The Life of Dame Ellen Pinsent

A Birmingham Pioneer

Ellen Pinsent is a very important person for special education and politics in Birmingham.

There is a school called Dame Ellen Pinsent Primary because she helped them a lot.

There is a meeting room at Birmingham City Council called the Dame Ellen Pinsent room.

She was the first woman to be a councillor in Birmingham. Ellen Pinsent was born over 150 years ago.

The words people used were very different when she was working. She worked as “Commissioner in Lunacy” and in “Care and Control of the Feebleminded”. These names sound horrible now. Ellen Parker was born on 26 March 1866 in a little village between Lincoln and Grimsby.


Her dad was a vicar and she was the youngest child.

She moved to Birmingham when she was 22.

She got married to Hume Pinsent. He was a solicitor.

She made friends with women who did a lot of work for charity.

She had two sons and one daughter. Sadly, both her sons died in the First World War.

Making a Difference

She started working for Birmingham City Council in 1900 on the special schools sub-committee.

This was a group of people who decided what to do about special education.

There were only about 100 children in special schools when she started. 13 years later, there were nearly 1,300. Ellen Pinsent visited all kind of schools in Birmingham.

She found children who needed a place in special schools and moved them to these schools.

Ellen often went to special schools and looked at what the children were doing.

She said children should not be called “ineducable”.

Fighting for Rights

Other people didn’t want to spend so much money on education for these children.

Ellen fought for the children’s rights. She knew education was very important.

She said children should not be called “ineducable”.

Later Career

She left Birmingham in 1913 and moved to London.

Her husband died in 1920. She worked as a commissioner for the government from 1921 until she retired in 1939.

She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1937. Dame Ellen died in 1949, aged 83.

It was not until 1970 that every child had the right to an education.

Times have changed

There are some things that Ellen Pinsent did and said that we don’t agree with now. They were ideas that were more accepted at the time.

She set up institutions like Monyhull Hospital.

In those places, people with Learning Disabilities weren’t always treated very well.

She thought people with Learning Disabilities shouldn’t have children.

Thank you Dame Ellen

When we look at everything she did for special education, she was very important, and she cared about it.

We say thank you to Dame Ellen Pinsent for all her hard work to give all children an education.

Clara Martineau

We have made plain language that is easy to read the default on this website. We have also written a longer version for anyone who'd like to read a more in-depth account.