If ever the history of the Socialist movement comes to be written, it will be in the main the history of the labours of obscure and unknown men and women. (William Stewart, 1900)
This paper will explore the notion of history making and recovering voices that have been discounted or forgotten in the light of my biographical study of Mary Bridges Adams. Mary was among the thousands of women recruited to teach in the nineteenth-century elementary school system. In the late 1880s, she crossed what contemporaries called the ‘river of fire’ and became a Socialist. Encouraged by William Morris and with the financial support of the Countess of Warwick, the former lover of King Edward VII, she devoted her energies to demands for social reform and war-resistance. During the First World War she began to assist émigrés threatened with being sent back to Tsarist Russia, by which time she had a wide range of contacts among suffragettes, trade unionists and socialists, as well as Russian political refugees. Guiding the campaign in defence of the right of asylum she came under suspicion, the police and Special Branch ransacked her home, and she was detained for 30 hours. Foes thought her an awful woman: friends like George Bernard Shaw remembered the power of her oratory.
Placed against the circumstances in which she lived and presented as part of a militant and anti-capitalist tradition within labour history, her life story contributes to new ways of seeing socialist and feminist politics. Although traditional narratives pay little attention to women, it will be argued that Mary’s activities within the Labour movement, and as a campaigner for improvements in working-class education, challenged established elites in ways that have a continuing relevance for our understanding of politics and policymaking in education.
Cost: Free of charge