Obituary: Kathleen Halpin

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KATHLEEN HALPIN was one of the last surviving women whose lives linked the first and second waves of the women's movement.

Though she was born almost at the same time as the founding of the militant suffragette Women's Social and Political Union, her own instincts were more gradualist and constitutional, and led her to the London and National Society for Women's Service (now the Fawcett Society), of which she was an active member up to her death. She was also representative of a generation of indefatigable women administrators and organisers, who maintained a low personal profile while having a considerable effect on their society.

Halpin's parents were moderately well-to-do, and very sympathetic to her ambitions. She was born in 1903, the eldest of four children, and educated at Sydenham High School in south London. After finishing there in 1922, she spent some time in the South of France, staying with her mother's ex-headmistress who was considered avant-garde, and was a friend of H.G. Wells. Halpin returned with a degree of fashionable sophistication which apparently took aback even her broad-minded parents; as she said, "I came back smoking cigarettes and drinking black coffee."

She started on a varied professional and managerial career, which included personnel management for a major industrial firm, and a period as private secretary to Sir John Simon when he was Foreign Secretary in the early 1930s. At this time she was also secretary of the Junior Council of the London and National Society for Women's Service, whose members were mainly young professional women. The Junior Council organised a series of talks by prominent women - on one occasion in 1931 the platform was shared by Ethel Smyth and Virginia Woolf, who subsequently became a supportive member of the society.

In 1935 Halpin became Organising Secretary of the Women's Gas Council, and on the approach of war became involved with the establishment of the Women's Voluntary Service (for Civil Defence) under Lady Reading, whom she greatly admired. When war broke out Halpin took responsibility for the WVS in the London area, and later was appointed National Administrator. For this she was appointed OBE. In 1944 she was seconded to the Ministry of Health, particularly liaising with United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration over refugee problems. She was advanced CBE in 1953.

In addition to her work with the WVS, which continued well after the war, Halpin had a wide variety of interests and occupations. These included the Red Cross, the Girl Guides and the Soroptimist International Federation. Above all she had a long commitment to the Fawcett Society - campaigning for women's equality in employment, education and politics and serving as chair for a number of years - and to the Fawcett Library, of which she was a trustee and a member of the Friends to the end.

Friends remember Kathleen Haplin as always very elegant, very smartly turned out and yet eminently approachable, with no "side" at all. She was always ready to share her expertise and experience in the cause of the advancement of women.

David Doughan

Kathleen Mary Halpin, public servant and feminist: born London 19 November 1903; Chief of Metropolitan Department, Women's Voluntary Services (from 1966 Women's Royal Voluntary Service) 1939-45, Chief Administrator, Regions 1945-73; OBE 1941, CBE 1953; President, Federation of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland 1959-60; Chairman, Fawcett Society 1967-71, Vice-President 1978-99; died London 4 January 1999.