ONE hundred years ago, Darlington’s first elected woman died four years after she had broken through the glass ceiling and become a councillor.

She was Clara Curtis Lucas, a feminist before the word was invented who for decades led a peaceful, yet forceful, campaign for women to get the vote.

“A woman of strong personality, holding advanced and independent views, she was essentially a pioneer, and in her advocacy of the woman’s cause had to meet with a considerable amount of opposition which, however, only strengthened her determination to win for her sex equal rights with those of men,” said The Northern Echo in its obituary following her death on April 14, 1919.

Miss Lucas was born in Thirsk in 1853, the daughter of railwaymen. She was educated at Darlington’s Polam Hall School which, in those days, was a radically-minded hotbed of female equality. After leaving school, she ran nightclasses in a bid to spread educational opportunity.

In 1894, Miss Lucas became the first woman in Darlington to be elected to office when she was voted onto the Education Board which ran the town’s schools.

That, though, was as far as she could go until August 1907 when the Qualification of Women Act was passed enabling women ratepayers to stand for the council. Miss Lucas put herself forward in 1915 as Darlington’s first ever female candidate when the borough council was given new powers – we’d regard it as becoming a unitary authority today – and its area was enlarged to cover Harrowgate Hill and Cockerton.

Polling, on Wednesday, March 31, 1915, finished at 8pm and the ballot boxes were taken to the Covered Market for counting. There were only 12,378 electors, so it took about 90 minutes.

“A huge crowd had assembled in the Market Place and there was much cheering and counter-cheering when the mayor declared the results from the top of the steps facing the Market Place,” said the D&ST.

In the Cockerton ward, a man topped the poll with 588 votes, but Miss Lucas came third with 483 votes – 25 ahead of the chap in fourth. The mayor, Councillor JG Harbottle, “specially congratulated her as being one of the few women in England who was privileged to sit at the council table”.

She then took to the top step to make her victory speech which was, said the Echo, “well received”. “She felt it a huge honour and privilege to represent the Cockerton Ward. She thanked those who had worked and voted for her, and she hoped they would never have cause to regret sending a woman to the Darlington County Council.”

However, such was the windbaggery of the 27 male councillors and aldermen during her first, lengthy, council meeting that she said at the end: “If we’re going to be here all this time every month, I’ll bring my knitting.”

She took her place on the education committee and was vice-chairman of the museum and library committee, although as the chairman was away on active service, she was effectively in charge.

Her real passion was to get women the vote in Parliamentary elections. In 1882, she became the founding honorary secretary of the Darlington Women’s Liberal Association, which was one of the first female political organisations to be set up in the whole country. It campaigned for female equality in all spheres.

Then she became chairman – yes, chairman – of the Darlington Women’s Suffrage Society, and she toured the region delivering passionate speeches. When the vote was won in February 1918, she chaired the first meeting of the society, and announced that the new goal was to get equal pay for female and male teachers.

The D&S said: “Miss Lucas was a pioneer in movements for the advancement of women politically and socially and she had the satisfaction of seeing the achievement in a certain measure, if not to the full, of some of the objects for which she had long and zealously striven, particularly in the extension of the Parliamentary franchise to members of her sex.”

Presumably, she exercised her right to vote for the first time in the post-war election in December 1918, but then she fell ill and was confined to the newly-built house – Fieldhead in Abbey Road – which she shared with her spinster sister, Alice. She appeared to recover, only to suffer heart failure at 12.30pm on April 14, 1919. She was 65.

She was cremated on Maundy Thursday “and the large gathering which assembled was eloquent of the esteem in which she was held”.

It is hoped that a plaque will be installed outside her house to commemorate her life and the 100th anniversary of her death.

THE Darlington & Stockton Times also, 100 years ago this week, reported on the “Easter bicycle boom” as cycling returned to its pre-war popularity. “There is a tendency among men discharged from the forces to turn to this healthy and pleasant recreation,” it said.

However, said the D&S, the roads were in a poor, dusty condition, and there was a shortage of bicycles. A new one could cost up to £20 – twice the price in 1914.

“The rarest of all accessories just now is the ordinary bell,” said the paper. “’There are no bicycle bells for sale anywhere in the country,’ said one cycle dealer, ‘because only one firm in England makes them. Formerly, Germany supplied most of our bicycle bells.’”

MANY thanks for all your emails and letters – we’ve got railway houses and coalfield cinemas coming out of ears. More on these, and loads more, subjects next week.