Clara Rackham

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Clara (centre front), with her father Henry and mother Emma, sister Margaret and brother Francis

Clara Dorothea Rackham (3 December 1875 – 1966) was an English politician active in the Suffragist and Labour movements.[1]

Early life[edit]

She was born in Notting Hill, the daughter of Henry Tabor, an Essex gentleman from a non-conformist family based in Bocking and Emma Woodcock, who came from Wigan.[1] She was educated at Notting Hill High School, St Leonards College of St Andrew's University (1892–3), Bedford College in 1894, and Newnham College, Cambridge.[2][3][1] At Newnham 1895–8 she studied classics, and found a lifelong friend in Susan Lawrence. She then took an interest in nursery schools.[4] Another concern was the Girls' Friendly Society.[5]

Cambridge activist and politician[edit]

After marrying in 1901, Rackham moved back to Cambridge, where Adela Adam joined her to a suffragist club.[6] In Cambridge she worked with Leah Manning.[7] From 1902 she was active on behalf of the Women's Co-operative Guild. As a local politician she was a Poor Law Guardian (1904–17), city councillor, and then county councillor.[8][9][1]

Factory inspector[edit]

During World War I Rackham worked as a factory inspector, resigning in 1915 from the executive of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies to do so, a position she had held since 1909 (chair from 1912).[10][11][8][4] One of four women appointed to temporary positions on 25 October 1915, she was chosen with Annette Tawney, wife of R. H. Tawney;[12] she worked initially in Lancashire, and then in the London area. The post meant she turned down an academic position at Bedford College.[13]

Labour party politician[edit]

Around the end of the war Rackham joined the Labour Party;[8] though she stood as an Independent in the Cambridge town council election of March 1919.[14] In 1920 Hugh Dalton was brought in as prospective Labour candidate for Cambridge: this happened through his contacts with a group including Susan Lawrence, Leah Manning and Rackham. He was defeated at the Cambridge by-election, 1922. For personal and political reasons, the relationship then broke off.[15]

Leah Manning wrote that, during the General Strike 1926, the Cambridge strike headquarters was in Rackham's basement kitchen.[16] While Rackham herself stood for parliament, she was not elected: she was a defeated candidate at Chelmsford (1922) and Saffron Walden (1935).[8][13] In the late 1920s, she was a prospective candidate, for Huntingdon.[17] From 1930 to 1932 she served on the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, where she clashed with the civil servant Raymond Streat (he thought the dole too high, and assumed this was the consensus view).[9]

Legal interests[edit]

Rackham served as a magistrate, from 1920, which became a central concern; Margery Fry, another Justice of the Peace, was a good friend.[8][18] She belonged to a group reporting on child sexual abuse to parliament in 1925, with Clara Martineau and Robert John Parr.[19] From 1923 to 1931 she edited, and in general wrote, a legal column for Women's Leader, the journal of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship.[8]

A member of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Rackham was also a founder-member of the Magistrates' Association in 1927. She was an advocate of probation, and opponent of corporal punishment.[8] In 1933 she argued that no young person under the age of 17 should be sent to prision. At the time the age limit was 14.[20]

Rackham resigned as a magistrate in 1950.[4]

Other interests[edit]

Rackham was a part-time lecturer for the Workers Educational Association, and Chairman for the Eastern District. For the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organizations (SJCIWO), she went onto the birth control subcommittee in 1923. She joined the British American Women's Crusade, and was a vice-president.[4] In 1930 she was chairman of the SJCIWO.[21]

In 1933 Rackham wrote to The Manchester Guardian regarding the recently passed Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Rackham drew attention to the range of options made available to magistrates when dealing with children in need of care or protection, while criticising certain aspects of the legislation for not going far enough.[20]


  • Contribution to Cambridge: A Brief Study in Social Questions (1906) by Eglantyne Jebb, on co-operation
  • Survey of Cambridge for Social Conditions in Provincial Towns (1912)) by Helen Bosanquet
  • Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, abridged minority report (1933, Fabian Society)[22]
  • Factory Law (1938)
  • Lawless Youth. A Challenge to the New Europe. A Policy for the Juvenile Courts prepared by the International Committee of the Howard League for Penal Reform 1942–1945 (1947), with Margery Fry, Max Grünhut, Hermann Mannheim, and Wanda Grabinska


Rackham was an early female voice on BBC radio in the 1920s. She gave talks on the work of a magistrate, and legal matters.[23] A series How we Manage Our Affairs in 1929 began with a talk "How we Elect our Councillors".[24]


In 1901 she married Harris Rackham; he had been a Classical Lecturer at Newnham from 1893.[4][25] A classical scholar and Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, he was brother of Arthur Rackham. The marriage was childless; Harris died in 1944.[1] Another brother, Maurice, married Marjorie Dale, daughter of Sir Alfred Dale, also known as a suffragist.[26][27]

Margaret Tabor, Clara's older sister, was an Essex county councillor [28] and was involved in the founding of Braintree High School.[29]


Rackham Close, in Arbury, Cambridge, is named after her.[30]


  1. ^ a b c d e Harrison, Brian. "Rackham, Clara Dorothea". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/48589.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Street, Raymond (1987). Lancashire and Whitehall: the Diary of Sir Raymond Street. Oxford: The Alden press. p. 45. ISBN 0 7190 2390 4. 
  3. ^ Cheryl Law (2000). Women: A Modern Political Dictionary. I.B.Tauris. p. 127. ISBN 1-86064-502-X. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Law (2000). Women: A Modern Political Dictionary. pp. 127–8. 
  5. ^ Anne Frances Helen Logan (2002), "Making women magistrates: feminism, citizenship and justice in England and Wales 1918-1950". PhD thesis, University of Greenwich (PDF), at pp. 215–16.
  6. ^ Ann Oakley (15 August 2011). A Critical Woman: Barbara Wootton, Social Science and Public Policy in the Twentieth Century. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-84966-468-4. 
  7. ^ Law (2000). Women: A Modern Political Dictionary. p. 103. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Jean Spence; Sarah Aiston; Maureen M. Meikle (10 September 2009). Women, Education, and Agency, 1600–2000. Routledge. pp. 211–3. ISBN 978-1-135-85584-0. 
  9. ^ a b Sir Raymond Streat (1987). Lancashire and Whitehall: The Diary of Sir Raymond Streat. Manchester University Press. p. 45 and note. ISBN 978-0-7190-2390-3. 
  10. ^ Lawrence Goldman (12 September 2013). The Life of R. H. Tawney: Socialism and History. A&C Black. p. 142. ISBN 978-1-78093-612-3. 
  11. ^ David Rubinstein (1991). A Different World for Women: the life of Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Ohio State University Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-8142-0564-8. 
  12. ^ "Factory and Workshop Acts, 1901 to 1911" (PDF). The London Gazette. 29 October 1915. Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Cathy Hartley (15 April 2013). A Historical Dictionary of British Women. Routledge. p. 364. ISBN 978-1-135-35533-3. 
  14. ^ Cheryl Law (22 April 2000). Suffrage and Power: The Women's Movement 1918-1928. I.B. Tauris. pp. 123–4. ISBN 978-1-86064-478-8. 
  15. ^ Pimlott, Ben (1986). Hugh Dalton (Papermac ed.). London: Macmillan. pp. 116–9 and 159. ISBN 0333412516. 
  16. ^ Logan (2002), "Making women magistrates", p. 207.
  17. ^ Logan (2002), "Making women magistrates", p. 235, note 22.
  18. ^ Logan, Anne (2010). Women, Education, and Agency, 1600–2000. Oxford: Routledge. pp. 211–214. 
  19. ^ Louise A. Jackson (11 January 2013). Child Sexual Abuse in Victorian England. Routledge. p. 64. ISBN 978-1-134-73665-2. 
  20. ^ a b "The Manchester Guardian". Letters to the Editor. 3 November 1933 – via ProQuest. 
  21. ^ Diana Palmer, "Women, Health and Politics, 1919– 1939: Professional and lay involvement in the Women's Health Campaign" (PDF), at p. 125
  22. ^ Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance; William Asbury; Clara Dorothea Rackham (1933). An Abridgement of the Minority Report signed by the Labour members of the Commission. Fabian Society. 
  23. ^ Logan (2002), "Making women magistrates", p. 235.
  24. ^ "Mrs. C. D. Rackham: 'How we Manage Our Affairs-I, How we Elect our Councillors' - 5XX Daventry - 6 November 1929 - BBC Genome". BBC Online. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  25. ^ "Rackham, Harris (RKN887H)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  26. ^ "Rackham, Maurice (RKN897M)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  27. ^ Elizabeth Crawford (15 April 2013). The Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey. Routledge. p. 206. ISBN 978-1-136-01062-0. 
  28. ^ Baldwin, Anne (2012), "Progress and patterns in the election of women as councillors, 1918–1938". Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield. (PDF), p. 221.
  29. ^ Tompsett, Marjorie. "The Tabor Diaries 1868 - 1870: Henry Tabor and his comments on some aspects of the mid-Victorian scene" (PDF). Commons. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  30. ^ Wimhurst, Tamsin. "Cambridge Women and Work.pdf". Cambridge Folkmuseum. Retrieved 4 July 2016.