Dorothy Brant 1907-2009

Dorothy Brant's Obituary from The Daily Telegraph (11-Feb-2009)

Dorothy Brant, who died on February 1 [2009] aged 102, was the last surviving pioneer of the movement to bring women into the Conservative Party's constituency organisations after the Suffragettes had won them the right to vote.

She started her first job in the party's Newcastle office in 1928, the year Stanley Baldwin's government finally gave women the vote on the same basis as men, in the process establishing them as the dominant element in the electorate.

She was soon sent out, on a salary of £150 a year, to seek out Conservative women and set up party branches in the largely mining constituencies of Co Durham. Against the odds she was particularly successful in the 1931 general election at Seaham, the solid Labour seat represented by Ramsay MacDonald, the prime minister who had infuriated his own party by forming the National Government with the Conservatives and some Liberals.

MacDonald, expelled from Labour and running as a National Labour candidate, stayed at Wynard Park, the home of his friend Lady Londonderry, for the campaign. But Dorothy Brant, who had operated from a mining family's cottage at Easington colliery, where the modest comforts included an outside three-seater privy, had been so successful in establishing women's committees over the previous three years that MacDonald's former Labour party colleagues failed to defeat him, as they had vowed to do.

Colonel Rowland Burdon, chairman of the Seaham Conservatives, gave Dorothy Brant full credit for the unexpected victory. "There is no doubt whatever," he wrote the following year, "that it was owing to the Conservative women's vote that Mr Ramsay MacDonald has been returned as our [national government] member".

Dorothy Elaine Brant was born on August 8 1906 at Gateshead, where her father was a salesman for vulcanite roofing. The family subsequently prospered in middle-class Tynemouth, sending their only daughter to Gordon College at Whitley Bay, where she developed a deep love of English literature and a marked taste for public speaking. She was swiftly co-opted on to the speakers' panel which the Conservatives had established in the north east to provide constituencies with more effective explanations of policy.

The rhetorical skills she exhibited (at half a guinea a time) made her particularly valued. Her efficiently organised women's branches provided speakers' classes to enable women to hold forth on the issues of the day. Even Lady Londonderry turned to Dorothy Brant for tips to improve her oratory, though without notable success: her speeches continued to be much criticised.

During the war Dorothy Brant was based in Lincoln, where she directed the Women's Land Army operations from the Scottish border to the Wash. "Land girls, unlike women in the Auxiliary Services, didn't spend their days filling in forms in offices, but worked extremely hard and got extremely dirty," she noted later.

In the post-war Conservative Party she held positions that no woman had occupied before. From 1947 to 1954 she was deputy head of the party organisation in the north west, playing a leading part in the arrangements for Churchill's 1947 visit to receive the Freedom of Manchester, when agile supporters hung from lampposts cheering wildly. She never forgot the furious Churchillian roar which greeted his discovery of an enterprising journalist hiding under a table in his room at the Midland Hotel.

Dorothy Brant herself expounded with great vigour the One Nation policies with which Churchill was then identified. After a quieter spell as the party's number two in the south west, she moved in 1960 to her final post, which brought her responsibility for running the Conservative Women's National Advisory Committee. It was a frustrating period. In order to attract younger women into the party the Conservative government needed to take up the cause of equal opportunities with determination, but it failed to do so.

Dorothy Brant's chief duty was to organise one of the party's great rituals of the period: the annual meeting of several thousand women in the Albert Hall where the leader was always cheered to the rafters. She retired in 1967 and was appointed OBE six years later. She rejoiced when Mrs Thatcher became prime minister, and was delighted when Lady Thatcher attended her 100th birthday party, where the centenarian quoted from Shakespeare and The Duchess of Malfi. She never married.