Mary Danvers Stocks was a life-long activist. A teenage member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, she went on to achieve a first class BSc in Economics from LSE then taught at the School during the First World War. As well as an extensive academic career, she campaigned for issues from the ordination of women priests and equal pay to university education and the NHS. A successful career in broadcasting contributed to her peerage in 1966. LSE’s Clara Cook looks back at LSE alumna Baroness Stocks: economist and activist.
Mary Danvers Stocks began to challenge the world around her when she was just a child. In 1899, when she was only 8 years old, she announced that she supported the Boers in their war against Britain. This early personal identification with a minority group and interest in progressive change was to expand into many other areas throughout her life. The desire to share ideas, promote education and improve the rights of women would lead her to study and teach at LSE, publish her views in writing, appear on radio and television, serve on government committees, work as a college principle and eventually become a Baroness.
Baroness Mary Danvers Stocks (nee Brinton) was born on 25 July 1891 in Kensington, London. Her family were wealthy, her father was a doctor and her mother came from a family of successful civil engineers and philanthropists. Despite this fortunate start in life, Mary was less concerned with her privileged class and was more interested in affecting social change, specifically concerned with women’s rights. Other than her childhood declaration of support for the Boers, Mary’s first foray into activism was to join the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) as a teenager, which was an organisation devoted to securing women’s suffrage through constitutional and non-violent means. Her burgeoning career in campaigning as a Suffragist was cut short however, after she addressed one meeting of the NUWSS and her mother forbade her to attend any more.
Baroness Stocks at LSE
After Mary left secondary school at 16, she spent time volunteering and then enrolled at the London School of Economics in 1910. She graduated in 1913 with a first-class BSc in Economics. By all accounts her experience at LSE was an extremely favourable one. After marrying John Leofric Stocks, an Oxford academic in 1913, she returned to the School to teach while her husband served in Europe during the First World War. Mary taught Economics as an Assistant Lecturer at both King’s College for Women and LSE from 1916-1919. She was one of 24 women to teach at LSE in 1918, when partial suffrage meant the first women got the vote.
During her time at LSE, she was paid what was described by the Secretary of the School as a “meagre” salary, however the governing body were keen to reward her for her service and to show that they were not ungrateful for the help she “had been so willing to give at a period when things were not looking too happy either for the School or the country in general.” By 1919, the Secretary had managed to send her an extra cheque in the post, to which she had graciously thanked the governors in a letter stating, “Whatever I shall do, I shall never put into the School, the measure of what I got out of it in (my) student days!” Her association with the School continued for her rest of her life and in 1958 she was appointed as one of LSE’s first Honorary Fellows.
Oxford and Westfield
After the First World War ended, Mary and her husband John moved to Oxford, where they both became faculty. Mary lectured in economic history at Somerville College and Lady Margaret Hall. Mary and John had a happy and intellectually stimulating home life. John supported women’s rights and he and Mary encouraged independent thought in their three children. Mary worked and lived in Oxford until 1924 when the whole family moved to Manchester, as John had been elected Chair in Philosophy at the university. The family moved again to Liverpool in 1937 so that John could take up the post of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool. Sadly, he was to die shortly after taking the position and Mary moved back to London to become General Secretary of the London Council of Social Service. In 1939, Mary became Principal of Westfield College, University of London. This was to be one of her longest standing and most successful roles. During 12 years of service, she oversaw the college’s wartime evacuation to Oxford and the important post-war years during which she guided Westfield College through the expansion in both its physical size and in enrolment of students. During her years as Principal, she was popular with students and staff.
Public service and activism
As well as an extensive academic career Mary Stocks was feverishly active in both public service and activism. While a member of the committee of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC) she persuaded the organisation to adopt a campaign for family allowances for birth control and she helped establish the first provincial birth control clinic in Manchester in 1926. At first she faced considerable opposition from both the local community, the church and the press, but persevered and lived to see such clinics open across the country in later years. Mary campaigned on other feminist issues such as the ordination of women priests, equal pay in the civil service and called for an end to restrictive women’s clothing. She was inspired in this last cause by her experience as a teenager during the Edwardian period when long skirts, corsets and bustles were the fashion. Throughout her life she published her views and experiences in no less than eight different books.
While in Manchester in the 1930s, Mary served as a city magistrate and in the 1950s she sat on the University Grants Committee in London and the executive committee for the National Health Service, often as the only woman member of these groups. Perhaps one of her greatest achievements as a public servant was to convince the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee to recommend to the government that both men and women should receive equal benefits.
A popular broadcaster
Having first been occasionally broadcast on radio in 1920, Mary became a popular BBC radio broadcaster in the 1960s, speaking with wit and expressive opinions to large audiences across the UK. It was partly the exposure from her radio work that led her being appointed a life peerage as Baroness Stocks of Kensington and Chelsea in 1966. The then Director of LSE, Sir Sydney Caine wrote to her to congratulate her and invite her to an annual dinner of LSE Fellows.
In later years, Baroness Stocks continued to challenge established ideas and hold unorthodox opinions, speaking in parliament on a range of subjects including university education, the NHS and sex equality. As her health declined, she became a strong advocate of euthanasia and researched the subject, including consulting medical advice. Baroness Stocks died at her home in Kensington on 6 July 1975. Her memory is preserved in letters, documents and an oral history interview held at the Women’s Library at LSE.