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Discrete CollectionsPolitics, economics and social science collections
TitleSummerskill, Edith Clara (1901-1980), Baroness Summerskill, politician and Summerskill, Michael Brynmor (1927-1994), barrister and marine insurer
Ref NoSUMMERSKILL
LevelCollection
Date1836-1990s
Extent50 boxes and 5 volumes
Admin Biographical HistoryEdith Summerskill was born in London in 1901. She was educated at Eltham Hill grammar school and studied medicine at King's College, London and Charing Cross Hospital. She gained an MRCS and LRCP in 1924. In 1925, she married Edward Jeffrey Samuel (1895-1983) and they established a medical practice in London in 1928, which continued in existence until 1945.

In the 1930s, Summerskill was a member of the Socialist Medical Association, which was affiliated to the Labour Party. At this time she was an active campaigner, for example, in calling for a public health service and support for the hunger-marchers. She visited refugee camps in Spain and sided with the republicans in the Spanish Civil War. She was particularly interested in women's issues, for instance, in her campaigns for better maternity services, birth control and equal property rights for married women.

From 1934 to 1941, Summerskill was councillor of the Green Lanes division of Tottenham (Middlesex County Council). She unsuccessfully contested Putney for the Labour Party at a by-election in 1934 and Bury in the 1935 general election. However, she did win West Fulham at a by-election in 1938, and retained the seat in the 1945, 1950 and 1951 general elections. Following boundary changes, the constituency was abolished and she became MP for Warrington in 1955 - a seat she held until 1961.

Summerskill was on the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, 1944-58, and was the party's chairman, 1954-5. She was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Food, 1945-50 and was Minister of National Insurance, 1950-1. She was made a life peer in 1961, as Baroness Summerskill of Kenwood. She was a member of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee, 1967-76.

During the 1950s and '60s, Summerskill continued to be an active campaigner on a range of issues. For example, she was a supporter of Arab interests as is evident in her vocal opposition to the Suez Crisis. She also campaigned for the legalisation of homosexuality and abortion. The Married Women's Property Act of 1964 was passed as a result of a private member's bill proposed by Summerskill. She was also a prominent anti-boxing campaigner and her views on this subject are set out in her 1956 book, "The Ignoble Art".

Other books by Edith Summerskill include "Letters to my daughter" (1957) and her autobiography, "A Woman's World" (1967).
Custodial HistoryMany of Edith Summerskill's papers were apparently destroyed by her husband after her death. Those that survived were transferred to her son, Michael Summerskill, who used them as a basis for a biography of his mother. Many of the files in series 1 contain a mixture of original material from Edith Summerskill and research material from Michael. The collection was deposited in LSE Archives in July 2011.
DescriptionCorrespondence, speech notes, photographs, election ephemera, press cuttings and other documents of Edith Summerskill. They are usually intermingled among the research papers for an unfinished biography of her by her son, Michael. Such research papers include correspondence, press cuttings, notes on family history, transcripts of interviews and general background material.

Subjects covered in the files in SUMMERSKILL/1 include:
Anti-boxing
Birth control
Divorce law
Election campaigns in Putney (1934), Bury (1935), Fulham (1938, 1945, 1950 and 1951) and Warrington (1955 and 1959).
Law relating to the welfare of illegitimate children
Middle East
Ministry of Food, 1945-50
Second World War, including women's role in
Spanish Civil War, including notebook of visit to Spain in 1938
Summerskill and Samuel family history
Women's rights, including papers regarding the Married Women's Property Act, 1964.

There are hundreds of loose photographs (8 boxes in SUMMERSKILL/2) and six photograph albums (SUMMERSKILL/3), which date from the 1900s onwards. These include many images of Edith Summerskill, either on her own or in groups. Highlights include:
- a tour of Spain in 1938
- election campaigns, 1938-50
- official photographs from her time in the Ministry of Food, 1945-50
- a Labour Party delegation to China, including Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan
- tours of the Middle East, including a visit to Port Said, Egypt, after the Suez War, 1957
- family photographs, including holiday snaps, 1914-1990s.

There are also 15 volumes of press cuttings, 1938-51 (SUMMERSKILL/4). These include:
- cuttings on Summerskill's political career, such as reports of her speeches and events
- three volumes relating to Women's Home Defence during the Second World World War, covering the years 1940-44
- tour of Australia and New Zealand, 1944
- Ministry of Food scrapbook, 1945-50
- tour of Egypt, 1951.

Michael Summerskill's unfinished biography is available in SUMMERSKILL/7. The audiotapes of interviews conducted by him for the biography are in SUMMERSKILL/6. Interviewees include several prominent Labour politicians, including Tony Benn, Barbara Castle, Michael Foot, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins and Ian Mikardo.

A rough list of the papers is available on the online archives catalogue.
Access StatusMainly open; some items closed
Copyright TypeCopyright is held by the depositor
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