Pioneering women

Butler, Joyce (1 of 3) National Life Story Collection: Fawcett Collection

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    Interviewee's home

  • Interviewees

    Butler, Joyce 1910-1991 (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Maynard, Marie (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Born 13.12.1910 in Birmingham. Fifth in family of six - two elder brothers and two elder sisters. JB was 5 and a half years younger than the fourth child and her sister Mary four years younger than herself. Grandparents Only maternal grandmother still alive during JB's childhood - visited occasionally but JB had little recollection of her. The other grandparents had died before JB's birth. Mother's parents had moved to Dublin - hence infrequency of visits from grandmother. Parents Father Arthur Wells was a photographer. Mother, Florence Wells. They had met and married in London - later moved to Birmingham for her father's business. Lived in large house on the Moseley Road close to the city centre - a lot of shops and groups of older houses - lived in one of these. Remembers a very happy childhood, playing in large garden with her sister Mary and the boy next door. Also remembers some resentment because of age gap between she and Mary and the older siblings - they were always referred to as "The children". Parents were greatest influence on her life, particularly her mother. Both were Quakers and JB was brought up and remained a Quaker until the 1939 war. Father mainly concerned with his work - mother always at home. Family always had one maid - the maids were girls from the Black Country who went into "service". Mother always fed them, as she did the whole family, very well, and they left looking very well-nourished and were always happy with the family. JB remembers being very friendly with the maids and kept in touch with some. Education - Older siblings went to Quaker boarding school near Banbury. One of the brothers was very ill when away at school and this caused parents to decide not to send JB and her younger sister to boarding school. They went to a private school and then to King Edwards High School in Birmingham. School had reputation for getting girls into Oxbridge. The emphasis was on academic work. The timetable covered formal lessons only from 9am - 1pm, mainly because many girls had to travel long distances to school. Afternoons were allocated for prep - or some groups. Not much interest in games in the school. Civics was not taught at school and she remembers little political discussion. Only once took part in a school debate - thinks she made a bad speech. Took Higher School Certificate in Arts subjects - interests mainly in English and History. Could have gone to Cambridge to read English, but decided not to and does not know why. Spent one year not really knowing what to do - spent some time serving in shops. Then went to Woodbrook College at Selly Oak for one year. Took an International diploma there, but cannot remember what exactly she studied. During her last year at school went on a school trip to Geneva. To the League of Nations. Did some secretarial/clerical work after she left the College - was becoming interested in politics and joined the Labour Party when she was 20. Continued to live at home with parents and pursued political interests - was influenced by the Left Book Club and social conditions at the time (the 30s) so concerned her that she felt something must be done to change things. Was still living at home when the 1939 war began. During the early part of the war the family home was bombed and the family scattered. JB went first with parents to temporary accommodation and then lived subsequently in various places. Marriage Met her husband in Birmingham and married during the War. They met through mutual interests in the Labour Party. He was active in the local party and worked for the Co-Operative movement. After the war began, JB left the Society of Friends because, although she has always been against war, she felt that the cause in 1939 was right and could not support pacifist beliefs. She has never re-joined the Friends - or any other denomination. Daughter was born during the war in Birmingham. Family came to London after the war and settled in the area where they still live. Son was born in London - six years after their daughter. JB continued political interests - undertook some lecturing part-time. Felt "we were starting again" - gave much thought to a better society - housing and town planning were a special interest - and to the position of women. Husband continued to work with the Co-Op and was also active in local politics. The children were very young at this time, but local government work was mainly in the evenings and au pairs at different times and regular baby sitters enabled JB to pursue her interests. Work In 1947 became a member of Wood Green Council - felt "it was the right thing to be doing" at the time with all the numerous post-war problems. It also offered "something different" when the children were small. Main interest on council was in Housing and Town Planning. There was a great interest in new towns and in particular locally there was urgent need to get council houses built. JB hated high rise buildings and fought against them, but she was outvoted and Wood Green has two high rise blocks. Council was also concerned with health problems following setting up of the National Health Service. Became leader of the Council in 1954 - quite enjoyed the leadership - felt she had plenty of ideas and the opportunity to put them forward. JB entered Parliament in 1955 - supported by the Co-Operatives - as Member (Labour and Co-Op) for Wood Green. Remembers little of the campaign except use of loudspeakers. Husband was a candidate in Rutland and Stamford at the same time - but failed to get in. He subsequently stood again - twice - but failed to get a seat. He continued with his own work and with local government work - was Mayor of Haringey - but not getting a Parliamentary seat was a disappointment to him.

  • Description

    Life story interview with the late British Labour Cooperative politican, Joyce Butler (1910-1992)

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