Necessary Women: Women working in Parliament
On 2 April 1911, the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison famously hid overnight in a cupboard in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster to be recorded there on census night. She may not have known that 67 other women were also resident that night – housekeepers, kitchen staff, and wives and daughters living in households. This talk will explore stories of women workers in Parliament in the 19th and 20th century with particular consideration of their effect on politics and the work of Parliament. They will include the ever-youthful May Ashworth, Official Typist to Parliament for thirty years through marriage, war and divorce; Kay Midwinter, first woman Clerk in the House of Commons, who listened to Churchill’s war speeches from the chamber while supporting the work of the National Expenditure Committee during the Second World War; and Jean Winder, first female Hansard reporter, who fought a long battle with the Treasury for equal pay.
Dr Mari Takayanagi is Senior Archivist at the Parliamentary Archives where she has worked since 2000. She has particular expertise in public services, exhibition and outreach work, and also other areas including records management, preservation and access. She has a first-class Honours degree in Modern History from the University of Oxford, an MA in Archives and Records Management from UCL, and a PhD in History from King’s College London. In 2018 she was co-curator and joint project manager for Parliament’s Vote 100 Exhibition Project, celebrating the centenary of the first women voters and women MPs.
Mari is a historian of British history from the mid-19th to mid-20th century, specialising in women’s history and Parliamentary history. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and an Honorary Fellow of the Historical Association. Her research interests include legislation affecting women’s lives and gender equality, the early women MPs and Peers, and women staff in Parliament. Her book, ‘Necessary Women: the Untold Story of Women Working in Parliament’, co-authored with Elizabeth Hallam Smith, was published in 2023 by History Press.
Photo credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor.