Ward, Irene (1895–1980)
Ward, Irene (1895–1980)
English politician . Name variations: Irene Mary Berwick Ward; Baroness Ward. Born in England in 1895; died in 1980; daughter of architect A.J. Berwick Ward; educated at Newcastle Church High School.
Was a member of Parliament (1931–45, 1950–74), which made her the longest serving woman member at the time; made a Dame of the British Empire (1951), and a Companion of Honor (1973); created a baroness (1974), and served in the House of Lords (1974–80).
Born in England in 1895, Irene Ward lost her father to tuberculosis when she was a young child; one of her most potent memories was of the financial struggles that her widowed mother then endured. Although she avoided the term "feminist," Ward was a lifelong advocate for disadvantaged women like her mother and, throughout her political career, stretched the boundaries for women's rights. Following her education at Newcastle Church High School, Ward worked as secretary to an industrialist, and also began her career in English politics as a volunteer with the Conservative Party.
Before she turned 30, Ward had made her first run for a seat in Parliament. Undeterred by her losses in that election and the one that followed five years later, she finally won election in the Wallsend campaign of 1931. A member of the government's delegation to the League of Nations during the 1930s, she retained her seat until 1945 when a Labour landslide ejected numerous Conservative incumbents like Ward. Her first term in office was marked by a concern for women's rights at home and in India as well. World War II gave Ward further opportunities to promote women's causes as chair of the Woman Power Committee, a group that influenced the most effective utilization of women during the labor shortage. Ward was an able advocate in pressuring the government to improve wages and working conditions for women; she was particularly outraged by the government's compensation package for injured individuals, which gave more to men than women.
Ward won re-election to Parliament in 1950, representing Tynemouth. Maintaining a firm hold on this seat, she served for 24 years in this position, becoming the longest-serving female Parliament member at the time. She continued to champion equal pay and was no respecter of parties when it came to calling the government to account on broken promises made to women during the crisis of the war. Ward achieved some of her economic objectives when the government guaranteed equal wages to teachers and civil servants in 1954. She then turned her focus to the needs of fixed-income households, particularly the plight of widows with young children. She also threw her support behind the unsuccessful Deserted Wives Bill, which would have averted homelessness among abandoned English women by transferring ownership of the family dwelling to the wife upon a husband's desertion.
Upon her retirement in 1974, Ward switched from the House of Commons to the House of Lords with her ascendancy to the title Baroness Ward of North Tyneside. Although fully supportive of the Sex Discrimination Bill of 1975, she demonstrated conservative political leanings in other areas. For example, she argued against liberalizing divorce and abortion laws, and defended the use of flogging for serious crimes. However, she by no means toed the party line when it came to her insistence on rights for women. She fought for greater representation in politics, the trade union movement, industry, civil service and other public bodies. Her commitment to women's rights kept the discrimination issue alive in England throughout the duration of her long career in politics.
Banks, Olive. The Biographical Dictionary of British Feminists, Vol. Two: A Supplement, 1900–1945. NY: New York University Press, 1990.
Uglow, Jennifer S., comp. and ed. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1985.
Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland