|Tribute to trail-blazing Martha – Wigan’s first female councillor
A plaque honouring Wigan’s first female councillor will be unveiled on Friday (April 5th) – the first official recognition for one of the most important women in the town’s history.
Martha Hogg was elected in 1920 – becoming one of only a handful of women councillors in Britain and the first in Wigan. She became active in politics after seeing first-hand the terrible conditions the poor were forced to live in.
Martha was a midwife and worked in the poverty-stricken communities of industrial Wigan, which were later immortalised in George Orwell’s book The Road To Wigan Pier. She was shocked by what she saw and joined the Labour party – standing first in 1919 and then again, successfully, in 1920.
At that time it was still highly unusual for a woman to become involved in politics, particularly a working-class woman like Martha. She was born into poverty in 1872, leaving school at thirteen and working in a factory until her marriage. After that, she trained as a midwife, working in some of the poorest communities in the country.
Once she became a councillor, Martha played an active role on the council, serving on a number of committees. Sadly, her trail-blazing contribution to local politics has been largely forgotten. It is only the work of local history enthusiast Tom Walsh that has kept her memory alive. He’s been campaigning for a number of years for Martha to be officially recognised and will finally get his wish on Friday.
Tom says: “I’m delighted the council has agreed to place a plaque in the chamber dedicated to Martha. She is one of the most significant women in Wigan’s history and is arguably of national importance.
“They were very few women involved in politics when she was elected and most of them were drawn from the aristocracy or the better-off middle-classes. Martha was a working woman who was so moved by her experiences as a midwife she decided to go into politics to do something about it.
“When she died, Wigan came to a standstill to recognise her contribution. Yet there has been no lasting memorial to her. It’s fantastic this is now being put right.”
The plaque will be unveiled on Friday by the Mayor of Wigan Borough Cllr Myra Whiteside. Among those attending will be Martha’s great-grandson and an 84-year old man she delivered while working as a midwife.
Cllr Whiteside says: “Martha Hogg was a true trail-blazer for the women of Wigan. It’s clear she had a deep social conscience and a strong commitment to helping the poor and that’s what drove her pioneering political career.
“It’s a matter of regret it has taken so long for her to get the recognition she so richly deserves. But at least now there will be a fitting tribute to her.”