Selina Cooper

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Selina Cooper

Selina Jane Cooper (née Coombe; 4 December 1864 – 11 November 1946)[1] was an English suffragist and the first woman to represent the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1901 when she was elected as a Poor Law Guardian.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Selina Cooper was born Selina Coombe in Callington, Cornwall, in 1864, the sixth of seven surviving children of Charles Coombe, railway labourer (and later railway subcontractor) and Jane Coombe (née Uren), dressmaker. She moved to Barnoldswick when she was a child, after her father died of typhoid in 1876. In the same year, aged 12, she began working in the local textile mills at Barnoldswick. She left school at the age of thirteen and started work full-time in the mills.[2][1]

Trade union and political activities[edit]

Cooper became active in trade union activities and took practical courses in laundry, hygiene and first aid and became a member of the Barnoldswick St John's Ambulance Committee in 1895.[3] She was an early member of the Nelson Social Democratic Federation (SDF), and later founded a branch of the party in Brierfield.[4] She joined the Women's Co-operative Guild in 1897 and the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage in 1900.[2][3]

In 1901, Cooper was elected to the Board of Guardians, as a joint SDF-ILP candidate. She became frustrated with the SDF's lack of interest in the suffrage movement, and moved away from the party, becoming a full-time organiser for the suffrage movement.[4] In 1910 she was chosen to be one of four women to present the case for women's suffrage to H. H. Asquith, the then Prime Minister.[2] In the provinces she with Ada Nield Chew and Margaret Aldersley were experienced labour activists in Lancashire.[5] During the First World War Cooper developed the first ever Maternity Centre in Nelson, Lancashire. She was later elected to the town council and went on to become a local magistrate. She resigned from the Labour Party in the 1930s due to her belief that the party did not take a strong enough line against fascism.[3]


Selina Cooper's house at 59 St Mary's Street, Nelson is marked with a heritage blue plaque.[6] In 2015, she was the subject of a play by the Function Factory theatre in Nelson titled "Hard-Faced Woman".[7]


  1. ^ a b Liddington, Jill (2004). "Cooper [née Coombe], Selina Jane (1864–1946), suffragist and socialist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/39078. Retrieved 26 November 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b c d "Selina Cooper". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Liddington, Jill; Norris, Jill (1978). One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women's Suffrage Movement. London: Virago. pp. 21, 115, 136, 147, 260. ISBN 086068007X. OCLC 4379457.
  4. ^ a b Crick, Martin (1994). History of the Social-Democratic Federation. Keele University Press. p. 303. ISBN 1853310913.
  5. ^ Sandra Stanley Holton, Feminism and Democracy: Women's Suffrage and Reform Politics in Britain, 1900-1918, Cambridge University Press (2002) - Google Books pg. 68
  6. ^ Liddington, Jill (2014). Vanishing for the vote: Suffrage, citizenship and the battle for the census. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 349. ISBN 9781847798947. OCLC 900415080.
  7. ^ Magill, Peter (27 August 2015). "Suffragette's story set to hit streets". Lancashire Telegraph. Retrieved 19 November 2017.