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Special Collections & Archives logo : Eleanor Florence Rathbone (12 May 1872-2 Jan 1946)

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Eleanor Florence Rathbone (12 May 1872-2 Jan 1946)

"Throughout her life Miss Rathbone was associated with movements designed to better the condition and status of women and children and to bring about equality between the sexes. For more than thirty years she advocated financial aid for parenthood, and the placing on the statute book ... of the Family Allowances Act." (The Times, 3 Jan 1946)

Portrait of Eleanor RathboneSecond daughter of William Rathbone VI (1819-1902) and his second wife Emily Lyle (d 1918). Unmarried.

Eleanor was educated at Kensington High School, London and Somerville College, Oxford where she studied Litterae Humaniores. At Oxford, she became friends with Hilda Oakeley, Margery Fry and Barbara Bradbury and developed a passion for debating, joining the highly selective group known as the 'A.Ps' ('Associated Prigs'). Eleanor earned a reputation for her strong, clear voice and her ability to clarify the most difficult of discussions.

On leaving Somerville, she returned to Liverpool where her work led to the publication of her Report on the results of a Special Inquiry into the conditions of Labour at the Liverpool Docks, 1903. She became the first woman to be elected to Liverpool City Council, serving the Granby Ward as an Independent Councillor, 1909-1935. Eleanor was also closely associated with the fight for equal citizenship for women; the Liverpool Women's Suffrage Society was established largely through her efforts in 1909 and in an election address of 1910, Eleanor stated her belief that: "the interests of women should be directly addressed by someone of their own sex.". She later founded the first Women's Association in Liverpool in 1913 to promote women's involvement in political affairs, partly through education in political and civil questions.

In 1929 she was elected as Independent M.P. for the Combined Universities, a position she held until the year before her death. During her parliamentary career, she was Chair of the Family Endowment Society; Member of the Children's Minimum Council and Joint Committee for Spanish Relief and Honorary Secretary for the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees. The cause perhaps most often associated with Eleanor Rathbone was the campaign to introduce Family Allowances, which succeeded against great opposition, with the passing of the Family Allowance Act in the year before her death.

Eleanor was acknowledged as being one of the first to realise the potential danger from Germany and the Nazi Party during the early 1930's. She joined the British Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi Council to champion human rights and was instrumental in petitioning the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to prevent the exportation of aero-engines or other parts of aircraft liable to be converted to military use.

Books written by Eleanor Rathbone.

Eleanor Rathbone in the Rathbone papers

The Papers of Eleanor Rathbone (RP XIV) include personal correspondence, drafts of Parliamentary speeches, and other material covering her public activities, c1890 - 1952.

RP XIV.1 Personal Correspondence

c1890-1914. Includes private correspondence between Eleanor, her mother Emily (RP XIV.1.1-3) and her sister Evelyn (RP XIV.1.4-5). Various correspondents including Christabel Pankhurst (1910, RP XIV.1.15) and circular letters sent during her trip to India, 1932

RP XIV.2 Public Correspondence and Papers: Files

c1928-1946. Letters, reports, memoranda, etc on her parliamentary and public work

  • Rights of Coloured Women in the Colonies, 1928-38 (RP XIV.2.1 (1-54)
  • Employment of Graduates, 1929-36 (RP XIV.2.2 (1-6, 6A))
  • University Franchise, 1930-36 (RP XIV.2.3 (1-54))
  • Wills and Intestancies Bill, 1931-43 (RP XIV.2.4 (1-15))
  • Rights of Women in Palestine, 1933-36 (RP XIV.2.5 (1-64)
  • Opposition to the Nazis, 1933-36 (RP XIV.2.6 (1-16)
  • Children's Minimum Council, 1934-40 (RP XIV.2.7 (1-19)
  • Campaign for award of Nobel Peace Prize to Carl Von Ossietzki, 1936 (RP XIV.2.8 (1-21))
  • Balkan Tour, 1937 (RP XIV.2.9 (1-56))
  • Spanish Civil War, c 1936-40 (RP XIV.2.10 - RP XIV.2.14)
  • Czechoslovakian Refugees, 1938-39 (RP XIV.2.15 (1-47))
  • All-Party Parliamentary Action Group, 1939-40 (RP XIV.2.16 (1-75))
  • Refugees and Aliens in Britain, 1940-45 (RP XIV.2.17 (1-65))
  • Deportataion of Poles into the U.S.S.R, 1943-45 (RP XIV.2.18 (1-40))
  • Various Wartime Activities, 1939-46 (RP XIV.2.19 (1-86))
RP XIV.3-4 General Papers

1872-1952. Notes for election campaigns, speeches and publications by Eleanor Rathbone

  • Notes and questions made by Eleanor Rathbone in Parliament (RP XIV.3.5-3.6 (6-85))
  • Press-cuttings scrapbooks: Women's Suffrage (RP XIV.3.89); her candidature during the Parliamentary Election of 1922 (RP XIV.3.90); Miscellaneous, 1906-43 (RP XIV.3.91)
  • 'Utopia Calling: A Plea for Family Allowances', from an address broadcast by Eleanor Rathbone and various ephemera concerning the Family Endowment Society, 1930 (RP XIV.3.99)
  • Correspondence between Eleanor Rathbone Mrs Clementine Churchill, Jawaharal Nehru and other correspondents (RP XIV.4.1-41)
RP XIV.5 Winifred Smith deposit 1997

1929-1948 Correspondence, including election material, of Eleanor Rathbone and Winifred Smith's parents (Prof. Frank and Mrs Evelyn Smith of Leeds). Also letters from Elizabeth Macadam after Eleanor's death. With printed material and press cuttings.

RP XIV.6 Patrick Rathbone deposit 2002

1897-1946; 1947-48 Papers from the estate of Dr B.L. Rathbone (Eleanor's executor) including correspondence and press cuttings; with letters to Mary Stocks about Eleanor for her biography, 1949.

See also: Eleanor Rathbone, MP (PDF)