Leah Manning

Dame Elizabeth Leah Manning DBE (née Perrett; 14 April 1886 – 15 September 1977) was a British educationalist, social reformer, and Labour Member of Parliament (MP) in the 1930s and 1940s. She organised the evacuation of orphaned or at risk Basque children during the Spanish Civil War.[1]

Dame Leah Manning

Leah manning.jpg
Member of Parliament for Epping
In office
5 July 1945 – 23 February 1950
Preceded byWinston Churchill
Succeeded byNigel Davies
Member of Parliament for Islington East
In office
19 February 1931 – 26 October 1931
Preceded byEthel Bentham
Succeeded byThelma Cazalet-Keir
Personal details
Elizabeth Leah Perrett

(1886-05-28)28 May 1886
Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire
Died15 September 1977(1977-09-15) (aged 91)
Elstree, Hertfordshire
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)William Henry Manning
Alma materHomerton College, Cambridge

Her parents emigrated to the United States when she was 14, but decided that she (alone among her siblings) should remain in Britain, and she was looked after by her maternal grandparents, who were Methodists.[2]

Early careerEdit

She was educated at St John's School in Bridgwater, and at Homerton College, Cambridge. She became a teacher in Cambridge where she had met fellow undergraduate Hugh Dalton and joined the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party. Her school was in a poor area of the city and she pressed the city authorities to improve the health by providing free milk, using her position on Cambridge Trades Council to raise the issue.[2]


She married William Henry Manning (1883–1952), an astronomer working for the University Solar Physics Laboratory, in 1914. They set up home together in a house on the Cambridge Observatory site.[3] He was a pacifist and a Liberal in politics.


Mrs. Leah Manning Square, Bilbao, Spain.

Manning welcomed news of the October revolution in Russia, and became a member of the 1917 Club.[citation needed] In peacetime, she became an active speaker on behalf of Labour candidates in elections around the country. She was appointed headmistress of a new experimental Open Air School for undernourished children which Cambridge education authority had established on a farm site, and found this work exceptionally rewarding. In 1929, she served as organising secretary of the National Union of Teachers, becoming its president in 1930.[3]

In 1931, she was elected as MP for Islington East in a by-election on 19 February. She did not support Ramsay MacDonald's National Government and stayed in the Labour Party, losing her seat a few months later at the 1931 general election in October. She served on the Labour Party National Executive Committee from 1931 to 1932, and in the 1935 general election unsuccessfully contested Sunderland.[citation needed]

She was meanwhile moving away from her previous strict pacifism towards a more active anti-fascism. At the 1936 Labour Party Conference, several party members, including Ellen Wilkinson, Stafford Cripps, Aneurin Bevan and Charles Trevelyan, argued that military help should be given to the Popular Front of Spain, which fought Francisco Franco and his fascist Nationalist Army. Despite a passionate appeal from Isabel de Palencia, the Labour Party supported the Conservative Government's policy of non-intervention.[citation needed]

Manning disagreed with the official line and became Secretary of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee. In the spring of 1937, she helped to arrange the evacuation of almost 4,000 Basque children to Britain[4] as well as around 200 adults, accompanying the children on the SS Habana.[5] While there she witnessed the bombing of Guernica. In 1938, Manning returned to Spain, where she wrote a report on the hospitals where British doctors and nurses were working. Back in England, she continued to be involved with the Basque children, visiting them and highlighting their plight.[3][5]

Manning was selected as Labour candidate for Epping and won the seat in the 1945 general election. In Parliament, she was known for her commitment to education. Defeated in the 1950 general election, she unsuccessfully contested Epping again in 1951 and 1955.[citation needed]

Last yearsEdit

Manning was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966. She remained active in educational work (opposing comprehensive schools) and her autobiography (called A Life for Education) was published in 1970. Her last years, before her death at age 91, were spent in the NUT Home for Retired Teachers at Elstree, England.[citation needed]


She was remembered in 2002 by the renaming of a Bilbao square as Plaza de Mrs Leah Manning; a commemorative plaque from the Basque Children of '37 Association was presented to the British House of Commons.[6]

A room is named in her honour at Homerton College, Cambridge.[7]

A blue plaque was erected to Leah Manning in 2020 on the site of the former ragged school in New Street, Cambridge which is now owned by Anglia Ruskin University and is used as their Institute of Music Therapy. Her work on behalf of the new community Harlow New Town has been commemorated in the name of a day care centre for elderly people in Harlow town park.[8]


  1. ^ Basque Children of '37 Association, basquechildren.org; accessed 2 April 2014.
  2. ^ a b Leah Manning, A Life for Education: An Autobiography, London: Victor Gollancz Ltd. 1970; ISBN 0-575-00500-9, pp. 20, 43
  3. ^ a b c Ron Bill and Stan Newens Leah Manning Leah Manning Trust in association with Square One Books Limited, 1991; ISBN 1-872747-02-7, pp. 21, 24, 45
  4. ^ Eric Richard, Gaillet (2016). Deux shillings: correspondance inédite - Leah Manning, Guernica, les enfants basques et le SS Habana. Charleston: CreateSpace. pp. 109–118. ISBN 978-1530863440.
  5. ^ a b Leah Manning, "The Cave by the River" and "Basque Children For England" in Jim Fyrth and Sally Alexander, Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War. London : Lawrence & Wishart, 1991.ISBN 9781905007875 (pp. 104-5, 222-4)
  6. ^ BBC history of the Basque Children; accessed 3 April 2014.
  7. ^ Homerton Conferencing; accessed 26 July 2016.
  8. ^ [Gibberd, F., Harvey, B. and White, L. (1980) Harlow: The Story of a New Town. Stevenage: Publications for Companies, p.275.]

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ethel Bentham
Member of Parliament for Islington East
February 1931October 1931
Succeeded by
Thelma Cazalet
Preceded by
Winston Churchill
Member of Parliament for Epping
Succeeded by
Nigel Davies
Trade union offices
Preceded by
C. W. Cowen
President of the National Union of Teachers
Succeeded by
Angus Roberts