they choose. (“In principle, I think it is a good idea that boys should cook and that girls should know how to mend fuses.”)
Ending his speech, the Minister then spends some time speaking about how to configure an enforcement body. Interesting to note that he also laments “the lack of guidance about the exceptions of which I spoke earlier”.
Lord Maybray-King (Labour) then asks why the Government has not sought to amend the Bill and the Minister replies confirming press reports that they intend instead to bring forward their own legislation, for which they will produce a consultative document “as soon as possible”.
Next up is Baroness Summerskill (Labour). She is evidently unhappy (angry?) to learn that the the work of the Select Committee is to be abandoned in favour of a Government bill down the line.
Interesting aside: Edith Summerskill was the grandmother of Ben Summerskill, who was the CEO of Stonewall from 2003-2014.
Back to the debate. Intervention from Lord Shackleton (Labour) who is unhappy with the Government position. He also says: “I find it quite extraordinary to use the fact that there are now more highly educated women than ever before as an argument that everything is all right.”
Lord Shackleton is adamant that a legislative approach is required to tackle discrimination against women.
Lord Reigate (Conservative), another member of the Select Committee, also expresses his exasperation at the Government’s plans, saying: “I hesitate to accuse my own Government of discourtesy, but I think that in fact we have been rather discourteously treated.”
He goes on to emphasise that he was not an enthusiast for a legislative approach, but that he changed his mind as he was “amazed by the degree and the wide field of prejudice which exists, and which exists most importantly of all to the damage of our economy”.
Baroness Wooton: “The principal difference is that in the case of race it is a discrimination of the majority against the minority, and in the case of sex it is a case of discrimination of the minority against the majority of the population of this country.”
Side note: Baroness Wooton studied Classics and Economics at Girton College, Cambridge from 1915 to 1919, winning the Agnata Butler Prize in 1917. She gained a first class in her final exams, but as a woman she was prevented from appending BA to her name.
Anger from Baroness Summerskill and Lord De Clifford that the Minister (Viscount Colville) did not intend to engage in the debate further. The Minister responds saying they are wrong to presume that the work of the Select Committee was in vain.
Baroness Seear re-enters the debate, emphasising that the Committee was of the wrong view that it had accumulated sufficient evidence that the legislation was required. She again advances the idea that single sex schools should be phased out in order to tackle sex discrimination.
His concluding remarks spark this very entertaining (!) exchange between him and Baroness Phillips (Labour). Side note: Baroness Phillips’ daughter Gwyneth Dunwoody would later become a Labour MP.
More discussion about the idea of a General Occupational Requirement and whether the Bill should contain an exhaustive list of occupations or whether it should evolve in line with developing case law.
We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.
Would the right hon. Lady also read the letter from Mr. J. W. Graham in reply to the article in the Lancet?
I am trying to quote some absolutely objective authorities. A few skilled experts may escape, but after about fifty fights in a few years the ordinary fighter begins to show unmistakable signs of deterioration. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite are giving me my case without my having to make a speech. The boxer then fails to time his blows properly because the damage to his brain has caused cerebral atrophy. His defence is inadequate and he is soon a back number. The great tragedy, however, is his loss of mental health, his capacity to concentrate and, very often, to co-ordinate his movements and to hold down a responsible job. No amount of medical inspection can make the sense organs less vulnerable or the bone of the temple any thicker.
It is generally agreed that no instrument has yet been invented which can detect the small haemorrhages and the torn fibres of the brain which a boxer sustains in the course of a fight and which, if repeated over the years, produce the condition of punch-drunkenness. When the symptoms appear it is too late to hope that a rest will result in a cure. These injuries do not heal and the destruction of the brain cells is permanent. The frontal lobes which are damaged in this way are those parts which control man's highest functions, namely, his power to co-ordinate his movements, to restrain his impulses and to exercise his power of self-control.
It is argued that individuals watching fights which are accompanied by hysterical yells as the pace quickens and the contestants show signs of wear and tear are worthy men who should be allowed to enjoy their leisure as they think fit. The fact is that the circumstances of a fight unleash sadistic impulses, which are revealed in the ugly behaviour which so often accompanies a prize fight. I would remind the House that cock-fighting was prohibited not for the sake of the cock but because such a display caters to the basest instincts and is calculated to deprave the onlookers.
Can anybody sensibly suggest that the screaming crowd round a boxing ring is having implanted in it the fine qualities of pluck, endurance and restraint? We are told by those in this business that the sole object in view is to give the spectators a display of a sport regulated by rules calculated to ensure the maximum enjoyment of boxing techniques. If that is so, why are these bouts accompanied in the newspapers and on the radio by a commentary deliberately phrased to emphasise the brutal element?
I appeal to hon. Members on both sides to recognise that it is of the utmost importance to control by example the destructive impulse. Our prisons today are overfull of young men guilty of physical assault. This is not a problem peculiar to Britain. Other countries have recognised the harmful effect of these displays. Iceland has led the world and has set an example by making boxing illegal, and powerful anti-boxing movements in Sweden and Belgium have succeeded in introducing certain regulations. One cannot speak too strongly about the pernicious example set to adolescent youth who week after week in their own homes watch violent scenes glamourising brutality which yet have official sanction.
Has not the time arrived when Parliament should take steps to protect our young people from the men who organise these displays on highly profitable business lines? Today I am asking permission to introduce a Bill in order that the whole question may be examined.
Edith Summerskill - History
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"Keep mum – she's not so dumb" - Charcoal, gouache, ink & pastel on board.
"Keep mum – she's not so dumb"
A careless talk poster, illustrated with the figure of a blonde-haired woman reclining, and officers from each branch of the Armed Forces about her, with the slogan ‘Keep mum – she's not so dumb!' The slogan was an adaptation of the 1940 campaign, ‘Be Like Dad, Keep Mum', which had so enraged the Labour MP Dr Edith Summerskill.
The campaign was issued in 1942, for the attention of all ranks, with this particular image intended for officers' messes and other places where the commissioned ranks met. At the end of May, Advertiser's Weekly noted that ‘sex appeal' had been introduced in the form of a beautiful spy, who they insisted on ‘christening Olga Polovsky after the famous song'. In June 1941 they further noted that, having covered public house talk, wayside conversations with strangers, and ‘harmless chat' with friends when on leave, the government believed they had identified ‘the major problem' at last. The campaign was to make a direct appeal along the lines of ‘Cherchez la femme', as a reminder that ‘when in the company of a beautiful woman, remember that beauty may conceal brains'. Service personnel seemed particularly ready to disclose their station and line of work.
Edith Summerskill (1901-80)
Edith Summerskill original David Low caricature portrait artwork.
Edith Summerskill’s childhood experiences of accompanying her father on home visits exposed her to the reality of poverty and ill health and galvanised her to study medicine. She was an early member of the Socialist Medical Association. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, she put forward the case for a socialised health service, and it was she who came up with the idea of organising social events both to raise money and to attract publicity to the organisation. Such middle-class professionals, and especially women, were relatively rare in the Labour Party at this time, dominated as it was by male trade unionists. In 1934 she won a by-election to Middlesex County Council and she represented the working-class Green Lanes division of Tottenham until 1941. In 1944 she became a member of Labour's national executive committee, a sign of her rising status, and served on it until 1958 she was party chairman in 1954-5. After the 1945 general election Summerskill, a great admirer of Clement Attlee, received her first major post as parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Food. In 1950, and a further sign of Attlee's confidence in her, Summerskill became minister of national insurance. She had little time to settle in this post, however, before Labour's defeat at the 1951 general election. From 1951 until 1959 she served on Labour's shadow cabinet. In the late 1940s and 1950s she implacably opposed Aneurin Bevan and his supporters. During the election campaign in 1951 Summerskill told an election rally that Bevan was not the architect of the National Health Service, only its midwife, and that credit for the service should be given to those, such as herself, who had campaigned for socialised medicine since the 1930s. In February 1961 Summerskill was made a life peeress.