Braddock, Bessie (1899–1970)

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Braddock, Bessie (1899–1970)

Member of British Parliament (1945–1970). Name variations: E.M. Braddock. Born Elizabeth Margaret Bamber in Liverpool, England, on September 24, 1899; died on November 13, 1970; daughter of Hugh and Mary Bamber; attended public schools in Liverpool until age 15; married John Braddock, in 1972.

Known among her working-class constituents as "Battling Bessie," Elizabeth Margaret Braddock was a Labour Member of Parliament for 35 years, during which time she was an outspoken champion of social reform. Braddock was born among the Merseyside dockers of Liverpool, England, and received her early lessons in political reform from her parents. Her mother Mary Bamber was both national organizer of the National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers and a Labour Party worker; her father Hugh was an active Liverpool Socialist. At age 15, Braddock left school to work as an assistant in the Liverpool Co-operative Society. She was a vocal pacifist during World War I and, during the postwar years, became an active trade unionist and political worker.

In 1930, after a brief flirtation with the Communist Party, Braddock was elected a Labour member of the Liverpool City Council. With her husband, also a member of the council, she launched a campaign to rid the city of its slums. Her search for improved housing was unrelenting. "I don't care whose houses we take," she said "even if they're Lord Derby's or the Earls of Stamford's—when working-class people are living like herrings in a tin" (New York Herald Tribune, August 5, 1943). Her determined efforts for the city also resulted in expanded maternity and child-welfare programs, as well as the establishment of several homes for the elderly. In 1955, she became an alderman of the council.

Braddock was elected to Parliament on the Labour ticket in 1945, ending the Tory stronghold in the Exchange division. Her opposition to the Conservatives was immediately apparent, as was her overwhelming loyalty to her constituency. During Braddock's lengthy tenure in the House (until her death in 1970), she negotiated an end to a five-week national dock strike, championed a bill nationalizing the trucking industry, uncovered an illegal arms shipment to the Liverpool docks which resulted in a halt on surplus arms shipments, and exposed mistreatment of prisoners in a Liverpool jail which sparked an inquiry by the secretary of state for the Home Department.

An imposing woman of 200 pounds, Braddock was known for her colorful oratory and unorthodox demonstrations. In 1952, during a fight to ease an unemployment crisis in the textile industry, she was ordered out of the House of Commons and suspended from five sessions for demanding to speak in a debate and refusing to be seated. In 1954, she and one other Member refused to sign a commemorative volume to be presented to Winston Churchill on his 80th birthday, because of his involvement in breaking up a coal strike in Tonypandy, Wales. Perhaps most dramatic was her 1956 protest of the widespread purchase of air pistols by juveniles without licenses. Confiscating two pistols from the Liverpool police, Braddock obtained a license for them and fired them off during a House session. She explained: "You see I have to startle this House before anyone does anything about anything."

In 1955, Time magazine called Braddock "salty as [Liverpool's] docks, as fierce as its wind, and biting as its rain." She died on November 13, 1970.

sources:

Current Biography 1957. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1957.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts