Obituary: Dame Ethel Wormald

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The Independent Online
Ethel May Robinson, local politician, born 19 November 1901, JP Liverpool 1948-71, Liverpool City Councillor 1953-67, Chairman Liverpool Education Committee 1955-61, 1963-67, Lord Mayor of Liverpool 1967-68, DBE 1968, married 1923 Stanley Wormald (died 1951; two sons), died Bangor 23 February 1993.

ETHEL WORMALD, Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1967-68, belongs to the famous women of Liverpool; like so many of them she came to the city from outside.

The daughter of a Newcastle journalist, Robert Robinson, she was educated at Whitley Bay High School, winning the King's Scholarship to Leeds University, where she graduated but was unable to continue with her career in education as she married Stanley Wormald, a socialist intellectual. After a period in Malton, Stanley Wormald was appointed French master at the Liverpool Institute and the family moved to Liverpool. Liverpool was well served by the Wormald family. She involved herself in voluntary social work, particularly through the Personal Aid Society.

It was a baptism of fire, and the poverty of the inner city politicised her. The horrors of the Second World War and the uprooting of her family to North Wales made her still more active and when she came back she became involved in adult education through the Liverpool University's Extramural Department. She also did a great deal of lecturing in army education as well as involving herself in the Socialist Educational Association. It was through this movement that she was co-opted after the war to the Liverpool Education Committee, and stood in 1953 as a Labour candidate for the Kensington ward. She served on the council for the next 15 years.

It is ironical that the woman who was denied in 1923 an opportunity of serving as a teacher because she got married became the personification of education in the Liverpool of the Fifties and Sixties. She served as chairman of the Education Committee from 1955 to 1961, and 1963 to 1967. This was a period when she fought for comprehensive education, determined to introduce a scheme that would abolish selection and give every child access to equality of opportunity in education. Ethel Wormald was clear-minded on the issue, believing in the concept of neighbourhood schools, and with great determination in the end won over the teachers, administrators and many of those who were opposed to reorganisation.

She was committed also to adult education and the day college that was opened in Mount Pleasant, known as the Ethel Wormald College, the first of its kind of Britain, gave mature students opportunities to be trained as teachers without having to spend time in residential colleges. It was a flagship of her ideals, for she believed that education is a lifelong experience. Education should be related to citizenship as well as to a career. In 1967 she became the second woman - the first was Margaret Bevan - to become Lord Mayor of Liverpool. She conducted her year with fairness and presided over some very rowdy council meetings, and during her mayoralty was appointed DBE. The honour given to her was used to further idealism, which she did within the health and cultural spheres. She became a member of Liverpool Regional Hospital Board, and was a driving force behind the opening of a day centre for mentally ill patients who had been released from hospitals. This centre, in Lark Lane, was a pioneering venture which became a model for other day centres throughout the country.

Wormald involved herself fully as a magistrate, and in particular as a member of the Court of Liverpool University, and as president of many cultural festivals and organisations. Three years ago she moved to be with her youngest son, Michael, at Bethesda in North Wales, and he followed in her footsteps as a Labour councillor on Arfon District for 12 years.

Despite impaired eyesight she maintained a keen interest in current affairs, knowing that she had seized the opportunities for service in her maturity. An optimist, she enjoyed fellowship and young people in particular always found in her a loyal friend.

(Photograph omitted)