Heritage: Meet West Ham’s first female mayor

Daisy Parsons with Pat Dennahy at WH lido

Daisy Parsons with Pat Dennahy at WH lido - Credit: Archant

Eighty years ago West Ham’s Daisy Parsons shattered societies perception of woman by becoming the first female, and youngest, mayor for West Ham.

Daisy Parson and Mrs Bock

Daisy Parson and Mrs Bock - Credit: Archant

At a time when women were still seen as second-class citizens, West Ham’s Daisy Parsons was a shining inspiration for all East End woman.

Her appointment as mayor, at the age of 46, followed an already hectic life which had seen her join the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) in 1914 to becoming an MBE in 1951.

Before her career in the political sphere took off Daisy, who was born in 1890, lived in West Ham and attended Beckton School until the age of 12 when she began her working life as a maid.

“I had to very often help the neighbours do their work for which I was paid sixpence a day and the little food they could give which was not very much, because people in the East End do not have much food to give away,” Daisy said of her early life.

It wasn’t until she was 24 that Daisy’s involvement in political issues started to make a mark when she was arrested for breach of the peace at an ELFS march to Westminster Abbey on Mothering Sunday.

“We feel the vote must be won shortly. We must have the vote. We are here today to demand a vote for every woman over the age of 21 years and Miss Pankhurst is giving her life for the purpose of fighting for this vote,” Daisy urged Prime Minister Herbert Asquith at a meeting outside 10 Downing Street .

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Following the Great War and women getting the vote Daisy went on to be the chair of numerous committees and was also appointed Justice of the Peace as well as being elected as an Alderman before taking office as mayor.

The Stratford Express reported in November 1936 that there was only one dissenting vote, that of Alderman Rumsey, “who wished he had got out of the Borough before he saw a woman occupying the mayoral chair.”

Alderman Rumsey also criticised Daisy’s role within the borough during the previous decades.

“I do not know of one thing in the borough which ever came from this lady’s brain,” he said.

Despite Rumsey’s doubts Daisy attended a number of significant events including the coronation of George VI where she was impressed by the Royals ability to appeal to the people.

Speaking passionately at the time, she told reporters: “This was probably the only country in the world where a royal family could move with such perfect freedom among the populace without fear of any untoward happening.”

“I also felt that the wide representation of all classes and creeds within the Abbey was a wonderful demonstration of the close relationship between the Throne and the people,” she added.

Her mayoral duties varied from driving the first trolleybus through West Ham and opening the Beckton Lido, and taking a dip in the process.

The Stratford Express reported a strange tradition involving a nine year old girl who opened the baths.

“She was lifted by the Mayor and Town Clerk and at a given signal thrown into the water. A little more tilting would have made the throw more successful, but the youngster did not seem to mind being dropped flat and trudged her way swiftly across the bath,” the newspaper noted.

Daisy was awarded an MBE in 1951 for her years of public service.

She passed away in 1957 age 67.