Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Topical Budget 641-2: Labour's First Woman MP (1923)


Main image of Topical Budget 641-2: Labour's First Woman MP (1923)
35mm, black and white, silent, 11 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

Mrs Susan Lawrence wins at East Ham.

Show full synopsis

This very brief Topical Budget item notes the election of one of the Labour Party's first female MPs, contesting East Ham North in the General Election of 5 December 1923. It was her second attempt, having previously failed to win Camberwell North West in a 1920 by-election.

Originally a Conservative Party supporter, Cambridge-educated Susan Lawrence (1871-1947) switched her allegiance under the influence of Beatrice and Sidney Webb's Fabian Society. By 1912 she was a member of the Labour Party, and spent the war years being very active in the Women's Trade Union movement at a time when a record number of female workers were being employed to compensate for their menfolk fighting the war in mainland Europe. She was also the author of Women in the Engineering Trades (1917) and Labour Women and International Legislation (1919).

Elected to Poplar Borough Council in 1919, she became notorious for being part of a group that refused to perform their civic duty of collecting the controversial Poor Law rates, even to the point of spending five weeks in prison in 1921. Though her election to the Commons in 1923 quickly led to a post as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the President of the Board of Education after the first Labour Government was formed the following January, she lost her seat in the General Election of 29 October 1924, but re-entered the Commons via a by-election in April 1926 following the death of her Conservative opponent.

When the second Labour Government was formed by Ramsay MacDonald in 1929, she became Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Health, in which capacity she became responsible for the Widows, Orphans and Old Age Pensions Bill. In 1930, she became the first woman to chair the Labour Party Conference. She lost her seat for good in the October 1931 General Election, though remained on the party's executive for another decade.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete item (0:31)
Topical Budget 324-2: Will There Be Women M.P.s? (1917)