Cambridge plaque for 'pioneer' woman MP Leah Manning

image copyrightHomerton College/Anglia Ruskin University
image captionLeah Manning taught children in classes of 70 and lobbied the authorities to provide them with milk and school meals

A "lifelong champion" of women's and children's causes has been recognised for her "pioneering struggle" more than 40 years after her death.

Leah Manning co-founded a birth control clinic, taught at a Ragged School, helped 4,000 Basque children escape the Spanish Civil War and was an MP.

She trained as a teacher in Cambridge, where she taught between 1908 and 1917.

Dame Leah has been remembered with a blue plaque on the site of the city's former Ragged School.

image copyrightRamsey-Muspratt/Cambridgeshire Collection
image captionShe was one of 15 women elected to parliament in 1931 and one of 24 elected in 1945, according to the House of Commons library

The Cambridge Ragged School was founded in 1854, before being endowed and enlarged in 1901 by the teacher training college Homerton.

"As a young, idealist teacher, Manning taught children in classes of 70," according to Mary Joannou, professor of literary history and women's writing at Anglia Ruskin University.

"They were often exhausted from lack of sleep, hungry and cold, and they huddled around a stove for warmth."

She lobbied the authorities to provide milk and school meals and set up an after-school play centre.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionClare Market Ragged School near The Strand in London - pictured for the Illustrated London News in 1869

What were Ragged Schools?

  • The charity schools were founded in the 1840s to offer free education to poor "raggedly-clothed' children
  • Social reformer Lord Shaftesbury championed the movement
  • Many also offered food, clothing and lodging to children
  • Wealthy philanthropists, including author Charles Dickens, supported the movement

Source: Ragged University

image copyrightAnglia Ruskin University
image captionHer blue plaque is on the site of the city's former Ragged School. It is now part of Anglia Ruskin University's campus

Dame Leah became one of Cambridge's first women magistrates in 1920 and co-founded the city's first birth control clinic.

She became president of the National Union of Teachers and was active in the Labour Party, becoming MP for Islington East in London in 1931 and for Epping in Essex in 1945.

A garden in Bilbao in Spain is named after her in memory of her role in helping arrange the evacuation of Basque children to Britain in 1937.

Dr Joannau said: "She was a lifelong champion of causes affecting women and children.

"Nothing would have given her more pleasure to know that her own pioneering struggle to transform the lives of children is remembered at the building where she began her career."

Anglia Ruskin is hosting an event, supported by Homerton College, to celebrate her achievements on 15 January.

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