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Emily Phipps feminist and headteacher

2012 March 16
Emily Phipps

Emily Phipps


This is a summary of my entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

I also write about her extensively in Deeds not Words

Emily Frost Phipps (1865-1943), feminist and headteacher, became a pupil teacher in an elementary infants’ school and studied in the evenings to gain entrance to Homerton Training College, Cambridge. Having obtained a first class external degree in Latin and Greek from London University she was appointed headteacher of Swansea higher grade school, which she succeeded in transforming into one of the best secondary schools in Wales.

With her lifelong friend, Clare Neal, Emily joined the Women’s Freedom League in 1908, outraged by Lloyd George’s anti-suffrage behaviour at a meeting they had attended in Swansea. They established a branch in Swansea and carried out indoor and outdoor speaking for the cause. On census night in 1911 she was involved in the suffrage boycott by sleeping overnight with friends in a cave on the Gower coast. Her feminism and sense of justice led her to join the feminist National Federation of Women Teachers (NFWT), which was first a ginger group inside the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Here she campaigned for the union to support the franchise for women, equal pay for women teachers, and equality of opportunity for girls’ education. While president of the Swansea NUT she led deputations to Swansea education committee on equal pay. She stood for the national executive of the NUT and was successful in 1915. She advised members, however, not to vote for her on a later occasion because her position on equal pay was at variance with the policy of the NUT executive, which she described as a ‘monstrous injustice to women’. She campaigned for Federation members to leave the NUT and for the Federation to become an autonomous feminist union.

Emily Phipps was a leading light in the NFWT : president for three successive years, and was a central council member from 1913 to 1937. She became the first editor of the NUWT’s journal, Woman Teacher, from 1919 to 1930 and was responsible for its lively, polemical, and contentious tone. In 1918 she was one of seventeen women parliamentary candidates in the first general election in which women could stand. In Chelsea she ran a whirlwind campaign as an independent candidate, with NFWT backing, against the Conservative Sir Samuel Hoare, obtaining 20.9 per cent of the vote and retaining her deposit.

While still a headteacher Emily Phipps studied in the evenings to become a barrister and was admitted to the bar in 1925, when she was nearly sixty. She resigned her headship, moved to London, and became the standing counsel for the NUWT while continuing to edit the Woman Teacher and to speak at public meetings and demonstrations throughout the country on equal rights. She wrote pamphlets for the NUWT on equality of opportunity and equal pay and in 1928 the first History of the NUWT. She maintained her allegiance to feminism and the Women’s Freedom League throughout her life despite increasing ill health during the 1930s.

Emily Phipps was an all round person. She had a working knowledge of French, German, Italian, and Welsh. A contralto, she enjoyed part-singing, embroidery, reading, and gardening. She was steadfast in her opposition to injustice to people and animals and was a strict vegetarian. She was an important advocate of ‘old feminism’ in the post-war period and seen by her contemporaries as a fine example of what women could aspire to in their careers and in politics.

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. January 9, 2013

    I came across this while doing a google search for an image of Emily Phipps.
    I’ve read ‘Deeds not words’ (originally some years ago) also Alison Oram’s book on women teachers… and we are particularly interested in her in Archif Menywod Cymru / Women’s Archive of Wales as one of our main aims is to raise awareness of the history of women in Wales & EP of course spent much of her adult life here.

    I’m hoping to look at the records of Swansea Education Dept for the period when EP was employed in Swansea for an future article in the Swansea History Journal & also in due course to look at the records of NFWT.
    Unfortunately, not surprisingly, most people (including women with some interest in feminism / women’s history etc.) seem not to have heard of her so hopefully we can rectify that at least in Swansea and I’m certainly looking forward to finding more about her!

    • Christine Richards permalink
      July 12, 2013

      We will be raising a blue plaque to Emily in Swansea next year to celebrate this extraordinary woman.

      • Hilda Kean permalink
        July 14, 2013

        I am pleased this is happening. When I wrote about Emily in my book Deeds not Words and in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography I always thought she deserved a wider audience. She was one of my ‘favourite’ suffragette teachers both because of her energy and commitment but also, I suspect, because of her sometimes bad-tempered comments about members of the NUWT who were not pulling their weight or those in the NUT who did not support the vote for women. Do send me details of the launch so I can publicise – and, hopefully, attend.

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