Monday, June 27, 2016

May George

During this turbulent week in British politics I look back on the career of Swindon's first Lady Mayor, May George.

Described as the most active and progressive member to occupy a seat on the Town Council, May George was the first woman to hold the office of Mayor of Swindon.  And apparently no one knew quite how to address her with speakers at public meetings unsure whether to call her Mr or Mrs Mayor.

Sarah May Williams was born in 1883 in Craven Arms, Shropshire on the Welsh Borders, the daughter of George Williams, a railway guard and his wife Eliza.  May grew up at 2, Tabernacle Terrace, Carmarthen, one of six daughters and two sons.  No surprise that she championed the well being of mothers and children during her political career. 

She served a pupil teacher apprenticeship in Carmarthen before marrying Charles Ferdinando George, a fellow teacher at Pentrepoeth Council School, in 1903. By 1911 May, Charles and their young son had moved to Swindon and were living at 85 Avenue Road.

Although not a native Swindonian, May’s connections with the town went back to her earliest childhood.  Her mother’s sister had moved to Swindon with her husband Joseph Crockett, a foreman shunter.  The couple never had any children but raised May’s elder sister Bertha as their own.

May’s political career began in 1921 when she was elected councillor for the South Ward.  She became an Alderman in 1931 and Swindon’s first woman Mayor in 1935.

May worked tirelessly to improving the lives of women and children, and served on the Maternity and Child Welfare Committee.  She was a tenacious and persistent campaigner and, unafraid of becoming unpopular with her fellow councillors, was famed for her fierce debating.

She was instrumental in establishing a standard of care at Swindon’s Kingshill Maternity Home that made it an example for the whole country.  May also served on the Guardians’ Committee, the local Employment Committee and the Pensions Committee and raised funds for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

May collapsed at her home at ‘Lynwood,’ Croft Road after attending a Council Committee meeting.  She died the following day, April 21, 1943 aged 60 years old.  Speaking at a later Council Meeting the Mayor, Alderman A.J.B. Selwood paid tribute to Mrs May George and said he was afraid her premature death was due to overwork.

A large congregation, including representatives from all the civic and social organisations with which May had been associated, attended a memorial service at Christ Church.  Her funeral took place at the English Congregational Church, Lammas Street in her home town of Carmarthen, where she was buried. 

“Mrs George died as she would have wished, working,” her obituary in the Advertiser read.  “No woman – or man – put so much into public work as she did.  Her whole life was bound up in it.”

Civic Offices pictured today

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