1945 and All That: the Butler Act, Sir Henry Hadow and Ellen Wilkinson



Ellen Wilkinson was the daughter of an upwardly mobile cotton worker, later an insurance agent, form a Methodist background. She was fiercely intelligent and won a pupil teacher burdary, enabling her to stay on at school, and the won a scholarship to Manchester University where she read History.


From there she moved into the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and trade unionism. She was opposed to war, and joined the communist party at its foundation in 1920, visiting Russia in 1922.

In 1924, having resigned from the communist party, she won Middlesborough East for Labour. Losing in 1931, she won Jarrow in 1935. When Palmers went bust in 1935, the scale of unemployment was devastating. In response, Wilkinson organised the Jarrow March.

She also, famously wrote her polemic, The Town that Was Murdered.


She was also a radical in foreign policy, over the Spanish Civil War and launching a scathing attack on Chamberlain in 1939.

In the war she served in the Ministry of Pensions; in 1945 Attlee made her the first Minister of Education.

Sir Henry Hadow was a historian of music and and educationalist. Having been principal of Armstrong College, Newcastle, what became Newcastle University, he was also a governor of the RGS. It was while he was vice-chancellor at Sheffield that he was made chairman of the consultative committee of the Board of Education. As such, he wrote six reports: one of those, The Education of the Adolescent (1926), known to History as ten Hadow Report.


In essence, it was Hadow’s recommendations that formed the basis of Butler’s 1944 Education Act. It was Butler’s Act that Ellen Wilkinson had the job of implementing. It was a primarily administrative task, but one she did well with.

Why she died in 1947 remains something of a mystery. She was unwell, and her relationship withe Herbert Morrison was a cause of unhappiness; she may have committed suicide. Ernie Bevin’s tribute is genuinely moving.

And the Butler Act endured, and Red Ellen had her part in that achievement. So why not another cartoon to celebrate


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