Emily Phipps

Emily Phipps trained as a teacher at Homerton College and gained a first-class external degree from London University. In 1895, she moved to Swansea to become headmistress of a Swansea girls’ school that she transformed into one of the most successful in Wales.

Emily Phipps trained as a teacher at Homerton College and gained a first-class external degree from London University. In 1895, she moved to Swansea to become headmistress of a Swansea girls’ school that she transformed into one of the most successful in Wales. She became a life-long feminist after attending a meeting in which suffrage supporters were brutally silenced.

Emily was an active member of the National Union of Women Teachers and was elected President for three successive years. She was also the first editor of the NUWT Journal from 1919-30. Studying for the bar in the evenings, she was admitted as a barrister in 1925, becoming standing council for the NUWT.

Emily joined the Women’s Freedom League in 1908 becoming a founder and active member of the Swansea Branch that involved holding public meetings, speaking on women‘s suffrage and more widely about women’s rights. In 1911, with four fellow WFL members, she boycotted the census on the basis that if they were not recognised as citizens for voting purposes, they refused to be citizens for statistical purposes. They spent census night in a cave on the Gower Peninsula, near Swansea, before returning to work the next morning.

Standing for parliament in 1918, the first she demonstrated how strongly she believed in women’s representation and her campaign was noted by the important role given to women within it. In order to encourage women to vote Emily provided ‘mock polling booths’ so that they would know what to do, and organised child care for babies and young children on the day of the election. She inspired her pupils, fellow teachers, and friends and supporters with her commitment to suffrage, women’s rights and parity of treatment with male colleagues.

In July 2017, a play called ‘No persons, only women´ written by Sam O’Roarke about Emily Phipps was commissioned by Swansea Central WI and performed as part of the Troublemakers Festival. A blue plaque has been placed at Orchard Street Clinic, Swansea, near to the former site of Swansea Higher Grade Girls School where Emily Phipps was headmistress from 1985 - 1925.

Emily Phipps was an important figure in Swansea and beyond, and was widely admired and respected as a headmistress, inspiring both her pupils and a generation of women teachers through her role in the NUWT, and as a suffrage supporter. She well deserves to be recognised as a pioneer today.

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