Talk: Minnie Lansbury – her life and times

Author and activist Janine Booth presented a illustrated talk at Finsbury Library on the life and times of one of her heroines, former Holloway prisoner Minnie Lansbury (1889-1922). Susan, a project volunteer, recaps the event:

Janine opened the talk by outlining Minnie’s background and upbringing  in the immigrant Jewish community of the East End of London. Minnie’s commitment to improving people’s lives gradually led her away from her family and into the radical politics of the day.

While teaching in a local elementary school Minnie had campaigned unsuccessfully to raise the profile of equal pay within her union, the NUT and as a wartime organiser for the East London Federation of Suffragettes she had helped set up social welfare schemes to help women and children. In 1914, she married Edgar Lansbury,  a local Labour councillor who shared her ideals and political outlook.

In 1919 when the borough of  Poplar elected its first ever Labour council Minnie was appointed an alderman. Her father-in-law, George Lansbury became the leader of the council.  In September 1921 Poplar’s councillors and aldermen were  sent to jail for an infinite period for their part in the Poplar Rates Rebellion. Janine showed photographs showing the 5 women councillors leaving for Holloway Prison amidst thousands of supporters and explained how their principled stand brought about a change in the law to benefit poorer boroughs.

The Poplar councillors were released after only 6 weeks due to public outcry. Minnie Lansbury felt that the regime in Holloway Prison had severely weakened her health.  Shortly after her release she caught flu which turned to pneumonia. In the days before antibiotics this was often a fatal illness. She died aged 32 on the 1st January 1922 and was mourned widely. 

Members of the audience appreciated Janine’s animated delivery and commented that  they had increased their knowledge of  both of Minnie Lansbury and the Poplar Rates Rebellion.

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