The next in our series on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.
Ida Copeland and Sarah Ward both benefited from the swing to the Conservatives at the 1931 general election, becoming Members for what had been safe Labour seats in Staffordshire – although only until the next election, in 1935. They each worked hard to defend the economic and social interests of their local community.
Copeland (1876-1964) was born in Italy to an Italian father and an English mother, but moved to England when young. According to the age recorded at her death, she was born in 1876, although her marriage certificate suggests 1881. In 1915, she married Richard Copeland, president and chairman of Spode-Copeland bone china manufacturers. She became chairman of the Stoke branch of the Women’s Unionist Association in 1920.
At the general election of 1931, Copeland became Stoke-on-Trent’s second woman MP. She defeated Oswald Mosley, leader of the New Party, whose wife, Cynthia, had taken the seat for Labour in 1929. She had stood down for the 1931 election in favour of her husband’s candidacy. None of Mosley’s New Party candidates were elected either.
Copeland was passionate about protecting the pottery industry – a major employer in her constituency that had “helped to make England great” – from the dumping of cheaper products by overseas competitors. Among her objections, which she outlined on 4 May 1932 in this, her maiden speech, she counted the “starvation wages” paid by foreign manufacturers. In 1933, she supported a Back-Bench Bill to limit dumping. At the 1935 election, she was defeated by Ellis Smith, with the seat reverting to Labour.
After leaving Parliament, Copeland remained active in public life, chairing the Staffordshire Anglo-Polish Society from 1943 (she was awarded the Polish gold cross of merit in 1952). She also served on the International Council of Girl Guides and was a member of the Royal Society of Arts. She bequeathed the gardens of Trelissick House to the National Trust.
As the wife of a tenant farmer, Ward (1895-1969) understood the realities of low household incomes in rural and industrial areas. Following her election in 1931 for Staffordshire, Cannock, she was fearless in her maiden speech in defending the British miner and agriculturist who were “the worst paid workers in the country”. She welcomed emergency import duties on agricultural products, saying they would create jobs and help reverse the tide of rural depopulation.
The aim of Ward’s 1933 private Member’s legislation, the Home and Empire Settlement Bill, was to get people back to the land. She recognised that her local mines were unprofitable, but rejected closing them, calling for alternative markets for coal.
In May 1934, Ward welcomed the extension of unemployment insurance, and paid tribute to the wives of the unemployed who bore the “biggest brunt” of the burden: “they have to eke out the meagre money and to cheer up the despondent husbands and sons who are unemployed”.
After losing her seat, Ward remained active in politics. She stood unsuccessfully in Lichfield and Tamworth in 1950 and in Birmingham Perry Barr in 1951. She was a member of Staffordshire County Council and chaired its welfare services committee. She was a junior commander in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War, and was appointed OBE in 1952 and CBE in 1961.
House of Commons Hansard Writing Team
Ida Copeland MP:
Hansard Online, report of Copeland’s maiden speech: http://bit.ly/2NK8cVH
Historic Hansard, Ida Copeland MP: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/people/mrs-ida-copeland/index.html
Mark Pugh, “Introducing Ida: A profile of Ida Copeland, a Woman in a Man’s World” (National Trust): https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/trelissick/documents/introducing-ida.pdf
Copeland and the Girl Guides – photo with Lady Baden-Powell: https://m.facebook.com/NTTrelissick/posts/1997851830245852
Sarah Ward MP:
Hansard Online, report of Ward’s maiden speech, 30 November 1931: http://bit.ly/2zMGHmb
Hansard Online, report of Ward’s speech on the Unemployment Bill, 14 May 1934: http://bit.ly/2zImcqP