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People's champion; Evening 14 NEWS ONLINE: MOBILE:, Tuesday, July 26, 2011.

A FEW years ago there was quite a lot of talk about honouring one of Middlesbrough's most famous and influential politicians.

Ellen Wilkinson was known by many as 'Red Ellen' - a reference both to the colour of her hair and her politics.

Today we take a look back on this remarkable woman's career.

Ellen was MP for Middlesbrough from 1924-1931, one of the most difficult economic periods for the town.

She was one of the very first female members of parliament after women finally won the vote in the wake of the Great War.

She eventually became a cabinet minister, only the second woman to do so, taking responsibility for education in the Labour government, which swept to power in a landslide victory in 1945.

Ellen, born on October 8, 1891, was the third of four children. After graduating from Manchester University she became organiser of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.

She stayed with the organisation until 1915, by which time success in the fight for votes for women was in reach.

Despite being under 5ft in height, Ellen with her pale skin, piercing blue eyes and that famous red hair, was a formidable woman.

She was exactly the sort of MP Middlesbrough East needed at a time when urban poverty was a national disgrace and industry was falling into decline as a result of a world wide economic depression.

She became Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health in Ramsay McDonald's Labour government in 1929, but in 1931 she lost her seat in a straight fight with the Liberal Party candidate Ernest Young.

In 1935 she won the seat for Jarrow. With 80% unemployment, Ellen immediately set about organising the famous Jarrow Crusade, which she joined at intervals on their famous march to London in 1936.

During the Second World War, Ellen worked at the Home Office and in the Labour landslide election victory of 1945 she became Minister of Education - the first woman to hold the position.

She wanted the school age to rise to 16 but this was deemed to be too expensive.

However, but she did succeed in providing free milk in schools for all children.

Ellen was a tireless worker and a formidable political opponent, but her work took a tremendous strain on her health.

She became depressed because of her perceived political failures in not being able to push through her reforms and also because of her personal life.

She died of a heart attack in 1947, aged just 55.


PLEA FOR JUSTICE: Ellen Wilkinson addresses the Jarrow March in Trafalgar Square and, below, as Education Secretary in Clement Atlee's 1945 government
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 26, 2011
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