Woman of the Day – Ellen Cicely Wilkinson

Green Party Women Celebrating Women’s History Month
Day 28: Woman of the Day - Ellen Cicely Wilkinson

In March 1928, Ellen Cicely Wilkinson voted in the UK’s House of Commons for a bill that would become the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928. This was a landmark piece of legislation in British political history. Building upon earlier reforms, particularly the Representation of the People Act 1918, which granted some women the right to vote, the 1928 Act extended voting rights to all women over the age of 21, putting them on equal terms with men.

The act marked a significant victory for the suffragist cause, ensuring that women’s voices were fully recognised in the democratic process.

Early Years

Born in Manchester on 8 October 1891 to a working-class family, Ellen’s early experiences of poverty and inequality instilled in her a fervent desire for change.

Despite periods of illness and absences, she excelled at school, and at the age of 11 won a scholarship to Ardwick Higher Elementary Grade School. Thanks to a bursary, she then became a pupil at the teachers’ centre in Manchester and, in 1910, won a Jones history entrance scholarship to Manchester University.

Whilst working towards her upper second-class degree in history, she discovered Marxism, joined the socialist Fabian society and the Independent Labour Party, and gained experience of public speaking at the university’s debating society. Her passionate advocacy for women’s rights and workers’ rights then propelled her into the forefront of British politics.

Political career

Black and white photograph of Ellen Cicely Wilkinson

Ellen was a pioneering British politician, feminist, and social reformer, recognised for her unwavering commitment to social justice and sex equality.  In 1924, Ellen made history by becoming one of the first female Labour Members of Parliament (MP), representing Middlesbrough East.

Prior to her election as an MP, Ellen was active in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, the Amalgamated Union of Co-operative Employees, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

After her election, she championed women’s causes, including the campaign for equal franchise.

During the 1930s, she also emerged as a leading voice against fascism and played a crucial role in organising the famous Jarrow March, where hundreds of unemployed workers marched from Jarrow to London, to protest against poverty and unemployment. Her dedication to the plight of the working class earned her widespread admiration and respect.


Ellen’s writing career was just as illustrious and impactful as her political endeavours. Her first book, ‘Clash’, a semi-autobiographical novel set during the General Strike of 1926, was published in 1929. Other works include ‘Peeps at Politicians’, ‘Division Bell Mystery’ and ‘The Town that was Murdered’.

Wilkinson’s writing style was marked by its clarity, passion, and conviction. Her ability to articulate complex socio-political issues in accessible language made her a respected voice within socialist circles and beyond.


Sadly, Ellen died on 6 February 1947, age 55, from medical complications during treatment for bronchial pneumonia.

Nicknamed “Fiery Particle” and “Red Ellen”, because of her distinctive red hair and uncompromising politics, an obituarist wrote: “wherever there was a row going on in support of some good or even fairly good cause, that rebellious redhead was sure to be seen bobbing about in the heart of the tumult”.

Yet, despite her early death “Red Ellen” lives on in our collective memory.

Ellen’s name has been commemorated at ‘The Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls’ in West London, at the ‘Ellen Wilkinson Primary School and Children’s Centre’ in East London, and at the ‘Ellen Wilkinson Estate’, a 1950s ‘Felling Urban District Council’ housing project, once part of her Jarrow constituency. A blue plaque records the site of Wilkinson’s birthplace at 41 Coral Street.

Ellen continues to inspire generations of activists, reminding us of the enduring power of courage, compassion, and solidarity, in the face of adversity.

“Women have worked hard; starved in prison; given of their time and lives that we might sit in the House of Commons and take part in the legislating of this country.”

Ellen Cicely Wilkinson




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