Mabel Tothill (1869-1964), a middle-class Quaker and supporter of women’s suffrage joined the Bristol Independent Labour Party, a socialist group, just before the First World War. From then on she saw the cause of women and labour as intertwined. During the war she was at the center of a network of women and men who worked tirelessly to support conscientious objectors. Mabel visited Cos in prison, monitored their conditions and wrote to their families. In 1920, standing for the Labour Party, she became the first woman councillor in Bristol.
What led Mabel to take part in such radical activities? What was the appeal of socialist politics for a middle-class woman from a comfortable background? It will be argued here that her lifelong interest in education and the importance of tackling the causes of poverty drew her to socialist politics. Her involvement in the Barton Hill Settlement from 1911, including its educational and welfare work, was a formative time in the development of her ideas. She continued to emphasise the importance of education in the inter-war years through her support of the Folk House and the Workers’ Education Association.