A Mayor for Elland

 

Congratulations to Councillor Pat Allen upon her appointment as Mayor of Calderdale for the next municipal year. Admittedly Greetland & Stainland has provided a fair number of Calderdale mayors but you have to go back almost 40 years when Elland was last represented by a mayor – Kathleen Cawdry.

 

Mrs Cawdry was an Elland Urban District councillor for 15 years, a West Riding county councillor for seven years and a Calderdale councillor for five years. She won every election she contested! According to the press reports of 1975 ‘Mrs Cawdry was delighted that Calderdale had chosen to support International Women’s Year by electing a woman as its second mayor and....fate too has intervened to support the women, and you will have a female Deputy Mayor (the equally popular Mona Mitchell from Brighouse)....I shall make every effort not to let down either you or my sex.’ The new Mayoress was Mrs Cawdry’s daughter-in-law, Mrs Heather Cawdry.

 

In her acceptance speech Kathleen Cawdry said that there would be a long way to go before Calderdale was established as an entity in the eyes of the public and quoting Roosevelt, who said that there was only room for 100% Americans in America....’substitute Calderdale for America and then we shall have a perfect council’. A sentiment that may be appropriate for today.

 

Elland’s first woman councillor was Mrs Clara Smithies, elected to represent North ward in 1932. Mrs Smithies was only one of four female representatives in the ‘Greater Halifax’ area at that time. She already had experience as a Poor Law Guardian and her late husband, John Smithies of Smithies’ Mill Bank Bottom, had also been a local councillor. Clara Smithies had been widowed first at the age of 20, then again aged 44 and both her sons were killed in the war in 1917. After these losses Clara Smithies embraced public and charitable works besides being the chairman of the directors of the Joseph Smithies & Sons Ltd. Her success as a local representative certainly laid a strong foundation for future women to follow.

 

Of course Elland never had mayors. We were never granted borough status so ‘our leaders’ were ‘chairmen’. Our Town Hall was never a town hall. The seat of local government was South House, what we know as the Council Offices. It is apt that opposite this building was the home of (probably) Elland’s first lady voter - Mary Brook. Not in 1918 but in 1869! Widows and spinsters, who were ratepayers, were granted a vote in local elections fifty years before women could vote in parliamentary elections (married ratepayers had to wait a few more years before defeating male prejudice). Interestingly we only ‘discovered’ Mary Brook when the press reports about a court case between two male candidates came to light. It doesn’t make an edifying read but firsts have to begin somewhere…from Mary Brook to Clara Smithies to Kathleen Cawdry.

 

David J. Glanfield

Greater Elland Historical Society

 

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