The first meeting of the Women’s Provisional Club (1924-1984) took place at the Samson Clark Building, Mortimer Street, London, on 8 Feb 1924. The club soon became a meeting place for an extraordinary group of women pioneers. The founding members included Mrs Ethel Wood CBE, Margaret Haig Thomas, Viscountess Rhondda, Mrs Helen Archdale, Prof Winifred Cullis, Cicely Hamilton, Dr Lucas Keene and Lilian Mary Baylis (see below for biographical details).

Although, individually, these women wanted to achieve equal status with their professional male counterparts, the WPC was not overtly a political group. The stated objectives of the Club were to:

a) encourage and foster high ethical standards in business and professions.

b) encourage and foster the ‘ideal of service’ as the basis for enterprise.

c) quicken an interest in public welfare and to co-operate with others in civic, social and industrial developments.

The Constitution was heavily based on the by-laws of the Rotary International, a civilian service club founded in 1905. The original plan was that the WPC would amalgamate with Rotary International and hence the word ‘Provisional’ in the title. However, this meant changing the Rotarian’s constitution as a male-only group, which proved impossible. The plan was abandoned in 1930 after five years of negotiations, and the Club decided to continue as they were.

Any business or professional woman of British nationality could become a member but only one member was allowed from each industry or profession, with the exception of government, journalism, education and philanthropic organisations. Dora joined in 1932 (her profession was described as Mechanical Accountancy!) and was President in 1937. She was treasurer throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

The tables below give brief biographical details of some of the WPC members in the 1930s. The first table is a general list, the second shows members who worked in the British government. There were about 100 members in all, an exclusive set of some of the most powerful women in London. Many belonged to several clubs associated with women’s rights and so could tackle issues from different angle, with connections reaching out into all aspects of British society.

WPC members in 1930s (H denotes Honorary member)

NameOccupationDetails
Helen ArchdaleJournalist(1876 – 1949) Scottish feminist, suffragette and journalist. Worked with Viscountess Rhondda on Time & Tide and the Six Point Group
Lilian Mary Baylis CHTheatre Manager(1874 – 1937) managed the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells theatres in London and ran an opera company, which became the English National Opera (ENO); a theatre company, which became the National Theatre; and a ballet company, which became The Royal Ballet. Friend of Gordon Holmes – they travelled and went to theatre together.
Diana Beck    Neurosurgeon(1900 – 1956) the first female neurosurgeon. She established the neurosurgery service at Middlesex Hospital
Hilary Blair-FishEditorNursing Times
Etheldred BrowningWomen’s housing(1869 -1946) Anglo-Irish campaigner for women’s rights and founder of Women’s Pioneer Housing https://womenspioneer.co.uk/etheldred-browning-2/ supported by Viscountess Rhondda and Gertrude Leverkus (also knew the Spring-Rice family)
Gladys BurltonRetail consultancy(1890 -1965) Born in India. Worked at Selfridges and Peter Jones, then founded the first sales management consultancy and sales employment agency, see https://womenwhomeantbusiness.com/2021/09/22/gladys-burlton-1890-1965/
Alice Mary Burton RBAArtist(1893 -1968) born in France. Studied art at the Byam Shaw & Vicat Cole School of Art and at the Regent Street Polytechnic School (Bronze and Silver Medals).  She was a portrait and figure painter, including portrait of Viscountess Rhondda.
Sybil Campbell OBEJudge(1889 – 1977) first woman appointed stipendiary magistrate in Britain when she became metropolitan police magistrate at Tower Bridge in 1945. She remained the only full-time woman magistrate or judge in England until she retired in 1961
Mary CorderoyMarket Research ManagerManager of the marketing department of F. C. Pritchard, Wood Partners, studied research methods in the UK and USA
Maud CroftsSolicitorNée Ingram (1889 – 1965) In 1913 Crofts and three other women started a legal action requesting the Law Society to admit women to its examinations – along with Lucy Nettlefold (also WPC member). Crofts was the precedent when she became the first woman to be qualified as a solicitor in England in January 1923. She became a partner in the law firm of Crofts, Ingram and Wyatt & Co. President of WPC 1931
Ethel CroslandPrincipal Probation Officer, London juvenile courtshttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-2311.1942.tb01117.x President of WPC 1935
Prof Winifred Cullis CBEPhysiologist(1875 – 1956) physician and academic, and the first woman to hold a professorial chair at a medical school. Cullis spoke at the Women’s Engineering Society’s seventh Annual Conference in July 1929. President of WPC 1926 and 1927
Jessie Iris DouglasStatisticianBank of England
Rose FylemanWriter & Poet(1877-1957) from Russian Jewish family, wrote ‘there are fairies at the bottom of our garden’ President of WPC 1932
Margery FryJudge(1874 – 1958) was a British prison reformer as well as one of the first women to become a magistrate. She was the secretary of the Howard League for Penal Reform, the principal of Somerville College, Oxford and Governor of the BBC 1937-38
Ella Gasking OBEBusinesswomannée Batchelor (1891 – 1966), was a prominent British businesswoman in the food manufacturing sector as chairman and managing director of Batchelors, She was a member of the Women’s Engineering Society
Adeline Genée Isitt (H)Founder Royal Academy of Dancing(1878 – 1970) In 1923, Danish born ballet dancer, became a founder of the “Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain” in December 1920. By 1935, the group’s reputation had risen so far that it was granted a Royal Charter with Queen Mary as its patron. Made a dame in 1950.
Beatrice (but never called by her first name) Gordon HolmesFinancier(1884 – 1951) British stockbroker, suffragette, trade unionist, and author. In July 1936 her interest in feminist activism was rekindled after being invited to speak in Paris at a conference of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women. Autobiography In Love With Life
Dora Stuart GreeneComputing entrepreneur(1892 – 1982) Founded Calculating & Statistical Services in 1924 in Belfast and later Dublin. Founded Service Bureaux division at British Tabulating Machines in London, 1934. President of WPC 1937 and treasurer 1951-1971
Elizabeth Haldane CH (H) (1862 – 1937) Scottish JP, author, biographer, philosopher, suffragist, nursing administrator and social welfare worker.
Kathleen HalpinWomen’s gas council(1904 – 1999) Chief Administrator Women’s Voluntary Service –  administered the evacuation of children from London at the beginning of WW2; Chair of Fawcett Society, Organising Secretary of the Women’s Gas Council see obituary https://www.theguardian.com/news/1999/jan/19/guardianobituaries3
Cicely HamiltonPlaywright, actor(née Hammill; 1872 – 1952), English actress, writer, journalist suffragist and feminist. Best known for the feminist play How the Vote was Won, which sees a male anti-suffragist change his mind when the women in his life go on strike. President of WPC 1928
Dame Caroline HaslettEngineer(1895 – 1957) English electrical engineer, electricity industry administrator and champion of women’s rights. She was the first secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society and the founder and editor of its journal, The Woman Engineer. She was co-founder, alongside Laura Annie Willson and with the support of Margaret, Lady Moir, of the Electrical Association for Women. President of WPC 1930
Dorothy HenekerDirector IFBPW(1886 – 1968) Canadian, wrote The Seignorial Regime in Canada and was director of the International Federation of Business & Professional Women
Dora Ibberson CBECivil ServantChair of the Council of Women Civil Servants
Maud JeffreyEstate ManagerPioneer in housing for the poor on the Crown estate. President of WPC 1929
Prof Mary Lucas Keene FRCSAnatomist(1885 – 1977) professor of anatomy at the London School of Medicine for Women, the first woman professor of anatomy in the UK, first woman president of the Anatomical Society of GB & Ireland and president of the Medical Women’s Federation
Marguerite Kettle MRCSAsst editor, The LancetObituary 1939 https://www.bmj.com/content/1/4088/1008
Cecil Mary LeslieArtist(1900 – 1980) President of WPC 1934
Gertrude LeverkusArchitect(1898 – 1989) member of numerous women’s groups and established the women’s committee of RIBA in 1932. She served as the committee Secretary in the 1930s and their work promoted the interests of women architects, encouraged and advised recent graduates as well as recording cases of discrimination. In 1923, Leverkus was hired by the Women’s Pioneer Housing Limited to convert its properties into flats for women
Dr Margaret LowenfeldChild Psychologist(1890 – 1973) British pioneer of child psychology and play therapy, a medical researcher in paediatric medicine, and author of several publications and academic papers on the study of child development and play. She invented non-verbal techniques that enabled children to convey their thoughts and feelings without resort to words.
Engel Lund (H)Singer(1900 – 1996) Danish-Icelandic soprano & a collector and distinguished interpreter of traditional music.
Marion Jean LyonAdvertising Manager Punch(1885 – 1940) Advertisement Manager of Punch magazine, from 1922 until her death in February 1940. From August 1926 (notably after Lady Rhondda took over as editor) she was on the Time & Tide board of directors with Winifred Holtby, Rebecca West, Cicely Hamilton, Professor Cullis, Liberal MP Margaret Wintringham and Lady Llewellyn. She was the first woman executive ever employed by Punch and the first woman advertisement manager of a major publication. Lyon was elected first president of the Women’s Advertising Club of London (WACL)
Eileen C. MacLeodSpeech therapist(1895–1987) was a phonetics researcher at UCL, a pioneering speech therapist, and a formidable trainer of announcers for the BBC.
Chrystal MacMillanBarrister(1872 – 1937) was a suffragist, peace activist, barrister, feminist and the first female science graduate from the University of Edinburgh as well as that institution’s first female honours graduate in mathematics.
Dr Philippa MartinEye surgeonEye surgeon and chairman of the London Eye Hospital, wife of Edward Martin, a specialist stomach surgeon who taught at University College Hospital (he operated on Dora Greene’s duodenal ulcer).
Mary Martin-LeakeBusiness ownerLondon School Dietetics, London School Chiropody
Yevonde MiddletonPhotographer(née Cumbers 1893 – 1975) English photographer who pioneered the use of colour in portrait photography. She used the professional name Madame Yevonde. Her heroine was women’s liberationist Mary Wollstonecraft, and she joined the suffragette movement in 1910.
Lucy Nettlefold OBELawyer, business director, local government politician(1891-1966) first woman to be awarded a double first in Cambridge University’s double law tripos. She and three others took the Law Society to court for defining “person” as “man”. Highest female civil servant in Min of Food in WW1. Led the WRNS in WW2?? with Vera Mathews. https://womenshistorynetwork.org/lucy-frances-nettlefold-obe-1891-1966-cross-fertilisation-from-commerce-to-committee-pt-1/ President of WPC 1939
Patricia ParkerMarket Researcher at Harold Whitehead & StaffH Whitehead wrote books on the Administration of Marketing and Selling in 1930s, still remarkably relevant today
Emilie PeacockeJournalist, Daily Telegraph(1882 – 1964) In 1929 she led the “women’s department” at The Daily Telegraph. That January she was invited to a dinner to honour Viscountess Rhondda which included many of the leading women in Britain at that time. Other invitees were Vera Brittain, Rebecca West, Edith Shackleton and Cicely Hamilton.
Winifred Raphael/ SpielmanOccupational psychologist(1898 – 1978) Worked at Harrods and the John Lewis Partnership. Throughout this time, she became involved in trying to improve the industrial conditions for workers. Having studied physiology, she became very sensitive to the standards of lighting, heating, humidity and air movement within workplaces and advocated the importance of reduction of glare, the spacing and posture of operators, and the layout of equipment for better working conditions.
Margaret Haig Thomas Viscountess RhonddaFounding President(1883 – 1958) Welsh peeress, businesswoman and suffragette. Founder of Time & Tide mag, and in 1921, the Six Point Group, an action group that focused heavily on the equality between men and women and the rights of the child.
Gladys Maud Sandes FRCSGynaecologist(1897 – 1968) was an Irish surgeon and venereologist and the first woman surgeon at the London Lock Hospital in 1925. Inspired by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, she became an active member of the medical community and published widely on venereal diseases like syphilis and the treatment of children after sexual assault. President of WPC 1940
Marjorie Scott-JohnsonJournalistBBC picture editor at The Listener
Marion Dykes SpicerEducationOne of 11 children of Sir Albert Spicer. Sister Eva was a missionary in China in 1920s and WW2 http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/2015-03/2015-03-146-seton.html
Rose StandfieldMusic publisherDirector of Augener Ltd. President of WPC 1936.
Enid WalkerDentisthttps://www.lookandlearn.com/history-images/M573216/Miss-Enid-Walker-LDS-RCS-England?t=2&q=LDS also on Council of Electrical Assoc for Women
Ella WardSales promotion, advertisingPresident of WPC 1933
Ethel WillansGas HomecraftDirector of Home Service for Gas Light & Coke Co. Member of Women’s Gas Council (with Kathleen Halpin) and worked with Ethel Wood on COSMITH. President of WPC 1938
Sibyl WiddowsResearch Chemist(1876 – 1960) Member of the Chemistry department at the London School of Medicine for Women for 40 years.
Ethel Mary Wood CBEFounder WPC(1876 – 1970) Chaired Council of Scientific Management In The Home (COSMITH) research (Ethel Willans and Caroline Haslett also involved) for Nat Women’s Council, director Samson Clark advertising. Daughter of Quintin Hogg, philanthropist.
(Eleanor) Maude WoodyardAdvertisingMD, Saward, Baker & Co
Elsie ZimmernCountry Women of the World(1876 – 1967) English women’s rights activist. She became active in the National Council of Women, acting as Organizing Secretary of the NCW’s Maternity and Child Welfare Committee from 1917 to 1928. From 1925 to 1930 she was the General Secretary of the International Council of Women

WPC Members in Government 1930s

NameDepartmentRole
Stella Alleyne MBE, MAMinistry Agriculture & FishEstablishment (staff) Division
Emily Anderson OBEForeign Office(1891 – 1962) Irish scholar of German and a music historian who worked in the Foreign Office during WW2. Between 1940 and 1943 she was seconded to the War Office; she later received the OBE for Intelligence resulting from work she carried out in the Middle East.
Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor Viscountess Astor CH (H)Politician(1879 – 1964) American-born British politician, first woman seated MP, serving from 1919 to 1945. She chaired the first ever International Conference of Women In Science, Industry and Commerce, in London, 1925, organised by Caroline Haslett for the Women’s Engineering Society. Astor hosted a gathering at her home in St James’s to enable networking amongst the international delegates, and spoke strongly of her support of and the need for women to work in the fields of science, engineering and technology
Katharine (Kitty) Marjory Stewart-Murray
Duchess of Atholl DBE (H)
Politician(née Ramsay; 1874 – 1960) According to her autobiography Working Partnership (1958), it was at the prompting of Ellen Wilkinson that in April 1937 she, Eleanor Rathbone, and Wilkinson went to Spain to observe the effects of the Spanish Civil War.
Jessie Marguerite Bowie-MenzlerCivil ServantBA history from Bristol (1913), Dip Ed Oxford (1915), called to Bar (1934). Min of Labour 1917-26 (intro min wage)1926-34 insurance agent, Min Home Security WW2, 1945 head Brit delegation to UNCHR (see Science Gender and Internationalism by Christine von Oertzen)
HM LucasTreasuryInvestigating public finance and national income overseas
Hilda Martindale CBETreasury(1875-1952) one of the first female civil servants and sought to improve working conditions, particularly for women, throughout her life. She joined the Home Office as a factory inspector in 1901 and became Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories in 1925. She then moved to the Treasury where she worked until her retirement. Her sister Louisa Martindale was a pioneering gynaecologist.
Eleanor Rathbone (H)Politician(1872 – 1946) independent British Member of Parliament and long-term campaigner for family allowance and women’s rights. Anti-Nazi
Fanny Isabel Taylor OBEHome Office(1884 – 1947) Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories at the Home Office in 1918. Never married, continued her career until the 1940s. 1945 – Senior Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories, Min of Labour and National Service.
Eleanor Woodgate OBEMinistry of HealthDeputy chief inspector, Nat Health Insurance
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