Mabel Tylecote (1896–1987) educational and social reformer

Dame Mabel Tylecote, née Phythian was an active member of the Labour Party and worked tirelessly for social reform, seeking to improve people’s lives through better schools, housing and healthcare. She studied and later lectured at the University of Manchester.

Mabel Tylecote fencing
Black and white photograph of Mabel Tylecote fencing (undated)
Mabel Tylecote in the countryside
Photograph of Mabel Tylecote in the countryside (undated)

She read history at Manchester under the eminent Medievalist T. F. Tout. Tylecote had a life-long interest in both adult education and its history. In 1957 she published The Mechanics’ Institutes of Lancashire and Yorkshire before 1851, a book that was based on her PhD thesis. Mabel Tylecote was passionate about adult education. She fought to open up educational opportunities for people who would otherwise be denied them and lectured for the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA)

large group of staff and students outside of building
Photograph of tutors and students at a WEA summer school, c. 1920s

On the black and white photograph above Tylecote is sixth from the right in the fourth row from the back. The WEA was founded in 1903 and provided education for people unable to attend college or university, with tutors and students working together in partnership. Tylecote became its Vice-President in the 1960s. The WEA continues to transform lives and communities through education.

handwritten letter from student
Letter in verse from William Calligan to Mabel Tylecote, 7 April 1925

Tylecote inspired many people through her work as a Lecturer for the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). Above is one of many letters she received from appreciative students. Its writer was a cotton worker who was inspired by her teaching.

Mabel Tylecote was also passionate about increasing educational opportunities for women. As a graduate of the prestigious University of Manchester History Department she was well placed to write a landmark book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the University opening its doors to female students.

title page of book by Tylecote
The Education of Women at Manchester University 1883–1933, Mabel Tylecote, 1941

Tylecote’s book was favourably reviewed by Mary Danvers Stocks, as you can see in the cutting below taken from the Manchester Guardian, 24 June 1941. Stocks hoped that others would follow Tylecote’s lead in publishing histories of women’s education at different universities. Stocks herself was one of the earliest female graduates of the LSE and a women’s activist, lecturer, and writer.

book review in Manchester Guardian (press clipping)
Press cutting from the Manchester Guardian
group photograph of University fencing team
Postcard of the University of Manchester fencing team, 1917

The Black and white photographic postcard of a mixed sex Manchester University fencing team above gives an insight into University social activities. Those pictured are: Talbot, M(ary) Tout, N. M. Lowe, Smith, D. Booth, Van Coller, Tuke, Fairbrother, O. Sutton, C. Snowden, I. MAther, D. Knott, G. Rosenblum, Serj. Cook, M(abel) Phythian (Tylecote), A. E. Davenport, V. Jewson.

election leaflet
Labour election leaflet for Manchester’s municipal election, November 1941

Tylecote and her colleague won Manchester’s Collyhurst Ward with a substantial majority in this local election. This leaflet sets out their manifesto for improved housing, health services and education.

Discussion Points

Look at the 1945 election leaflet for Collyhurst (4 pages) What do we learn about Tylecote and what is her vision for a post-war settlement?

Construct a time line of educational opportunities for children in the twentieth century. Does this explain her interest in Adult Education and the WEA?

What role did The University of Manchester play in twentieth century civic life and the education of women?

Additional Resources

For more information on her personal papers held at the University of Manchester library see here. This collection mainly concerns her career in the Labour Party, Manchester local politics, and adult education. She also bequeathed her collection of books and pamphlets to the Library.

Fran Baker, a former Special Collections Curator, created a short video on Mabel Tylecote which explores her interest in teaching adult learners.

See also an interesting blog on Dame Mabel Tylecote by Elizabeth Gaskell House

See here for further information on past student life at the University of Manchester

Images reproduced with the permission of The John Rylands University Librarian and Director of the University of Manchester Library. All images used on this page are licenced via CC-BY-NC-SA, for further information about each image, please follow the link in the caption description.

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Janette Martin

Janette Martin

Research and Learning Manager (Special Collections) interested in developing online learning resources drawn from the spectacular collections held at the UoM

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