'When the polling stations first admitted women voters in 1918, a policeman turning up on duty at one Lincoln booth ventured to comment on the punctuality of a lady already heading the queue. "I've been waiting for years!" came the firm reply'. Meet Mary Toomer: a suffragist and founding member of Lincoln WEA.  

A formidable force that championed radical change throughout her life, Mary used to campaign for women's voting rights on her soapbox in Hyde Park, before settling down in Lincoln with her husband. As a member of the Women's Cooperative Guild, Mary joined the meetings that helped to set up the WEA in Lincoln. From 1927 - 38, Mary was a branch secretary and proved to be quite the multi-tasker. Mary had 2 daughters and came to combine WEA work with motherhood - her husband and herself would attend classes on alternate evenings to keep up parental duties, or, when both parents were out the children would occupy themselves in the WEA library of the common room. Indeed, at times the girls would even be taken to lectures to listen quietly at the back and Mary would often take them with her when visiting inmates at workhouses to instil in them the importance of respecting everyone, regardless of their circumstances.  

Mary's passion for education extended to her attending Oxford summer schools where she met William Temple, WEA president and the later Archbishop of Canterbury. After WW1, Mary was influential in helping Alice Cameron set up the Lincoln People's Service Club, a scheme to help the rising unemployment levels in the region. The club offered activities such as woodwork classes, dress-making workshops, shoe repair groups and more. The two were such a force for change that when Lincoln City Council decided to stop the allocation of coal to unemployed families, Mary and Alice led a protest march that lead to the decision being overturned.   

Mary was a co-opted member of Lincoln Education Committee for 30 years; she paid a visit to every school in the city, each term, by bicycle, until the age of 75. She organised sewing bees, helped to develop courses for Parent Teacher Associations and campaigned for an adult education centre. Indeed, she was such a beloved figure in the lives of countless children that when the school went carol singing they would finish at her home for tea, sandwiches and mince pies.' 

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About the author

Kay Field

Digital Marketing Officer

Kay is the Digital Marketing Officer at the WEA.