Event celebrates Yorkshire’s first woman MP


The achievements of a pioneering Yorkshire MP are to be commemorated with a public lecture by senior MP Harriet Harman.

Alice Bacon was elected to represent Leeds North East in 1945 and served her city constituents continuously until her retirement a quarter of a century later (she transferred to Leeds South East when constituency boundaries were revised in 1955). Awarded a CBE in the 1953 Coronation Honours, she took up a seat in the Lords as a Baroness on her retirement as an MP in 1970.

Leeds did not return another woman to the Commons until the election in 2010 of Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, who is also Baroness Bacon’s biographer.

Now Ms Reeves has teamed up with the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds, for the first in what will be a regular series of lectures in the name of her trailblazing forebear, aimed at commemorating the achievements of Leeds women – locally and nationally.

Ms Harman’s lecture, From Pioneers to Parity? 100 Years of Female Suffrage, will be given in the Great Hall at the University on Thursday 25 January.

The event will come at the start of the year which marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act. This gave some women over 30 – and all men – the vote for the first time. Equal suffrage was not to follow for another ten years.

This event will provide an excellent opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, and their struggles to gain equality in all aspects of public life.

Harriet Harman MP

Harriet Harman said: “It is a great honour to have been invited to Leeds to give the first Alice Bacon Lecture. This event will provide an excellent opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, and their struggles to gain equality in all aspects of public life.”

Rachel Reeves added: "It's less than 100 years since women got the vote and 98 years since the first woman took her seat in parliament. In Leeds, Alice Bacon was our first woman in parliament, serving as an MP for 25 years – including as a minister under Harold Wilson.

“Alice was a true pioneer – the daughter of a Normanton coal miner who entered politics and drove forward huge social and educational reform.

“The first Alice Bacon Lecture is about reflecting on and celebrating the contribution that women have made to politics and public life in the last century. The choice of Harriet Harman MP, Mother of the House and champion of women inside and outside Parliament to be our inaugural speaker, shows the huge impact that women have and are having on our political life.”

Kevin Theakston, Professor of British Government in the University’s School of Politics and International Studies, said: “Next year marks the centenary of a significant milestone in the struggle for fairer political representation in this country, a struggle continued by Alice Bacon.

“British politics past and present forms a significant strand of research and teaching for staff and students in the School of Politics and International Students here at Leeds.

“Earlier this month, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, was here to teach a seminar and give a public lecture. We look forward to welcoming such an experienced and high profile MP as Harriet Harman to give our students and others the opportunity to hear the views of another senior politician and public figure.”

During the afternoon before the lecture there will be a showcase of items from Leeds University Library’s Special Collections relating to women in politics, as well as material from the collections of Feminist Archive North on women’s political movements, organisations and campaigns.

The display will be on show in the Sheppard Room of Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery and open to everyone before the lecture, from 3pm until 5.30pm.

Further information

  • Main image shows Alice Bacon after her 1945 election victory. Credit: The Yorkshire Post.
  • For further information and interviews, contact Gareth Dant, Media Relations Manager in the University of Leeds press office, on 0113 343 3996 or email g.j.dant@leeds.ac.uk
  • Baroness Bacon CBE (1909-1993) was born in Normanton, West Yorkshire. Her father was a miner and Labour county councillor. After working as a teacher, she was elected to Parliament in the post-war Labour landslide. She transferred to the Leeds South East constituency with constituency boundary revisions ten years later, serving as its MP until her retirement in 1970. She was a Minister in the Home Office and then the Department of Education and Science between 1964 and 1970 and served on Labour’s National Executive Committee from 1941 until 1960. She served as party chair from 1950 to 1951. She was appointed a CBE in the 1953 Coronation Honours and created Baroness Bacon of the City of Leeds and of Normanton in 1970.
  • Alice in Westminster: The Political Life of Alice Bacon, by Rachel Reeves, is published by IB Tauris.
  • Harriet Harman QC has represented her London constituency (Peckham, latterly Camberwell and Peckham) since 1982, serving in various Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet positions, as well as Deputy and Acting Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition.
  • Parliament’s Vote 100 programme is coordinating a major exhibition as well as education programmes, events, workshops, talks and tours to mark the 2018 centenary. Follow #Vote100 on Twitter.