Sunderland's first female Labour MP set to be commemorated with Blue Plaque in her honour

A plaque commemorating Sunderland’s first woman MP is to be unveiled in the city centre.

Thursday, 29th August 2019, 4:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th August 2019, 4:50 pm
Dr Sarah Hellawell with the plaque to be unveiled honouring Sunderland's first woman MP Marion Phillips.

Dr Marion Phillips was a Labour politician who represented Sunderland between 1929 and 1931 - she was a feminist campaigner who fought passionately for reform.

Born in Australia in 1881, she moved to the UK in 1904. After graduating from the London School of Economics, she worked on the Royal Commission for the Poor Laws.

In 1911 she assumed leadership of the Women’s Labour League. She was secretary of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations. In 1918, she became the Labour Party’s first chief woman officer, a role she continued until her death.

Dr Sarah Hellawell with Sunderland resident Marion Philips Brown, 93, named after Marion Phillips, who donated her christening shawl in 1926.

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In 1926 Dr Phillips visited Ryhope Miners’ Hall and she donated a christening gown and shawl to a struggling mining family who were expecting a baby. In return, the Barnes family christened their daughter Marion Phillips Barnes, now 93 and still living in Sunderland.

In July 1928 Dr Phillips sent a letter to all women in the town, stressing the importance to women of the 1929 General Election, in which she would be returned as a member for Sunderland.

As MP, Dr Phillips campaigned for Sunderland's working people: paid holidays, unemployment schemes and training for women.

However, along with all other female Labour MPs, she lost her seat at the General Election in October 1931, beaten by Conservative Samuel Storey; grandson of Sunderland Echo founder Samuel Storey snr. She died just three months later following a short battle with stomach cancer.

Dr Marion Phillips (1881-1932) was Sunderland's first woman MP, sitting between 1921 and 1931,

She will be commemorated by a Sunderland Blue Heritage plaque, which has been funded by Sunderland University's Gender Studies Network.

Dr Sarah Hellawell, lecturer in modern British history at the university, has campaigned for the commemoration.

She said: "I was left surprised that so few people have actually heard of Sunderland’s first female MP, Marion Phillips. Because of this, I have delved a little deeper into the archival sources of this interesting politician and her work in the North East.

"I do hope that Phillips’ plaque in Sunderland will help to rectify the dearth of public memorials to women."

The unveiling is at 18 Foyle Street, fromer Labour party HQ, 3pm on Friday, September 13.