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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dame Elizabeth Leah Manning (14 April 1886 – 15 September 1977) was a British educationalist, social reformer, and Labour Member of Parliament (MP) in the 1930s and 1940s. She organised the evacuation of orphaned or at risk Basque children during the Spanish Civil War.

Born as Elizabeth Leah Perrett, her parents emigrated to Canada when she was 14, but decided that she (alone among her siblings) should remain in Britain, and she was looked after by her maternal grandparents, who were Methodists.


Early career

She was educated at St John's School in Bridgwater, and at Homerton College, Cambridge. She became a teacher in Cambridge where she had met fellow undergraduate Hugh Dalton and joined the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party. Her school was in a poor area of the city and she pressed the city authorities to improve the health by providing free milk, using her position on Cambridge Trades Council to raise the issue.


She married William Manning, a scientist working for the University Solar Physics Laboratory, in 1914. He was a pacifist and a Liberal in politics.


Manning welcomed news of the October revolution in Russia and became a member of the 1917 club. After the end of the war she became an active speaker on behalf of Labour candidates in elections around the country. She was also appointed headmistress of a new experimental Open Air School for undernourished children which Cambridge education authority had established on a farm site, and found this work exceptionally rewarding. In 1929 she served as organising secretary of the National Union of Teachers. She became its President in 1930. In 1931, Manning was elected as MP for Islington East in a by-election on 19th February. She did not support Ramsay Macdonald's National Government and stayed in the Labour Party, losing her seat a few months later at the 1931 general election in October.

She served on the Labour Party National Executive Committee from 1931 to 1932, and in the 1935 general election unsuccessfully contested Sunderland.

She was meanwhile moving away from her previous strict pacifism towards a more active anti-fascism. At the 1936 Labour Party Conference, several party members, including Ellen Wilkinson, Stafford Cripps, Aneurin Bevan and Charles Trevelyan, argued that military help should be given to the Popular Front of Spain, which fought Francisco Franco and his fascist Nationalist Army. Despite a passionate appeal from Isabel de Palencia, the Labour Party supported the Conservative Government's policy of non-intervention.

Spanish Medical Aid Armband

Manning disagreed with the official line and became Secretary of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee. In the spring of 1937, she helped to arrange the evacuation of almost 4,000 Basque children to Britain as well as around 200 adults, accompanying the children on the SS Habana. While there she witnessed the bombing of Guernica. In 1938 Manning returned to Spain where she wrote a report on the hospitals where British doctors and nurses were working. Back in England, she continued to be involved with the Basque children, visiting them and highlighting their plight.

Manning was selected as the Labour Party candidate for Epping and won the seat in the 1945 general election. In Parliament, she was known for her commitment to education. Defeated in the 1950 general election, she unsuccessfully contested Epping in 1951 and 1955.


She was remembered in 2002 by the renaming of a Bilbao square as Plaza de Mrs Leah Manning; a commemorative plaque from the Basque Children of '37 Association was presented to the British House of Commons.

Last years

Manning was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966. She remained active in educational work (opposing comprehensive schools) and her autobiography (called A Life for Education) was published in 1970. Her last years, before her death at age 91, were spent in the NUT Home for Retired Teachers at Elstree, England.

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ethel Bentham
Member of Parliament for Islington East
February 1931October 1931
Succeeded by
Thelma Cazalet
Preceded by
Winston Churchill
Member of Parliament for Epping
Succeeded by
Nigel Davies

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