This lecture will revisit nineteenth and twentieth century education policy and politics in the light of the experiences and struggles of a (nowadays) virtually unknown educator activist. Beautiful, tireless, courageous and principled, socialist school teacher Mary Bridges Adams (1855-1939) gave up her life for the Cause. Encouraged by William Morris and with the patronage of Daisy Warwick, famous as the long-term love of Edward VII, she engaged in a range of political activities. By 1900, Mary was well known as a participant within the broader labour movement and as a campaigner for improvements in working-class education. During the First World War, she was in close touch with the European anti-war movement and threw herself into Russian émigré politics. Guiding campaigns in defence of the right of asylum, she had a range of contacts among suffragettes, trade unionists and socialists, as well as Russian political refugees. Mary urged working-class activists to fight the abandonment of industrial rights and guarantees, such as the right to strike and restrictions on the use of child labour, to back the unofficial rank and file industrial movement on Clydeside and the educational work of the Scottish Marxist John Maclean. Considering the main project of 'making socialists' from the standpoint of gender, Martin argues that an appreciation of Mary's vision not only allows for an examination of areas of experience lost in grander narratives but also serves as a context for a fresh set of perspectives on the place of the educational question in the study of British socialism. Foes thought Mary an awful woman: friends like George Bernard Shaw remembered the power of her oratory. Offering an original perspective for plotting women's roles in British leftist oppositional networks, Mary's life and the historical landscape in which that life was lived, contributes to new ways of seeing both socialist and feminist politics.
Jane Martin holds a PhD in history of education from the Open University and is a Professor in Social History of Education in the Department of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London. Her main interests are in women’s history, history ‘from below’ and the history of social and political thought. Within these parameters, she is particularly interested in gender, power and politics, focusing on the role of women as educational policy-makers.