Eva Hartree – Cambridge’s first woman mayor

In 1930 the Cambridge Independent Press published a series of articles titled “Women Workers”, featuring the great and the good who helped make Cambridge the city it is today. Stored in the microfiche collection of the Cambridgeshire Collection, I have digitised most of the women featured here. What follows is the article on Eva Hartree, Cambridge’s first woman mayor. This article was first published on 14 February 1930.

Official photographs of Mayor Eva Hartree, from the Museum of Cambridge and the Cambridgeshire Collection respectively.

“Councillor Mrs Eva Hartree was born at Stockport one Christmas Eve. There was present in addition to the human retinue usual to such occasions, a fairy of a public spirited turn of mind, who as her contribution to the medley of good and bad virtues popularly supposed to be thrust upon  a newly arrived infant, popped in a gift for public service – a gift the recipient was destined to develop early in life.

Mrs Hartree’s father was one of the principal doctors in Stockport. He was an Owen’s College and University of London man, and he also studied medicine in Paris, where his uncle was in practice. In Stockport, in addition to his private practice, he was certifying surgeon to many factories among other duties interviewing young workers. He extended interest to machinery and its safeguarding.

On occasion his young daughter accompanied him on his visits and the experience thus gained of factory life has proved very useful in her later social work. She was dominated by an urge to learn all that she could. Although not directly personal, this experience obtained in an industrial North Country town was indirectly of much value, and laid the foundation of the valuable services that she was later in life able to render to Cambridge.

At Girton College

In 1892 she went to Girton College, taking the Tripos in 1895. She married and took up her residence in Cambridge the same year. And here, like so many others who come to the town for a presumably short period, with the exception of a few years she has remained ever since.

Mrs Hartree did little public work until prior to leaving Cambridge in 1913. She had her children to look after, and her obligations as a wife, mother and nurse left her but little leisure for outside interests. She found time however, to act as hon. secretary to the British Red Cross Society for the Borough and for Chesterton Petty Sub-Division of the County, organised and ran first aid and nursing classes and examinations, was Commandant of the Trumpington Voluntary Aid Detachment, helped in a large sewing class in Cambridge Place, and cut out all garments made there.

Her only surviving son has recently been appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics in Manchester University  – the development of Owen’s College, of which his grandfather was at one time a governor.

Soon after she and her family had taken up their residence in Farnham, Surrey, the dormant urge of public work raised its head and she became the hon secretary of the Farnham Suffrage Society. The following year she moved to Falmouth, where although her residence was to be but a temporary one, she acted as Chief Patrol of the Women’s Patrols, and head of the Girls’ Club attending their meeting every evening. In 1915 she returned to Surrey, this time pitching her tent at Guildford, and during the three following years her public activities were numerous and varied.

Among these many activities she was Chairman of the Medical Service Sub-Committee of the Education Committee, Chief Patrol of the Women’s Patrols under the Chief Constable, Hon Secretary of the Women’s Suffrage Society, member of the Surrey Insurance Committee, and of the Guildford Education Committee, and Deputy Chairman under the Medical Officer of Health of the Maternity and Infant Welfare Committee.

First Woman Mayor

Just as the experience that she gained under the guiding hand of her father when she was a child, helped to awaken interest in the welfare of her fellows, so did all these varied activities prepare her for the great public work which she was destined to undertake on her return to Cambridge in 1919. In 1921 she contested the ‘Cambridge Without Ward [today, parts of Queen Edith’s, Coleridge and Trumpington wards in South Cambridge] and was returned to the Town Council [today, Cambridge City Council]. Four years later she had the honour of being elected Mayor, the first time in the history of Cambridge that the highest civic distinction in its gift has been bestowed on a woman.

One of the outstanding events of her Mayoralty was the establishment of the Drummer Street Parking Place. The idea of taking a portion of Christ’s Pieces for the purpose created a great deal of opposition, and one night after an outdoor demonstration, a large party made their way to the house of the Mayor. Mrs Hartree never wavered and the agitation died out. Many of those who opposed the scheme now agree that the Drummer Street parking place has been of great value to the town, the only complaint being that it is not large enough!

Mayoralty by-the-bye, would seem to run in Mrs Hartree’s family, her grandfather having been at one time Mayor of Stockport.

A stranger meeting Mrs Hartree for the first time soon becomes aware of the tremendous driving force and energy hidden beneath her outwardly fragile appearance.

Since 1914 Mrs Hartree has been fighting as attack of Graves’ disease [Overactive thyroid] which was caused, it is believed, by the shock of her younger son’s death in 1914, followed by the strain of war. Nine months after the end of the year in offie, the illness reached such a serious stage that she was obliged to retire from public life for three years. Now restored to health, she is resuming her former active life activities. At the last municipal election she contested the South Chesterton Ward and was returned.

Many activities

Today Councillor Mrs Hartree is almost as fully occupied as she was four years ago. in addition to her municipal duties, she is a voluntary county organiser of the Women’s Institutes, Hon Secretary of the Cambridge Women’s Housing Association, an organisation formed under the auspices of the local branch of the National Council for Women (NCW), to provide unfurnished flats for professional women, and hon secretary of the Eastern Counties Standing Committee of the NCW. She is also a nationally elected member of the Executive Committee of the British National Council of Women and a member of some of its sectional committees. The Cambridge Branch of the League of Nations Union also has a devoted worker in Mrs Hartree.”


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