Don't forget Dorothy... Plea for recognition for Norfolk's first woman MP

Dorothy Jewson, social campaigner and former Norwich MP

Dorothy Jewson, social campaigner and former Norwich MP - Credit: Archant

She was one of the first women MPs, a pioneering suffragette and fearsome trade union leader.

Yet Dorothy Jewson remains largely unknown, even in her home city of Norwich.

Now, ahead of the 100th anniversary of her election to parliament, a group of campaigners are trying to do something about that.

Rosie's Plaques - an offshoot of the Common Lot theatre group - are calling for Jewson to be honoured with a heritage plaque in the city.

The campaigners want something in place by 2023, the centenary of the year Jewson became the first woman in Norfolk to be elected as an MP. Just four women had been elected before her she became one of a handful of female MPs who won seats at the 1923 election.

A pacifist and Quaker, during her life Jewson worked to raise awareness of birth control, reduce poverty and was key to the creation of many of Norwich's parks.

Dorothy Jewson, Norwich's first femle MP. Picture: Tessa Fox / Frank Meeres

Dorothy Jewson, Norwich's first femle MP. - Credit: Archant / Tessa Fox / Frank Meeres

Despite being Norfolk's first woman MP and a major voice in the fight for women's rights, Jewson has never received a blue plaque in the city - despite groups like the Beatles getting one for having played in Norwich.

In 2019, Ms Jewson was one of a group of 'rebel women' celebrated with a Rosie's Plaque - unofficial, temporary blue plaques put up by the Common Lot. 

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Maggie Wheeler, from the group, said something more permanent needed to be done to remember the pioneering politician.

A Rosie's Plaque dedicated to Dorothy Jewson - the unofficial plaque was put up in 2019

A Rosie's Plaque dedicated to Dorothy Jewson - the unofficial plaque was put up in 2019 - Credit: Rosie's Plaques

"There are so many women that deserve proper recognition," she said.

"Dorothy Jewson was absolutely one of those women, there should be something to remember her. We need to keep telling her story.

"It would be great to see her commemorated on a more permanent basis."

Ms Wheeler said just 25 of around 300 blue plaques in Norwich were dedicated to women.

Following a short stint as an MP, lasting just one year, Jewson tried unsuccessfully to run for parliament twice more.

Dorothy Jewson the Norwich MP who was elected in 1923 pictured with George Roberts.
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Dorothy Jewson the Norwich MP who was elected in 1923 pictured with George Roberts. - Credit: Original photograph held by the Norfolk Record Office

In 1927 she was elected to Norwich City Council, a position she held until 1936.

The idea of a blue plaque for Jewson was also welcomed by City Councillor Karen Davies, who said it would be a nice way to mark 100 years since she became an MP next year.

However, Ms Davies was unsure if Jewson Road, near Aylsham Road, was named after Ms Jewson. 

Who was Dorothy Jewson?

Dorothy Jewson was elected 99 years ago in 1923 as a Norwich MP for the Labour Party.

Before her political career, she had been a teacher, trade union organiser and hotel maid.

She initially caused a stir in parliament after refusing to wear a hat in the chamber. She is reported to have said women were "not in parliament to discuss dress or millinery, but to do something".

Her first speech in parliament pushed for reducing the age of suffrage for women from 30 to 21. A subsequent vote was returned 288 to 72, leading the way for the Representations of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928.

During a January 1924 train strike, Dorothy refused to use the strikebreaking trains to travel back to Norwich, threatening to walk the 115 miles home.

In the end, Dorothy and another trade union official hitched rides on a brick cart, a brewer's lorry and a furniture van.

After she lost her seat at the 1924 election she continued to be a driving force in politics.

With Dora Russell, she formed the women's birth control group, an organisation pushing for the Labour Party to adopt government-funded welfare centres to provide free birth-control advice.

From 1927 to 1936 she became a councillor on Norwich City Council where she pushed for new parks to be created across the region.