Lawrence, Susan (1871–1947)

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Lawrence, Susan (1871–1947)

British politician. Born in London, England, in 1871; died in 1947; daughter of an eminent lawyer and a judge's daughter; studied at University College, London, and Newnham College, Cambridge.

Member of London County Council (1910–28); elected to Popular Borough Council (1919); served as Labour member of Parliament (1923–24, 1926–31); served as parliamentary secretary to Ministry of Health (1929–31); served as chair of Labour Party (1929–30).

Although she never dedicated herself to women's issues during her political career, the feminist movement is indebted to Susan Lawrence. Simply by attaining the office of MP (member of Parliament) in Britain's Parliament of the 1920s, and functioning skillfully there, Lawrence and a handful of other women gave British society new reasons to respect women's abilities.

Born in London in 1871 to a privileged family and well educated, the tall, dignified, and intellectual young Lawrence exuded self-confidence. While still at Newnham College, she led the Conservatives in the college's Political Society, and shortly afterward was elected to a Conservative post on the London County Council. However, Conservative "indifference to low wages and the bad conditions of women [workers]" eventually motivated her to join the Labour Party, where she found her life's path.

Her sincerity, integrity, vigor, and dedication soon propelled her to national office. As an MP, her method was single-minded and her style heroic in her defense of the rights of the working classes; her attitude has been referred to as "daredevil" and "revolutionary." In committee work, this outlook kept her from listening well, but in parliamentary debate, to which she always contributed heavily, it gained her the respect of House members who found her speeches expert, forceful, and precise in relevant fact and detail. Yet her parliamentary career was truncated before its peak, when she was defeated in 1931. Ten years after that, still stalwart in her socialism, she was ousted from the party's executive committee.

Ninety percent of Lawrence's debate topics as an MP were welfare issues, but her politics never included distinctions between women's and men's concerns. In fact, she declared in 1918 that "women must combat the argument that women should organize themselves on a sex basis" and was angry when Labour Party women barred male speakers from one of their national conferences. For her, the class struggle required men and women to band together. In her later years, Lawrence was popular for her racy stories about Labour Party notables, and she remained greatly interested in social issues until the day she died.


Harrison, Brian. Prudent Revolutionaries: Portraits of British Feminists between the Wars. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.

Jacquie Maurice , Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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