Emily Frost Phipps

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Blue Plaque to Emily Phipps, Orchard Street, Swansea

Emily Phipps (7 November 1865 – 3 May 1943) was a headmistress, a feminist, a barrister and an important figure in the National Union of Women Teachers.

Emily Frost Phipps
Born 17 November 1865
Devonport, Devon
Died 3 May 1943
Newbury, Berkshire
Occupation Head teacher and barrister

Women's Freedom League

National Union of Women Teachers
  • Henry John Phipps (father)
  • Mary Ann Frost Phipps (mother)

Early life[edit]

Emily Frost Phipps, the oldest of five children, was born on 7 November 1865 at 9 South Hill Buildings, Stoke Damerel, Devonport, England. Her father, Henry John Phipps was a coppersmith at Devonport Dockyard; her mother, Mary Ann, was formerly Frost, hence Emily's middle name. She became a teacher, initially as a pupil-teacher in an elementary school, then following training in Homerton College, Cambridge, became head teacher of the infants' school attached to the college. Probably returning to Devonport for the time being, she continued to teach, latterly in a higher grade school, while studying for an external London University degree. After obtaining a first-class degree in 1895, she successfully applied for the headship of Swansea Municipal Secondary Girls School, which she quickly transformed from a poorly performing school into one of the most successful in Wales.


A committed feminist, she, together with fellow west country woman and lifelong friend Clara Neal, joined the Women's Freedom League in 1908 following an anti-suffrage meeting in Swansea, and set up a local branch. The meeting had been attended by Lloyd George who claimed that women were being paid to disrupt the meeting, and that they should be forcibly removed. Emily Phipps (and Clara Neal) were so disgusted with this injustice that they immediately became militant suffragettes.

Like many other members of the Women's Freedom League Emily Phipps and Clara Neal, together with two training college lecturers and a business woman, staged a boycott on the night of the 1911 Census, staying overnight in a sea cave on the nearby Gower Peninsula. At the NUWT dinner called to celebrate full female suffrage she explained the reason for the action: "Many women had determined that since they could not be citizens for the purposes of voting, they would not be citizens for the purpose of helping the government to compile statistics: they would not be included in the Census Returns."

Emily Phipps was an active member of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT), which was formed as part of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in 1906, following on from the Equal Pay League. (The NUWT became an independent organisation in 1920, and remained in operation until 1961). Emily was elected President for three successive years from 1915 to 1917 and was the first editor of the NUWT journal, Woman Teacher, from 1919 to 1930, which she ensured was forthright and political in tone unlike those journals aimed at women teachers which included columns on fashion, cookery and similar domestic issues. She was tasked with writing the History of the NUWT (published in 1928).[1]

Writing in 1987, Ursula Masson reflects on the importance of the example of Emily Phipps and Clara Neal: Swansea women now in their eighties recall their education in the schools run by these two forceful women, and the emphasis placed on achievement for girls.

The 1918 general election was the first in which women could both vote in parliamentary elections and stand as candidates, and Emily Phipps was one of the 17 women who took the opportunity to stand, becoming Independent Progressive candidate for Chelsea constituency with the backing of the NUWT. All the women candidates were heavily defeated, but she retained her deposit in a straight contest (with a low turnout) with the sitting Conservative MP, Sir Samuel Hoare.[2]

Later life and death[edit]

While still a head-teacher, Emily Phipps studied for the bar in the evenings and was admitted as a barrister in 1925. Following this, she gave up her teaching position and moved from Swansea to London, but although increasing ill health prevented her from practising in the courts for long, she remained as standing counsel to the National Union of Women Teachers.[3] Clara Neal also resigned her own Swansea headship (she was initially head of Terrace Road School followed by Head of Glanmor Girls School from 1922) and moved to London sharing a house with Emily Phipps and former London teacher Adelaide Jones (amongst others) who had helped Emily Phipps with her 1918 election campaign and who was full-time financial secretary to the NUWT from 1918.

Clara Neal died in 1937 but Emily Phipps continued to live with Adelaide Jones and at the start of World War 2 in 1939 they were living in retirement in Eastbourne. The last few months of Emily Phipps' life were spent (with Adelaide Jones) at her brother's house near Newbury, Berkshire, where Adelaide Jones remained after Emily Phipps death.

Emily died on 3 May 1943 of complications from a heart condition. In the entry on Emily Phipps in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Hilda Kean describes her versatility, "she had a working knowledge of French, German, Italian and Welsh… she enjoyed part-singing, embroidery, reading and gardening. Known for her sparkling personality, wit and strong tongue she inspired a generation of women teachers. Her belief was 'if you make yourself a doormat, do not be surprised if people tread on you."


  • Rolph, Avril, 'Definitely not a doormat: Emily Phipps, feminist, teacher and trade unionist', in Swansea History Journal / Minerva, No. 22, 2014–15, Swansea, Royal Institution of South Wales, 2014
  • Kean, Hilda, Deeds not Words, London, Pluto, 1990
  • Oram, Alison 'Women teachers and feminist politics, 1900–39', Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1996
  • Masson, Ursula, 'Swansea Suffragettes' in Women in Wales: a documentary history of our recent history, Volume 1. Ed Luana Dee and Katell Keineg, Cardiff, Womenwrite Press, 1987
  • Wallace, Ryland 'The women's suffrage movement in Wales, 1866–1928', Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 2009
  • Kean, Hilda, "Phipps, Emily Frost (1865–1943). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [1]


  1. ^ Wallace 2009, pp. 260–61
  2. ^ Wallace 2009, p. 253
  3. ^ Wallace 2009, p. 261


A collection of papers relating to Emily Phipps is held in Institute of Education Archives, University of London, National Union of Women Teachers Collection

Material relating to Emily Phipps' career and life in Swansea can be found in West Glamorgan Archives, Swansea and Swansea Central Library.