Miss Ellen Wilkinson

Ellen was born on 8th October 1891 - the second youngest of four children from a poor family in Ardwick near Manchester. During her childhood her mother was constantly ill, but her father, an insurance salesman, encouraged her to do well at school.

After working for a year as a pupil teacher, she won a scholarship to Manchester University to read History. At university she became interested in politics. Her college held a mock election and Ellen stood as the Socialist candidate. She had joined the Independent Labour Party at the age of 16.

In 1923, when she was 32 years old, she became an MP for Middlesbrough East. At that time, there were only four female MPs in the House of Commons and she was the only female Labour MP. She held the seat until 1931.

When she arrived in the House of Commons, fashionably dressed in green velvet to contrast with her bright red hair, she caused a stir. She was a confident and effective debater. When "The Times" newspaper printed news of her death, the headline was "… A Vivid personality…"

She was elected MP for Jarrow in 1935 just as Palmer's shipyard closed - it had provided employment for most of the town. She was appalled by the poverty and unemployment she found in Jarrow and so, in 1936, she led the Jarrow March from Jarrow in the North East of England to Trafalgar Square in London. The marcher wanted the Government to know about their problems and suffering. She was later to write a book called "The Town that was Murdered" about the suffering of the people of Jarrow

During the World War II, Ellen worked at the Ministry for Home Security. She was determined that people in London, who were being bombed every night, should have adequate bomb shelters and other defence precautions such as fire watching teams etc. The newspapers called her ""The Shelter Queen".

After the War, and at her own request, she was appointed Minister for Education - the first female Minister for Education. She had come from a poor family and had seen poverty, and knew of the links between good diet and academic achievements. As a result of this, she introduced free school milk and free school meals for those who could not afford to pay. She also raised the school leaving age to 15.

Ellen died young; she was only 55. The tragedy of her life was that recurrent illness (she was asthmatic and had bouts of bronchitis) prevented her from achieving much of what she set out to do. Her nickname was "Red Ellen" or the "The Fiery Particle".

This was not so much because of her extreme left-wing politics, but also because of her brilliant red hair. She was very small - less that five feet tall. Her nature was to be outspoken and impetuous. If she had a fault, it was for sometimes acting before she thought. She was lively in debate and cared passionately about people.

Ellen may have been small but, her intense loyalty to people, her directness, her courage and the strength of her emotions gave her great influence. She used this influence to fight against injustice and inequality. She believed passionately in the education of women and it was for that reason that the London Borough of Ealing chose to give her name to this school.

Ellen Wilkinson remains an inspiration to us all.