Today I have a further blog for you written by our volunteer Carol. You will remember that Carol has been looking into Women’s Suffrage in Warrington. Today she shares with us the story of another great figure from Warrington’s past.
This month I am looking at the political career of Helen Parker. She was born Helen Garnett to a Methodist family in Warrington in 1865. She went on to marry Charles Edward Parker in 1886 who was a fellow Liberal supporter and a prominent tannery owner in Warrington. Throughout her life Helen played an active role working to improve the lives of others.
Prior to the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1918 Helen Parker was a member of the Warrington Women’s Liberal Association (W.W.L.A.) and a major figure in their activities. The local Association participated in the National Annual Meeting in London where in May 1905 there were over 1000 delegates from the nation’s local associations. From 1905 to 1906 the W.W.L.A. promoted the Liberal Party’s cause by fundraising, clerical work and produced “A Ladies Manifesto” outlining their support for Free Trade to safe guard rights and purchasing power. This Manifesto was recognised by the Liberal Party in Warrington and was read out at several of Warrington’s General Election meetings. Even though the Liberal women had no vote they continued to work for the election of the Liberal candidate Mr A. H. Crosfield, who was elected in the 1906 General Election. At a post – election congratulatory dinner Helen Parker spoke of Women’s Suffrage and this summarised the Liberal’s Suffragist view – enfranchisement on the same terms as men and Suffragists actions rather than Suffragette protests. (Warrington Guardian 21/03/1906)
The Warrington Women’s Suffragist Society (W.W.S.S) was another part of her political life as in 1908 she sat on the Committee. Furthermore the Parliamentary Debating Society in London on 9th April 1908 invited Mrs Parker and other representatives from the Warrington association to a Suffrage debate. Their invitation was accepted and the debate was won by 93 votes to 14. A few years later in 1910 Mrs Parker was one of three Presidents of the W.W.S.S. who was alongside Lily Florence Waring, who was the subject in an earlier blog.
During WW1 the W.W.L.A. suspended their political activities in favour of assisting the Red Cross by their Sewing Class making socks and blankets for the wounded, setting up schemes to aid soldier’s welfare, and helped to raise money for an ambulance sent to the Front as a Christmas gift. She also sat on the Ladies Committee at Whitecross Military Hospital where they visited and issued provisions to the sick and injured. Mrs Parker humanitarian work also extended to her interest in the tannery workers’ welfare which included housing, canteen, bath house and recreational activities. During WW1 Helen also established several homes for Belgian refugees in Warrington and she was hostess to 30 homeless Belgians at Hall Nook in Penketh.
In the period from March 1917 onwards the debate moves towards women’s place after the war, notably electoral reform. The W.W.L.A. played host to the Women’s Liberal Associations of the Lancashire and Cheshire Union at the 1918 Spring Conference held at Crosfield Memorial Hall in Bewsey Street. The conference addressed ”The Woman’s Point of View” on a number of subjects including The League of Nations, demand for equal divorce laws for men and women, a role for women police and prison workers, temperance, and the blight of venereal disease.
Mrs Parker was unanimously elected President of W.W.L.A. in October 1918. In her role as President she continued to promote the Liberal cause and work for welfare protection, but she also requested women to the use their vote wisely. With the passage of the 1918 Act Warrington had over 12,500 new women electors and it was in their interest and duty to vote responsibly. Only then could the nation address the issues of housing, health, social welfare, the management and care of children. The link between the Warrington Liberal Association and the W.W.L.A. was played out in their joint meeting of November 1918 where Sir Peter Peacock was formally nominated. Mrs Parker as President of W.W.L.A. seconded his candidature.
In a letter from Helen Parker to the Warrington Examiner dated 29th November 1918 she urges the women of Warrington to vote wisely and not shirk responsibility. In the same vain leading up to the December 1918 General Election Mrs Parker was active at political meetings. Including one at Silver Street School in which she gave advice to Liberal women. “We want you for the next seven or eight days to become missionaries and do what you can among the women of the town”. The election of Sir Peter Peacock was described by Mrs Parker as women playing a major role in swinging the vote to the Liberal candidate.
Helen was a member of the Executive of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Via The Red Cross, The Bible Society provided Bibles and The New Testament for prisoners of war, refugees, wounded soldiers and members of forces from all sides. She was also active in prevention and rescue work by her involvement at the “Home of the Good Samaritan Warrington” and in 1920 Helen Parker was appointed J.P.
Beyond 1920 until her death in 1941 I do not have further information. Helen died in Newton Le Willows and was buried in Great Sankey in March 1941. I can say in conclusion that her Non – Conformist upbringing influenced her life of Liberal activities, political beliefs and her philanthropic work.