Saturday, 2 November 2013

Town and Country agree women are necessary in the States - The Women of 1954

If youth, good looks and breeding were enough for someone to get elected to the States of Jersey, then Joan Graves should have topped the poll in St Helier No 3 in December 1954. Had she been elected she would have been the youngest member of the States.

Electors do seem to go on good looks, especially when confused by government officialdom and told they have to vote for more than one candidate in a multi seat constituency like St Helier No 1.  This might explain why James Baker topped the poll for Deputy in St Helier No 1 in 2011. Chasing blonds, dumb or otherwise, has been a fatal obsession regretted at leisure.

Mrs Joan Graves (nee Seymour) candidate for Deputy St Helier No 3, 8th December 1954 (Image The Evening Post)
The Deputies elections of 1954 were variable for women candidates. Whilst Mrs Graves was not elected, both Deputy Mrs Phyllis Green in St Saviour No 2 and Mrs Gwyneth Huelin in St Brelade were elected unopposed. Those elections saw the first ever woman Deputy Mrs Ivy Forster lose her seat in St Helier No 2, having topped the poll in 1951, following backlash over a scandal of poor living conditions for the elderly in Sandybrook Hospital and the responsibility of the Health Committee on which she happened to serve.

Mrs Graves was described by the Evening Post in their synopsis of candidates “as happily married with one little child”, an observation it extended to none of the male candidates in that election. 

At her meeting organised at the Sun Works for electors of No 3 District, she was introduced by Mr E Le Quesne. It was he who had proposed Mrs Gwyneth Huelin in St Brelade, the chairman of the Island Federation of Women’s Institutes.  Mrs Graves it seems was a protégée of a group backing women candidates.

In her speech to electors, Mrs Graves made express criticism of a recent public housing scheme by the Housing Committee which was three miles away from the nearest school, some without bathrooms. Whilst housing was being built for the working classes by government, some of it was of poor quality. It appears one candidate in St Brelade, presumably Deputy H.M. Gibaut, had snobbishly suggested that bathrooms were too good for working people. Mrs Graves by contrast, was calling for a programme of house and flat construction that contained three essentials: main drainage, electricity and bathrooms. She did not seek to increase taxation to pay for these schemes, rather “by maintenance of those industries which already keep taxation at the lowest level, namely tourism and farming.” She also called for nursery schools where children could be left when their parents went to work.

Before concluding her address Mrs Graves sought to answer a letter that had appeared anonymously in The Evening Post under the heading “An Odd Claim”. She said that she had only moral support from her father and had to earn her own living – her husband having his wage and she hers.

Mrs Graves came from the Seymour family of hoteliers and her address is given as the Pomme D’Or Hotel, profession Hotelier. She was nominated by the president of the Jersey Medical Society “who considered there should be more female representation in the States” and cited the good work done by Deputies Green and Forster.

Clearly attempts were being made to promote more women in the States, but ones who came from the business class. Whilst obviously a wealthy candidate with connections, Joan Graves may not have had the personal skills necessary as a good orator. She admitted coyly “I am not a political speech maker” and continued “I am not like some of our politicians who have ‘the gift of the gab’” She did not stand again, having, as the Evening Post would say now of all unsuccessful candidates of the right, "just missed out".

Advertisement by Mrs Joan Graves in The Evening Post (Image Evening Post)


  1. But how can women be effective states members?

    If women are to be allowed in the states surely they should be allowed (temporary) membership of the Freemasons in order that they can work effectively with their male colleagues!


  2. Very interesting. Thank you.

  3. At last - some original research feeding facts into the political understanding.
    Without knowledge of the past the calls for "reform" are empty. There is no point repeating the same mistakes time and time again or to keep making the same tactical errors. Whether women or men we have much to learn from Jersey's political past and the brave people who have trod that same path seeking reform though improved social conditions. Its not just about how the voting system is organised or that St Helier is under-represented compared with the country parishes.The social reforming was and remains the inspiration and motivation for genuine "progressive" candidates and we need to hear of specific policies being formulated and proposed NOW for next year's elections.
    If anybody can remember Joan Graves and other early candidates I shall be very pleased to video record them to add to the tomgruchy.blogspot archive of Jersey's political history - past and present.

  4. sorry i was wrong it should be the polish and women vote lol on

    1. What a chauvinist and xenophobic fellow you are.

  5. IMO if the States had a make-over it might help. Seriously- the walls are dripping in oil ghastly oil paintings of men, the robes of the officials are off-putting, ditto the foot-stamping. The heavy red velvet curtains with their gold lace look drab. If you watch it from the Public Gallery, it looks like the Muppet Show. And then there is the behaviour behind the scenes. The operandi of dirt in a patriachal society, the treatment of progressive politicians and the over riding freemason control. Good luck to any woman or man who wants to enter that bull ring.

    1. The States is certainly the best gentleman's club in Town, albeit there is no bar and it no longer serves sandwiches. I am told the overnight accomodation has proved convenient for some Deputies.

      I have to admit, whenever the foot stampers of the Motherland get going with their approbation, the hairs on the back of my neck bristle with patriotic pride.

  6. This is terrific history research Nick. Opens eyes to social conditions and housing back in 1954. I was very impressed and envious!

  7. I wonder if having a young child counted against her? Times haven't changed that much I suppose - I know when I stood for election (1990s), the fact that I had young children went against me - people told me that I should be at home looking after them. I had to be out full time earning a living anyway, but this seemed beyond their understanding.