Friday, 11 November 2011

Alice Schofield Coates (c.NZ495200)

One of Middlesbrough’s most prominent political figures of the 20th century was Alice Schofield. Activist, suffragette and councillor, she was born in the town in 1881, and died, after a full and worthy life, as recently as 1975.

Her early days were inauspicious, to say the least.  With three elder brothers, her mother felt unable to cope, and dispatched her daughter to Manchester to live with an uncle and aunt.  It would be the making of her, as she moved confidently through childhood and into a career as a teacher by the turn of the century.  Influenced by her colleague, Teresa Billington, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1904 – though broke away from the same in 1907 to help form the Women’s Freedom League after disagreeing with the way in which the Pankhursts were running the WSPU.

By 1909, she was back in Middlesbrough, and still campaigning for Women’s Rights – suffering a short spell in prison for her troubles.  In 1910, she married local merchant Charles Coates, not long after he had rescued her from attack at an open-air meeting in Guisborough.  With her financial future seemingly secured, she and her three children enjoyed a comfortable home life, and continued campaigning for both the WFL and social reform in general up and down the country (and even abroad). 

In 1924, her husband lost much of his money, though they were able to maintain a reasonable standard of living (for a time they ran a boarding house).  Alice was a paid organiser for several representative bodies in her time, and a long-time member of the fledgling Labour Party – as well as becoming a JP.  She also became Middlesbrough’s first female councillor in 1919, serving until 1926.

Alice campaigned on several fronts thereafter.  And despite being widowed in 1939, she carried on in public life until 1958 – dying in Middlesbrough in 1975, aged 93.  By all accounts (including those of her children), she was a stern and impressive-looking woman, who got things done!

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