Susan Lawrence

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Arabella Susan Lawrence (12 August 1871 – 24 October 1947) was a British Labour Party politician, one of the earliest female Labour MPs.

Lawrence was the youngest daughter of Nathaniel Lawrence, a wealthy solicitor, and Laura Bacon, daughter of Sir James Bacon, a bankruptcy judge and Vice-Chancellor. She was educated in London and at Newnham College, Cambridge. Originally a Conservative, she was a member of the London County Council 1910–1912, but after coming under the influence of the trades unionist Mary Macarthur she was converted to socialism and rejoined the council as a Labour member from 1913–1927, becoming deputy chairman of the LCC 1925-26. She joined the Fabian Society and became close to Sidney Webb and especially to his wife Beatrice Webb. During the First World War she principally worked to improve the conditions of women factory workers.

As a member of the local council in Poplar, London (1919–24), led at the time by George Lansbury, Lawrence was part of the Labour group that defied central government and refused to set a rate, arguing that the poverty in the area meant that the poor were being asked to pay for the poor. Lawrence was imprisoned for five weeks in Holloway Prison in 1921, but ultimately she and her fellow councillors' campaign succeeded, in that government passed a law to equalise Poor Law rates.

Lawrence first stood, unsuccessfully, for Parliament at Camberwell North West at a by-election in 1920, but won East Ham North in the 1923 election which saw the first Labour government take office in the January of the following year. She was one of the first three female Labour MPs, alongside Dorothy Jewson and Margaret Bondfield, and was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the President of the Board of Education. The minority government lasted only nine months; following the Zinoviev letter, the Labour Party lost the election of October 1924 and Lawrence was personally defeated. However, the Conservative victor, Charles Williamson Crook, died only 18 months later and Lawrence was easily re-elected at a by-election in April 1926.

Cartoon of Susan Lawrence MP, based on Tenniel drawing for Through the Looking Glass

Susan Lawrence was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in the second minority Labour Government elected in 1929. She was also the chair of the Labour Party Conference in Llandudno in 1930 - the first woman to hold the position. Like the vast majority of Labour MPs in Parliament, she refused to take part in Ramsay MacDonald's National Government in the summer of 1931 and she lost her seat in the 1931 general election, never again to be a Member of Parliament.

Maintaining her work in the Labour Party, Lawrence was a member of the National Executive until 1941 and devoted much of her time to working with the blind for the remainder of her life. The detective novelist Cyril Hare and General Sir George Giffard were among her nephews. Lucy Norton, the translator of the writings of Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon, and Lesley Lewis, art historian and author of "The Private Life of a Country House", were among her nieces.

References[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Williamson Crook
Member of Parliament for East Ham North
19231924
Succeeded by
Charles Williamson Crook
Preceded by
Charles Williamson Crook
Member of Parliament for East Ham North
19261931
Succeeded by
John Mayhew
Political offices
Preceded by
Herbert Morrison
Chair of the Labour Party
1929–1930
Succeeded by
Stanley Hirst