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Council honours women's suffrage campaigner

One hundred years to the day after the first general election in which women were able to vote, Swansea Council honoured one of the women who helped to bring it all about.

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The council has installed a blue plaque to Clara Neal, campaigner for women's voting rights and leading member of the Swansea branch of the Women's Freedom League. 

It was unveiled by 15-year-old Pentrehafod School girl Sandy Ibrahim, of Mayhill, who has just been elected to the Welsh Youth Parliament - and by Terrace Road Primary School head girl Hafsa Kayum.

The plaque is on a wall of the Swansea school with which she was long associated, Terrace Road school.

Born in Devon in 1870, Clara Neal lived most of her adult life in Swansea. 

She took up the post of head teacher at Terrace Road School in 1901 and remained there until 1921.

During this period she was active in the women's suffrage movement. She was inspired - along with her friends Emily Phipps and Mary McLeod Cleeves - to found in 1909 a Swansea branch of the Women's Freedom League; this suffragist group advocated less militant tactics than the better known Women's Social and Political Union associated with the Pankhursts. 

The group held women's suffrage meetings and events in Swansea throughout the years leading up to the First World War. Members faced opposition from male protestors who would try to shout them down, on one occasion using drums, trumpets and pea shooters to try to break up a meeting.

Terrace Road School is delighted to have a blue plaque to such an illustrious former head teacher. 

The school's present head, Alison Evans, said, "I feel honoured that a female head teacher of this school was such an important champion for the rights of everybody, but in particular for the right for women to vote. 

"The Terrace Road School log book records that on September 5, 1918, Clara Neal closed the school for the afternoon so that the women staff could register to vote. 

"She must have felt so proud when that day came after so many years of struggle."

Carol Shephard, working for Swansea-based international charity Women4Resources, has been working with Years 3 and 4 at the school in celebrating Clara Neal's life. 

The children have been learning and writing about Clara; they used some of their material when they wrote to the council in support of the blue plaque nomination. 

Carol said, "The work has fed into the topic of 'Can one person make a difference?' and has led to interesting discussions and learning about gender equality, fairness and standing up for what is right.

"A group of 11 children worked with me to prepare a performance for the Women's Archive Wales conference at Swansea University's Bay Campus on October 7. The children read poems, acted out scenes from Clara's life and sang the song 'Nana was a Suffragette' with an extra verse about Clara.  They repeated some of that at today's ceremony."

Councillor Robert Francis-Davies, the council's cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said: "Clara Neal's great friend and fellow campaigner Emily Phipps is already celebrated by the council with a blue plaque in Orchard Street.

"It seems only fitting to mark this centenary year with another blue plaque to another great Swansea campaigner for women's suffrage.

"Clara Neal later became head teacher of Glanmor Girls School and in 1927 she became president of the National Union of Women Teachers, fighting for equal pay and conditions for women teachers. 

"Her life is a lesson to us all that we must never give up the struggle for social justice and equality."

Photo Pentrehafod School pupil Sandy Ibrahim, second right, and Terrace Road School head girl Hafsa Kayum, centre, with - from left - Carol Shephard, of Women4Resources, Terrace Road School head Alison Evans and Swansea Council cabinet member Councillor Robert Francis-Davies.

 

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