Stocks, Mary Danvers (1891–1975)

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Stocks, Mary Danvers (1891–1975)

Baroness of Kensington and Chelsea, feminist, college administrator, social reformer, and writer. Born on July 25, 1891, in Kensington, London, England; died in London on July 6, 1975; daughter of Roland Danvers Brinton (a physician) and Helen Constance Rendel; educated at St. Paul's Girls' School and the London School of Economics, B.Sc. in economics; married John Leofric Stocks, in 1913 (died 1937); children: one son, two daughters.

Selected writings:

Eleanor Rathbone (1949); The Workers' Educational Association, the First Fifty Years (1953); A Hundred Years of District Nursing (1960); Ernest Simon of Manchester (1963); My Commonplace Book (1970).

Mary Danvers Stocks was born into a comfortably wealthy London family in 1891, and enjoyed a privileged childhood surrounded by loving family members with distinguished connections. Influenced by her maternal grandparents' commitment to philanthropic interests, she was an early volunteer in the meal program at St. Paul's Girls' School. She also acquired an interest in the suffrage movement from her mother's family and, while still a student at St. Paul's, participated in the Mud March of 1907. Despite her initial unhappiness with school, she enrolled at the newly opened London School of Economics in 1910, where she earned a degree and met her future husband, John Leofric Stocks. The couple married following completion of her studies in 1913 and Mary Stocks lectured at her alma mater and at King's College for Women while John served in the Army. Seriously wounded in the war, he returned home for a brief stay at Oxford. They eventually settled in Manchester, where John became a professor in the philosophy appointment at Manchester University in 1924. Stocks continued her lecturing and suffrage activities. She also became heavily involved with the Manchester University Settlement and the birth-control clinic she had opened in 1925—the first in the area.

Active in the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), which had become the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC), Stocks jointly edited its journal, the Woman's Leader, in the early 1920s. Although personally opposed to abortion, Stocks persuaded the organization to expand its policy to include the issue of birth control. Following the achievement of full women's suffrage in 1928 (women 30 and older had been granted the vote in 1918), Stocks urged leaders of the NUSEC to press for equal opportunities and equal pay for women; however, despite her influence, the group's focus became largely educational rather than political. In addition to serving on various committees studying crime and gambling during the early 1930s, Stocks also worked on government assignments, including the postal department, the BBC, and grants to universities.

The appointment of Stocks' husband as vice-chancellor of Liverpool University necessitated another move in 1936, and it also signaled a new direction for Stocks when John died suddenly of a heart attack in 1937. Returning to London, she worked briefly as the general secretary of the London Council of Social Service, and then accepted the position of principal of Westfield College in 1939. An effective and compassionate leader, Stocks saw the college through difficult times while also attracting public attention to the institution through her personal fame as a broadcaster on such radio programs as "The Brains Trust," "Petticoat Line," and "Any Questions." She retired in 1951.

Stocks' responsibilities to the college did not limit her activities in other spheres. Her service on such government committees as the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee and in organizations such as the Workers' Educational Association gave her the opportunity to contribute to noteworthy causes. And although she became a less vociferous advocate of feminism, it was because she believed that the major battles had been won. With her longtime friend Eleanor Rathbone , she attempted to expand the concept of feminism to include the role of motherhood and the raising of families. She also found time to write on social and educational issues close to her heart with her biographies of Rathbone (1949) and Ernest Simon (1963). Stocks published a history of the Workers' Educational Association, of which she was deputy president for many years, titled The Workers' Educational Association, the First Fifty Years (1953). She also wrote another history text, A Hundred Years of District Nursing, in 1960, and ten years later saw publication of her autobiography, My Commonplace Book.

Stocks' service resulted in the bestowing of several honorary degrees and a peerage in 1966. She earned the respect of her peers in the House of Lords, assuming the Labor Party whip. Stocks died in London on July 6, 1975.


Banks, Olive. The Biographical Dictionary of British Feminists; Vol. I: 1800–1930. NY: New York University Press, 1985.

Blake, Lord, and C.S. Nicholls. The Dictionary of National Biography, 1971–1980. NY: Oxford University Press, 1986.

The Concise Dictionary of National Biography. NY: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Uglow, Jennifer, ed. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1982.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan