Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Wilkinson's parents were Richard Wilkinson and Ellen Wood, both Methodists. Richard Wilkinson was employed as a Manchester textile worker then became an insurance clerk. Ellen won several scholarships and was thus able to progress her education, mainly at the Ardwick School . In 1910 she became a student at the University of Manchester, where she studied history. She was a very small woman with a shock of red hair, pale skin and arresting blue eyes.
Wilkinson developed an interest in socialism after reading Merrie England by Robert Blatchford. At the age of sixteen she joined the Independent Labour Party after hearing a speech made by Kathleen Glasier . At University she became active in various organisations including the University Socialist Federation, the Fabian Society and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies , for which she became an organiser in 1913. In 1915 she was employed by the National Union of Distributive & Allied Workers to organise the Co-operative Employees, the first woman organiser of that trade union. She was a founder member of the Communist Party in 1920 and in 1921 attended the founding conference of the Red International of Labour Unions in Moscow but left the CP in early 1924. She was also active in local politics and in 1923 was elected to Manchester City Council.
In the 1924 General Election, Wilkinson was elected to represent Middlesbrough East. In the House of Commons she was given the nickname of 'Red Ellen' both for her hair colour and her politics. Wilkinson had a reputation for being tough and charismatic. She was active in the 1926 General Strike. Following the 1929 General Election, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald appointed Wilkinson as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health. Wilkinson opposed the National Government formed by MacDonald and lost her seat in the 1931 General Election, along with many of her Labour colleagues. She then devoted herself to writing - including a novel, The Division Bell Mystery - and campaigning.
In the 1935 General Election, Wilkinson re-entered Parliament as MP for Jarrow. The town had one of the worst unemployment records in Britain with nearly 80% of the insured population out of work. In 1936 she organised the historic Jarrow March of 200 unemployed workers from Jarrow to London where she presented a petition for jobs to Parliament.
Wilkinson became associated with the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party, helping to found Tribune Magazine and supporting the International Brigades fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War. She travelled to Spain with Clement Attlee where they documented the German bombing of Valencia and Madrid.
In 1938 Wilkinson succeeded in making her 1938 Hire Purchase Act law. The act protected those who bought high-cost goods on credit, requiring shopkeepers to display on the goods the actual cash price plus the sum added for interest, and protecting hirers who had paid at least one third of the price, who might otherwise lose their payments if the goods were seized due to arrears.
In Churchill's wartime coalition government, Wilkinson was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Pensions. Later she joined Herbert Morrison at the Home Office. She was responsible for air raid shelters and was instrumental in the introduction of Morrison Shelters in 1941.
Following the 1945 General Election, Prime Minister Clement Attlee appointed Wilkinson as Minister of Education, the first woman to hold the post in Britain. Her plan to increase the school-leaving age to sixteen was abandoned when the government decided that the measure would be too expensive. However, she did persuade Parliament to pass the 1946 School Milk Act that gave free milk to all British schoolchildren.
- The Workers History of the Great Strike (1927), with Frank Horrabin and Raymond Postgate
- Peeps at Politicians (1931)
- The Terror in Germany (1933)
- The Division Bell Mystery (1932), a novel
- The Town That Was Murdered (1939), account of the Jarrow March
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details