FAMILY ALLOWANCE ORAL HISTORY PROJECT:
The Crossroads Women’s Centre (CWC) in Kentish Town, London made a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable them to undertake an oral history project around Family Allowance/Child Benefit, commemorating Eleanor’s pioneering campaign for a universal benefit to be paid to mothers. She launched her Family Endowment Campaign in 1917, but it was twenty eight years before the Family Allowance Act was passed in June 1945, the year before she died, with the first benefit being paid in 1946. The CWC will be working with students from nearby Parliament Hill Fields School, and other volunteer interviewees.
Read Ruth Gledhill on the conference, ‘Welcome to Britain? Refugees then and now.’
Fabulous article about Eleanor , ‘ A Woman of Unique Political Substance’ in Liverpool paper Morning Star Online
Take a look at the bust of Eleanor on the INVISIBLE WOMEN website , which is now up and running
Very many thanks to Louise Ellman, MP, for proposing this
Commemorating Eleanor Rathbone
in the House of Commons on 25 February 2016
Read the article: ‘Liverpool women’s rights pioneer to be celebrated with new artwork in Liverpool park’ in the LIVERPOOL ECHO 26 February 2016
Link to the Royal Historical Society BLOG Eleanor Rathbone and the Refugees
READ RABBI JONATHAN WITTENBERG’S ARTICLE in Credo in The Sunday Times
“You are not forgotten.” It was with these words that Eleanor Rathbone, MP and indefatigable campaigner, addressed the desperate refugees at Huyton, Merseyside, in the summer of 1940. Terrified for their families stranded in Nazi Europe, fearful for their own future, they were now interned as “enemy aliens” in wartime Britain.
The men, women and children stuck in the cold in the so-called “jungle” at Calais, and in tens of other camps across the Middle East and Europe, must long to hear those very words. “They feel abandoned by the world,” a Syrian priest told me. He works with children who fled their bombed-out homes. “Has the world learnt nothing?” they ask.
“You are not forgotten,” could be the motto for Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls next Wednesday, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The words may have an elegiac ring, like the inscription on a tombstone. Their force lies in their urgent call to the here and now, in the refusal to allow the victims of tyranny and hatred to fade from our consciousness and be left helpless and undefended.
Few struggled on behalf of refugees from fascism with more eloquent passion than Eleanor Rathbone, who died 70 years ago this month. A fierce opponent of appeasement, she argued with tireless outrage for the rescue of the victims of Nazism. We scrape with meagre files at the bars which hold them in, she wrote in anguished frustration in April 1939. “A few victims are dragged one by one painfully through the gaps.”
The real moral question of Auschwitz, reflected the survivor and much-loved rabbi, Hugo Gryn, was not “Where was God?” but “Where was man?”
We can ask the same question in relation to the slaughter of a million Tutsis in Rwanda, or the savage raids and killings in Darfur.
The essence of the question is really “Where am I?” Where is each of us when the victims of merciless persecution and conflict, defenceless before the knives, bullets and poison gas of those who hate them, usually for no other cause than hatred itself, call upon our conscience?
The Hebrew Bible commands the love of the stranger, an injunction addressed both in the singular to each individual, and in the plural to the communities of which we are each responsible members. The 11th-century scholar Ibn Ezra, itinerant for much of his life and therefore alert to the vulnerability of the outsider, explains this dual approach to mean that the person who witnesses society doing nothing to protect the weakest, yet fails to speak out, is considered complicit in its silence.
Offering havens for the victims cannot be the sole response to genocide. No land can absorb unlimited refugees, which is why a fair agreement on numbers across Europe is so urgent. It is also just and essential for countries to require that those to whom they offer asylum themselves uphold the core values of democracy, equality and freedom for all citizens.
The great issues which face humanity will not be resolved if less and less of the Earth becomes habitable because of war, tyranny or environmental degradation.
Our response to genocide must also lie in opposing bigotry and hatred before they take powerful hold, and in supporting those who have the moral courage to confront tyranny with the frail yet indomitable power of human dignity.
“You gave me my shoe-size in earth with bars around it”, wrote the defiant poet Osip Mandelstam. He added: “You left me my lips, and they shape words, even in silence.” He perished in Stalin’s camps.
Memory requires more than hearing the testimony of the dead. Remembering genocides teaches us not to stand quietly by while our fellow human beings descend helpless into silence. Unless we answer the question: “Where is man?” with courage, determination and generosity, we risk that silence engulfing us too.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg is the senior rabbi for Masorti Judaism
Posted 19 September 2015: Motion ACCEPTED by LIVERPOOL CITY COUNCIL, as proposed by Councillors Laura Robertson-Collins and James Roberts on 17 September 2015
This Council notes:
- that January 2016 will be the 70th anniversary of the death of Eleanor Rathbone (1872-1946);
- that Eleanor was the first ever woman to be elected onto Liverpool City Council, in 1909 (elected as an Independent); and subsequently was elected as the MP for the Combined Universities, again as an Independent, from 1929-46;
- that Eleanor was a tireless campaigner for women’s rights and education, and for social justice, including drawing attention to the horror of FGM; fighting for Jewish and other refugees; and most notably, is responsible for the introduction of Family Allowances (now Child Benefit);
- that Eleanor was part of a family with a long tradition of political and social campaigning in Liverpool, based for many generations in Greenbank House in Greenbank Ward; and
- that 2016 will see a series of events and exhibitions to celebrate Eleanor’s achievements across the UK including in Liverpool, Oxford (where she studied), and London.
This Council resolves:
- To support the national “Remembering Eleanor Rathbone” campaign, and ensure her incredible contribution to politics and welfare is honoured in her home city, including supporting possible events and commemoration in St Georges Hall; and
- To request the Cabinet to support the installation of a commemorative artwork (funded in part by public subscription) in Greenbank Park (which was part of the family estate prior to its sale to the City Council in 1897).
Listen to the powerful speech which Lord Alton gave in the House of Lords on 9 July 2015 on the current refugee crisis, in which he referred to Eleanor, quoting extracts from her speech in the Adjournment Debate on Refugees in the House of Commons which took place on 10 July 1940. The debate lasted almost six hours, commencing at 5.42 pm, and adjourning at 11.24 pm. Eleanor made her first intervention just nine minutes into the debate, intervening on twenty occasions. She had previously had an article published in The New Statesman and Nation on 15 April 1939, 568-9, and her subsequent twelve- page pamphlet, A Summary of the Refugee Problem, ( c1940) expanded on the article and set out clearly her personal view of the situation.
Posted 5 July 2015: Check out the Women’s History Network blog for an item about Eleanor.
Posted 28 June 2015: The Liverpool sculptor and artist, Phillip Garrett , has designed this logo especially for the 2016 commemorations. A big thank you, Phillip