Eirene White (1909 - 1999):
Born Eirene Jones in St John's Road, Belfast in 1909, she was the daughter of Thomas Jones, who had just been appointed the first Professor of Political Economy at the newly-established Queen's University. (He also founded the Belfast branch of the Workers' Educational Association and later, as Deputy Secretary to the United Kingdom Cabinet, was described as "one of the six most important men in Europe"). In 1920 she was enrolled at St Paul's Girls' School, from which she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, where she graduated in Politics, Philosophy and Economics in 1932.
She spent some time travelling in Europe, worked for a year as a reader's advisor at the New York City Public Library, and spent some time in the US Library of Congress, "not working, but just looking around" as she put it; libraries would remain a lifelong interest. She spent several years doing social work with the unemployed, especially those coming to London from Wales in search of work. At the outbreak of war she joined the Women's Voluntary Service and rapidly became Welsh Regional Secretary, before joining the Ministry of Labour in 1941 as a welfare officer in South Wales.
At the 1945 general election she stood for Labour in Flintshire. This had been a safe seat for the Conservatives; though they retained it, their majority was greatly reduced. She turned instead to journalism, representing both the Manchester Evening News and the BBC, as their Welsh parliamentary correspondent, at the House of Commons. In 1947 she became one of the first women and the first provincial lobby correspondents. She was also elected to the Labour Party's National Executive. In 1948 she married John Cameron White, a fellow lobby journalist.
In 1950 she stood successfully for the new constituency of Flintshire East. She introduced a Private Member's Bill making seven years' separation grounds for divorce. It received a second reading, but she withdrew it after receiving an undertaking from the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, that he would appoint a Royal Commission to report on all aspects of marriage and the divorce laws. In 1953 she did not stand again for the National Executive, but did so in 1958 and was elected; also that year she was elected to the Chair of the Fabian Society.
After the 1959 general election, she was appointed to the Opposition front bench as education spokesman. In October 1964 Labour were back in government, with White as Parliamentary Secretary at the Colonial Office, and in 1966 she became the first female Minister of State at the Foreign Office. She brought to this role her well-known characteristics of enormous energy and commitment, but also her rather direct style. The latter included irritating the Spanish Government when on an official visit to Gibraltar. The Gibraltarians applauded certain direct remarks she made, while the Foreign Office, keen to establish some form of modus vivendi with Spain were less sanguine. Prime Minister, Harold Wilson moved her to the Welsh Office as Minister of State. She held this post until 1970, when she was created a life peer as Baroness White of Rhymney (Rhymni).
She subsequently held a number of Government appointments: chairman of the Land Authority for Wales, 1976-80, deputy chairman of the Metrication Board 1972-76, member of the Royal Commission on Environment Pollution, 1974-81 as well as chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, and a member of the British Waterways Board from 1974 to 1980. She was a Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords from 1979 to 1989.
Though some Welsh nationalist circles questioned her national credentials - frowning on her failure to deliver an address in Welsh when the national festival was held in her constituency - Baroness White was always keen to underline her dedication to Wales. She had spoken during a House of Lords debate on the public library system of "a highly dynamic and active service in our library system in Wales, which will combine modern and up-to-date information services with the traditional cultural and recreational uses of public libraries" and she became a governor of the National Library of Wales. She also was a member of the courts of the University Colleges of Aberystwyth, Bangor and Cardiff. Perhaps fittingly, as the daughter of Professor Thomas Jones, she served for 10 years from 1974 as chairman of Coleg Harlech, which had been established in 1927, to continue the activities of the WEA in a residential environment, by her father and predecessor as chairman, Professor Thomas Jones.
|Born:||7 November 1909|
|Died:||23 December 1999|
© 2021 Ulster History Circle