Remembering Eleanor Rathbone

Image of student playing the flute in Speaker's House

Around 12 months after delivering her Roscoe Lecture on Eleanor Rathbone, Dr Susan Cohen again joined staff and students from LJMU for a special event at Speaker's House in London to reflect on the life and work of an extraordinary Liverpool citizen, Eleanor Rathbone (1872-1946).

The event was organised by LJMU, and hosted by the Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Weatherill, as part of a year of commemorative events marking two 70th anniversaries: that of Rathbone’s death in 1946 and also the first payment of child benefit, an allowance she fought hard for while an independent MP, which was made that same year.

The first female independent MP elected to Parliament, Rathbone was an early suffragette and champion of the poor, and in line with LJMU’s mission, she championed equality of opportunity and the vital role of education. She also worked tirelessly throughout the early part of the Second World War to bring the plight of refugees in Nazi occupied Europe to the attention of the world.

Widely regarded as the leading academic authority on Rathbone, Dr Cohen is the author of Rescue the Perishing: Eleanor Rathbone and the Refugees. In an article for the Women in History Network blog, she wrote: "Who today, apart from a collection of historians, remembers Eleanor Florence Rathbone, an exceptional woman? Her achievements were far greater than the sum of their parts, for she spent her working life confronting 'unsuspected obligations', championing the cause of the under-represented in society, challenging officialdom, and generally fighting for the benefit of others, often at great personal cost. Yet she remains in the shadows of the great and the good."

Along with historian Lesley Urbach, who also attended the Speakers House event, Dr Cohen co-founded the Remembering Eleanor Rathbone Group, which arranged a series of commemorative events in 2016 to set the history books straight. LJMU’s Speaker’s House event was one such event and it celebrated the achievements of this great humanitarian who had an impact on so many lives but eschewed public acclaim, preferring instead, according to her biographer Susan Pedersen, 'to do good by stealth'.

Dr Cohen said:

"The reception marked the culmination of a year of wide-ranging events held in Liverpool, London and Oxford, all dedicated to commemorating and celebrating the life, work and achievements of Eleanor Florence Rathbone, feminist and suffragist, pioneering social and welfare reformer, parliamentarian, internationalist and champion of refugees from Fascist and Nazi Europe, who died 70 years ago in January 1946."


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