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Speaker(s): Dr Laura Beers

Recorded on 24 February 2017 at Thai Theatre, New Academic Building

In 1908 Ellen Wilkinson, a fiery, outspoken teenager from a working-class family in Manchester, was the only girl who spoke in school debates. By 1945, Wilkinson, still a rebellious redhead, had helped found the Communist Party, earned a seat in Parliament as Minister of Education, and become a renowned advocate for the poor and dispossessed at home and abroad. She was one of the first female delegates to the United Nations, and played a central role in the post-war Labour government. Laura Beers’s new book about Wilkinson’s remarkable life is a richly detailed portrait of a time when left-wing men and women from a range of backgrounds sought to reshape domestic, imperial, and international affairs.

Wilkinson is best remembered as the leader of the Jarrow March, the 300-mile march of two hundred unemployed shipwrights and steelworkers to petition the government for help. But this was just one small part of Red Ellen’s larger transnational fight for social justice. She was involved in a range of campaigns, from the quest for official recognition of the Spanish Republican government, to the fight for Indian independence, to the effort to smuggle Jewish refugees out of Germany.

During Wilkinson’s lifetime, many radicals viewed themselves as members of an international socialist community, and some, like her, became involved in socialist, feminist, and pacifist movements that spanned the globe. By focusing on the extent to which Wilkinson’s activism transcended Britain’s borders, Laura Beers reframes our perception of the British Left in the early twentieth century.

Laura Beers (@Fiery_Particle) is Associate Professor of History at American University and a Birmingham Fellow at the University of Birmingham. She is author of Your Britain: Media and the Making of the Labour Party and Red Ellen: The Life of Ellen Wilkinson, Socialist, Feminist, Internationalist.

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