Obituary: Alice Hemming
Monday 11 April 1994
ALICE HEMMING was proud to be considered a Canadian, although she was born in London, in 1907, and moved to Canada as a small child. Her parents, who had no experience of agricultural life, found themselves on a small farm in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and discovered that it was not an easy life; indeed Alice grew up in conditions of some hardship.
As Alice Weaver she graduated with honours from the University of British Columbia in 1928, and used her energy and her enquiring mind to become a journalist, on the Vancouver Sun. Two years later she interviewed a visiting fellow Canadian Harold Hemming, who was then in charge of a delegation of British headmasters; they fell in love and she joined him in London where they were married in 1931. She worked for the Marquess of Donegal, who wrote a gossip column on the Sunday Despatch, and a brief earlier acquaintance with Wallis Simpson got her an exclusive interview with the new Duchess of Windsor soon after the abdication. It was syndicated worldwide.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, while her husband served in the British Army Alice went back to Canada, to Vancouver, to join her two young children. She continued with her journalism, writing two regular columns in the Vancouver Province and giving daily broadcasts on her own radio show in support of the War effort. She was a good public speaker, and toured Canada and the United States extensively (including several successful lectures to the Hollywood stars) raising awareness and support for the Allied cause. She later worked in Ottawa and created the Information Department of the Canadian National Film Board under John Grierson.
Alice Hemming returned to England in 1944 with her two children and subsequently devoted herself to revitalising the women's movement. She knew many of the surviving suffragettes well, and with the help of Nancy Astor and Ellen Wilkinson in Parliament, worked with the 'Women in Westminster' group to push hard for more women MPs. And she kept close links with Canada. She was a founder member of the Canadian Women's Club in Britain, Vice-President of the International Alliance of Women, and for 40 years President of the Commonwealth Countries' League.
This was the focal point of the last 30 years of her life: the CCL was devoted to helping women from the Commonwealth, particularly from the emerging nations, get further education, and with help from diplomatic wives it became an important campaigning group and fund-raising organisation.
Their annual 'fair', which started in Alice Hemming's garden in Primrose Hill grew into an annual event at the Commonwealth Institute, and her warm and lively personality brought her lasting friendships with many of the women involved. Her unstinting generosity enveloped other visitors to Britain too: as a young broadcaster just arrived from South Africa in the late Sixties I was quickly embraced into the Hemming fold. Her large house where she lived for almost 60 years always had a room for visiting students.
She continued to support the feminists, and also population control: under her influence her son-in-law Alastair Service became involved in the movement to reform the abortion laws, and went on to be general secretary of the Family Planning Association.
Towards the end of her life as she grew frailer her public engagements had to be curtailed, but she still managed to enjoy a good party - including one given last autumn by the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, for the Commonwealth Countries' League, and a merry evening in honour of the wedding of her eldest grandson. She has left, besides her son and daughter and grandchildren, a large and devoted circle of friends, and a wider group of Commonwealth women whose involvement in public life - as doctors, lawyers, diplomats and politicians - has been in good measure due to her efforts and encouragement.
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...
£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...