Zelda Curtis: Activist who championed the rights of the elderly

Zelda Curtis was no follower of fashion.

She was a feminist before it was fashionable to be so. She raised funds for the Morning Star at a time when few would give tuppence for the Communist daily. And she started campaigning for older peoples' rights long before it became popular to do so.

Though small in stature Zelda made a great impact on all she met. The sheer exuberance and sincerity as she made various political or sociological arguments carried a resonance that influenced many. A natural campaigner, she spent years raising money for the Morning Star, a thankless task which she carried out with great charm and humour; a rip-roaring speech, often interrupted by laughter, exhorting people to give money at the end of some long political meeting, was often the highlight of the evening.

Her parents, Ada and Manny Brown, were Jewish immigrants and she was brought up in working-class Islington. Stories about the Great Strike and of miners trying to raise money in the streets had an early impact on her. On the outbreak of war she was evacuated to Somerset, where she came in contact with the Workers' Education Association; she joined the Communist Party, and later served in the WAAF.

In 1944 she married Gerry Curtis and they settled in Finchley. One of the first projects they worked on together was helping to run the left-wing progressive Unity Theatre in St Pancras, aimed at bringing socialist plays to the working class. She later joined Labour Monthly as its managing editor, introducing a cultural section to the publication. Curtis believed that everyone had the right to access the arts, and that it should not be the prerogative of the upper and middle classes.

Through the 1970s she worked at fund-raising for the Morning Star, with a daily printed declaration warning that the failure to raise a few thousand pounds would lead to the paper's demise. She had been involved with the National Assembly for Women during its early years, believing that women had right to take action on the picket line to make their point; gradually support for feminism drew her away from the Party and she left in the early 1980s. She was active in CND, Anti Apartheid and, although rather critical of him, worked with George Galloway for War on Want. In 1981 she returned to local community politics joining The East End News, a readers' and writers' co-operative where she developed the features department and worked with local groups.

The Greenham Common protests in the early 1980s found Curtis, accompanied by three other women from her older women's group, outside the American airbase: "What a feeling of solidarity there was," she recalled in an article written in 1989. "For too long women's voices had been suppressed and their warnings gone unheeded. Now we were roaring like lions. That was one of the highest points of the last 20 years of feminism for me, 20 years of fun and fury, of reassessment, of relearning, sisterhood and separatism, trauma and triumph."

When she was aged 60 Gerry died, and Curtis was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. She seemed to become more active, fighting to make sure that older people would be given a voice. Earning the name "Zelda the Elder", she formed the Association of Greater London Older Women, was co-opted on to the GLC Womens' Committee and served on Islington Womens' Committee. In 1984 she became a paid worker for the Pensioners Link Older Womens' Project funded by the GLC.

Mimi Sanderson accompanied her to Greenham Common and worked with her through the older womens' network. She has no doubt how important Curtis' contribution had been: "She was a feminist in all senses of the word, intellectually and practically. She got older women and pensioners on the GLC's agenda."

Curtis wrote a number of articles and pamphlets, and made frequent broadcasts on womens rights and pensions; she was also prepared to talk about her own sex life, declaring in a newspaper interview and in several broadcasts that she felt freer at enjoying sex: "I'm delighted to say I still have an active sex life; sex is better than when I was young because I have lost my inhibitions. Sometimes within marriage you build up a particular way of living because of the children. It's good to be free of that and start all over again."

Despite her Parkinson's she continued to lead an active life, travelling to the US in 1995 to make a documentary for Channel 4 about the Grey Panthers Movement; several of her publications have been reprinted in the US. In 1999 she edited Life After Work: stories of freedom, opportunity and change for the Women's Press; she helped to train older people to use the media and in a somewhat surprising venture taught public speaking techniques to Maasai activists from Tanzania. She also took part in research into experimental techniques to deal with Parkinson's.

Zelda Brown, feminist and campaigner: born London December 1923; married 1944 Gerry Curtis (died 1983; two daughters); died London 31 January 2012.

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

£36000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Experienced SEN Teacher n...

Volunteer Mentor for people who have offended

This is an unpaid volunteer role. : Belong: We are looking for volunteers who ...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Experienced TA's urgently...

Business StudiesTeacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Supply Business Studies Teacher...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?