Women in politics

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An election advertisement by the unsuccessful candidate

The Women of 1954 – From political aspirant Nick Le Cornu’s blog

Joan Graves

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.

The Deputies elections of 1954 were variable for women candidates. While Mrs Graves was not elected, both Deputy Phyllis Green in St Saviour No 2 and Gwyneth Huelin in St Brelade were elected unopposed. Those elections saw the first ever woman Deputy, 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 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. While 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.

Family

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. While 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".

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