On this day (February 23), in 1931, Devon County Council’s first woman Councillor was elected

Born in South America, Juanita Phillips had a remarkable life as local politician, Suffragist, president of the WI, Mayor of Honiton, Guardian of the poor, and magistrate.

Soon after her election success, she was appointed to the Public Assistance Committee:

The Public Assistance Committee, with its Devon-wide remit, struggled in a financial climate that meant that central government expected them to rationalise services and make savings whilst the demands from local committees were often to spend money on improvement and development…

A significant concern for local authorities at the time was to make the right kind of provision for the vagrants or ‘casuals’. Juanita became a member of the Devonshire Joint Vagrancy Committee.

She was a keen activist and fundraiser for better health services, becoming a member of the Public Health Committee in 1935, and also helped to set up a Devon Council of Women on Public Authorities which supported women in their roles as councillors, Guardians and magistrates.

This year marks 100 years since women over the age of 30 gained the right to vote. They were first able to exercise that right to vote in a general election on Saturday 14 December 1918. The election was called immediately after the Armistice with Germany which ended the First World War. But the campaign for equal rights did not stop there and after 1918, Juanita continued to promote women’s rights and increase opportunities for women. In her footsteps, and the footsteps of others, women continue to campaign for representation, respect and recognition.

Extracts from Viva Juanita by Julia Neville, 2012.

Events coming up:

Join Devon United Women and Fawcett Devon to celebrate women’s suffrage on International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March 2018:

  • 11.15am Walk in Edwardian dress through Exeter city centre (meet at St Sidwell’s Community Centre EX4 6NN at 11.00am).
  • 11.30am Flash mob dance, Exeter Bedford Square.
  • 12noon to 3.30pm Celebrate with the Lord Mayor of Exeter – speakers, workshops, food, music; why politics, representation and voting matters to women today, Exeter Guildhall.
  • 5.30pm Photography exhibition, Dodo Gallery, Fore Street, Exeter.

Follow @FawcettDevon on Twitter. Join Devon United Women and Fawcett Devon groups on Facebook.

WOW (Women of the World) will also be returning to Exeter in the Autumn. Follow @WOWExeter on Twitter and Facebook.

Also look out for Rebellious Sounds: exploring one hundred years of women’s activism in the South West.

And catch the Wren Music Her Story choir:

  • Saturday 3 March, 7.00pm, Church Hall, Okehampton
  • Thursday 8 March, 7.00pm, Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis
  • Friday 9 March, 7.00pm, Cygnet Theatre, Exeter
  • Saturday 10 March, 7.00pm, Plough Arts Centre, Torrington

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