Clara Martineau has a famous Birmingham name and was part of a local political dynasty. She had even acted as Lady Mayoress for her uncle, Sir George Kenrick (who was a bachelor) during his term in office as Lord Mayor in 1908 to 1909. With that background, it’s not totally surprising that she became a pioneer in politics and education, as the third woman elected to serve on Birmingham City Council and also as successor to Ellen Pinsent in both her ward of Edgbaston and her role in chairing the Special Schools subcommittee.
It would be unfair to say that Clara Martineau just followed in Ellen Pinsent’s footsteps, as she has her own proud legacy and is a prominent figure in her own right. Having succeeded Mrs Pinsent as councillor for Edgbaston Ward, she served the ward for nearly 20 years, until her untimely death, aged just 57, in 1932. The tributes paid to her upon her death were fulsome, such as this from the Birmingham branch of National Association of Local Government Officers:
‘For ourselves, the loss is tempered by a sense of profound gratitude and thankfulness for memories of a loyal and sincere friend and an admiration of her deep devotion to the great causes she had so much at heart.’
The following statement was also made by Birmingham City Council:
In her will, Clara left a sum of money to the Education Committee towards the purchase of a seaside holiday home for the handicapped. She also left funds to set up the Clara Martineau Charity, which still gives out grants of around £100,000 a year according to the aims, which Clara laid out:
“Promote the residential education of children under the age of 19 years who have special ed. needs, and who are attending any school maintained by Birmingham City Council as local education authority. To provide facilities for recreation and other leisure time occupation for the benefit of such children with the object of improving their condition of life, with the same priority as aforesaid.”
In the log books of the schools we are working with that were open during Clara’s time, there are many records of her visiting schools and being actively involved in ensuring standards of education were being met. This extract from 1926 shows how involved she was in examinations:
Clara Martineau devoted her life to charitable work, public service and religion. According to Jeremy Martineau’s family history; “Clara worked with the Birmingham Settlement to understand the needs of the poor from practical experience. She gave much time to the work of the Birmingham Charity Organisation Society and the City Aid Society and served on the committees of both.”
Few people have achieved as much as Clara did in her working life. As well as chairing the Special Education Sub-Committee and Mental Deficiency Act Committee for Birmingham City Council, she served on three government departmental committees and acted as a trustee of Piddock’s Charity and of Evans Cottage Homes. Women were not allowed to become a Justice of the Peace in the United Kingdom until 1919, so by taking this post in 1921, once again, Clara Martineau was an early pioneer in the legal field. In the Unitarian Church, she became the first woman churchwarden at her meeting and occasionally conducted services there.
The Martineau family tree states; ‘Her life was devoted particularly to the advancement of local education’ and we thank her for this work. Without women like Clara, it seems much less likely that Birmingham would have become such a beacon for special education in this country.