Eleanor Rathbone: A Most Independent Member.

YouTubeEleanor featured at Portcullis House on 8 March 2016, for International Women’s Day , and you can visit the webpages to read the leaflet that accompanied  the exhibition and see some of the documents that were included in the display.

You can catch up on   YouTube

Miss Rathbone gets her portrait painted

The original portrait by James Gunn was the idea of four of Rathbone’s friends. In 1932 they asked her permission to collect contributions. Her response was one of surprise: ‘I do not believe that I belong to the small class of people who justify public portraits’. Despite her reservations the project proceeded.  The subscription list soon secured over 270 names, 80% of donors were female. The Gunn portrait has been copied twice:  one painted by Reginald Lewis in 1960 for Somerville College, Oxford, and this one by Julian Barrow in 1998, commissioned by the House of Commons and funded by donation from the Eleanor Rathbone Charitable Trust.


Julian Barrow (1939-2013) after Sir (Herbert) James Gunn (1893-1964) by permission of the National Portrait Gallery Date : 1998 Medium : Oil on canvas Catalogue number : WOA 4391


Eleanor Rathbone by (Sir) James Gunn, 1933. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Establishing the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees

Following the Munich settlement and Kristallnacht, humanitarianism and a sense of moral obligation for Britain’s role in the crisis informed Eleanor Rathbone’s campaign on behalf of Jewish and political refugees from Czechoslovakia, and subsequently all of Nazi occupied Europe. Her Parliamentary Committee on Refugees, established in November 1938, became the vehicle for deputations, propaganda and challenging officials and ministers to ‘break with the fatal policy’ of quotas and voluntary financial support. This letter from Rathbone and Victor Cazalet MP introduces the work of the Committee to Members of Parliament.

The campaign for a memorial to Eleanor in Palestine (Israel) 

Immediately after Eleanor Rathbone’s death in 1946 the Children and Youth Aliyah Committee in Great Britain proposed a permanent memorial to Rathbone as an enduring tribute for her work for persecuted Jewry. The proposal was supported by her friends and others in the UK and funds were raised in conjunction with the London Rathbone Memorial Committee. The Eleanor Rathbone School (House) at the Youth Aliyah Farming Institute near Tel Aviv, was opened in 1949. It still stands today as a testimony to her humanitarianism.


Parliamentary Archives, WHI/17/2. c. Parliamentary Archives


Rathbone Image 32

The dedication ceremony of Eleanor Rathbone House at Magdiel, Israel on 19 October 1949. Bertha Schoolman is addressing the audience.

The Family Allowance Act 1945

Rathbone always viewed family endowment as a women’s question, a recognition of their contribution to motherhood and to fight the economic dependence of women on men. She launched her campaign in 1918 and published her seminal book, ‘The Disinherited Family’. in 1924. It was of ‘immense importance’ to Rathbone that the allowance be paid to mothers, but officials and ministers fought this premise to the bitter end. However they were unprepared for the cross-party rebellion that erupted when the Family Allowances Bill was published in February 1945, stating that the money would belong to the father. MPs Mavis Tate, Nancy Astor and Edith Summerskill agreed that the issue was fundamentally one of women’s rights, and with virtually no support in the House for the payment to be paid to fathers, the bill was quietly amended. It was enacted in June 1945, marking a victory for Rathbone and her 25 year campaign.


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