West Bay Discovery Centre, West Bay, Bridport, DT6 4EN.

Mary Stocks -an influential and inspiring Woman

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Born in 1891 and from a wealthy family, Mary Stock’s family acquired one of the houses in Pier Terrace at West Bay in 1900. From her teenage years she rebelled against restricted women’s clothes. Unlike her male cousins she had to face the discomfort and constriction of clothes. The contrast of the freedom of clothing was highlighted during holidays in West Bay where the male cousins could go off in shorts, shirts and bathing trunks to undress and swim under the cliffs. Mary’s bathing dress was heavy with a separate overskirt. At the age 17 or 18 hair had to be “put up”, supported by hairpins that fell out, and hats worn that did not sit firmly on the head and had to be secured with hatpins and always worn out of doors.

Pier Terrace, West Bay

In later years based on these experiences she campaigned for an end for restrictive clothing for women.

When Mary left school, most professions were closed to women. They had no part in the administration of the law, were not legal guardians of their own children and couldn’t vote in elections.

The women in her family were involved in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Mary joined and volunteered for the NUWSS taking part in marches, stewarding, acting as a crowd whipper in open air meetings. In later years as a married woman she was appointed to their Executive.In 1910 Mary became a student at London School of Economics. The majority of the other students being male.

As a consequence of one of her visits to West Bay, Mary was introduced to and married John Leofric Stocks, an Oxford don, starting their married life in Oxford in 1913. John Stocks shared her support on women’s suffrage and education. They had one son and two daughters. 

Oxford colleges were very different to the London School of Economics (LSE), women were there on sufferance. They could attend male lectures, they could sit for examinations but were unable to receive the degrees that their results entitled them. The centre of University social life was the male college common rooms where women were forbidden entry and they were also unable to belong to some of the learned societies.

During the First World War Mary returned to LSE to teach while her husband was serving in Europe. After the end of the First World War there were more opportunities for women, John and Mary Stocks were instrumental in getting women made full members of Oxford University, so at last they could receive the degrees to which their results entitled them. They were both involved in setting up adult education programmes under the Worker’s Education Trust (WEA). Mary helped to set up a birth control clinic in 1925 in Manchester and became a JP. Sadly, John Stocks died suddenly in 1937.

Mary returned to London where she became General Secretary of the London Council of Social Services. In 1939, Mary became Principal of Westfield College, University of London, one of her longest standing and most successful roles. Throughout her life she maintained an active interest in promoting woman’s rights. As well as an extensive academic career and author, she campaigned for issues from the ordination of women priests and equal pay to university education and the NHS. A successful career in broadcasting contributed to her peerage in 1966. She died in London in 1975.

Mary Stocks

She left behind a great legacy, the campaigns she was involved in have resulted in improvements and benefits that still affect our day to day lives, many of which we take for granted. We are proud that she was associated with West Bay and the family are still connected to this location over 120 years on.

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1 Comment

kevin Yeates · May 20, 2021 at 4:29 pm

When I was young in the sixties my grandmother and Grandfather took me to West Bay for the day to meet her friend Mary Stocks.I can remember visiting her at Pier Terrace. My grandmother was born 10 years after Mary Stocks but I have not found out how my Gran and Mary became friends.

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