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Ellen Wilkinson (1891–1947)

Author of The Division Bell Mystery

Includes the names: Ellen Wilkinson, Ellen Cicely Wilkinson

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Ellen Wilkinson was born in Manchester, England, to a strict Methodist working-class family. She made up for a poor early eduction by her own reading. In 1906, she won a scholarship that enabled her to begin training as a teacher, one of the few occupations open to women. At age 16, she joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP), where she was deeply impressed by socialist politician Katharine Bruce Glasier and suffragist Hannah Mitchell. She won a scholarship to attend the University of Manchester, where she joined the Fabian Society. After graduation, she went to work for the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, and later as a trade union organizer. In 1924, she was elected Labour MP for Middlesbrough East, and supported the 1926 General Strike. She published A Workers' History of the Great Strike in 1927, and Clash, her first novel, in 1929. Other works from this time included Peeps at Politicians (1931) a collection of humorous essays on of her parliamentary colleagues. After being out of Parliament for a few years, she returned in 1935 as MP for Jarrow. She became a national figure in 1936 when she led the Jarrow March of the town's unemployed to London. She was a strong advocate for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and made several visits to the battle zones. Other published works during this time included The Terror in Germany (1933), Why Fascism? (1934), Why War? (1935), and The Town That Was Murdered: The Life-Story of Jarrow (1939). During World War II, she served as a junior minister at the Ministry of Home Security and began to turn away from many of her former extreme left-wing positions. After the war, Clement Attlee appointed her as Minister of Education, where she applied much of her energy to reforms such as raising the school leaving age from 14 to 15, free school milk, and an increase in university scholarships. She died in office at age 55 in 1947 after developing pneumonia.
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