The next in our series on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.
Freda Corbet and Clarice Shaw shared a background in teaching, and both served as magistrates. They played a greater role in their local areas and in the Labour party than they did in the Commons, where Corbet sat for nearly 30 years, while Shaw’s parliamentary career was cut short by ill health before it had properly begun.
Freda Corbet (1900-93), the daughter of Adolf Künzlen, a commercial clerk, was born in Tooting and had a long career in London politics. In 1925 she married William Corbet, with whom she ran a sweet shop. She was elected to the London County Council in 1934, and became a Labour Whip there in 1935 and was Chief Whip from 1947 to 1960. A former teacher, she served on the LCC’s education committee and supported the introduction of comprehensive schools. Importantly, she oversaw the renovation of the South Bank, which included the establishment of the National Theatre, in the 1960s. She was on the theatre’s board from 1962 to 1965.
Corbet also studied law, and was called to the Bar in 1932, but as a woman she struggled to find work. She contested Lewisham, East in 1935, but failed to win. She stood again in 1945 for Camberwell, North-West, which she won. The seat became Camberwell, Peckham, in 1950. Corbet seldom spoke in the House of Commons, but she had influence with Ministers thanks to her position on the LCC. On 11 December 1962, she opposed plans to replace the LCC, for which she had an “intense love”, with the Greater London Council, urging the Government, “not to perpetrate this mischief”. She left local government when the LCC was abolished in 1965.
In 1972, along with four other Labour MPs, Corbet defied the party’s three-line Whip and abstained on Second Reading of the European Communities Bill, which enabled the Bill to be passed with a narrow majority. That marked the end of her parliamentary career and, partly in order to care for her second husband, Ian Campbell, she decided not to seek re-election following the Dissolution of Parliament in February 1974. She was awarded freedom of the borough of Southwark later that year.
Clarice Shaw (1883-1946), the daughter of Thomas Charles McNab, a wire-cloth weaver and prominent member of the local Labour movement, devoted her entire adult life to local politics. Having trained as a music teacher, she served first on Leith school board and, in 1913, became the first female Labour town councillor in Scotland when elected to Leith Town Council. During her long career in local politics, she served on Troon Town Council and Ayrshire County Council, sat on the Scottish Food Council and the 1928 royal commission on education endowments in Scotland, and was chairman of the Scottish Labour party during the second world war.
In 1918, she married Benjamin Howard Shaw, an early member of the Independent Labour Party in Scotland, whom she had met while representing the Women’s Labour League at the Scottish executive committee of the Labour party. After standing unsuccessfully for Ayr Burghs in 1929 and 1931, Shaw was elected for Ayrshire & Bute, Kilmarnock at the 1945 general election, and she was sworn in on 3 August 1945. She was chosen as secretary of the Scottish parliamentary group, only to fall seriously ill shortly afterwards, and she did not have an opportunity to make a maiden speech. She continued to perform her constituency duties, but was forced to resign her seat on 2 October 1946. She died, less than a month later, on 27 October.
House of Commons Hansard Writing Team
Images courtesy of Parliamentary Archives
Corbet speaking on the London Government Bill on 11 December 1962, from Hansard: http://bit.ly/33Lwy6n
Shaw sworn in on 3 August 1945, from Hansard [seventh in the list of names]: http://bit.ly/2P32PBN