MBE for Burnley equal rights champion

Hilda Smith (s)
Hilda Smith (s)
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The family of a social and equal rights champion who died earlier this year will travel to Buckingham Palace in December to collect her MBE.

Burnley woman Mrs Hilda Smith (94) died in March and was awarded the honour two months later for services to vulnerable and older people.

Mrs Smith grew up in Stoneyholme, the daughter of a railway porter and a cotton mill spinner.

During the Second World War she was a nurse at the former Brockhall psychiatric hospital, near Whalley, and Primrose Bank in Burnley.

She married Harry Smith in 1944 and the couple had twin sons, David and Peter. After contracting tuberculosis, Mrs Smith was forced to leave her family for three years while she underwent painful treatment. It was that experience which her son David believes helped shape her into the determined campaigner she became.

“The painful operation she had gave her the steely determination to come back and look after twin boys,” he said.

In 1957 the family moved from Burnley to Surrey and Mrs Smith, who was registered as disabled because she only had one lung, became a nurse at Brookwood Hospital in Woking.

The following year she began her political career in Woking Co-operative Women’s Guild and was later elected to the political purposes committee of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, which was affiliated to the Labour party.

She became the organisation’s first and only chairwoman and used her influence to make sure the voices of ordinary women and their families were heard.

After gaining a qualification in social sciences, Mrs Smith worked part-time as a social worker and campaigned for the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 and the formation of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

She was a member of the National Joint Committee of Working Women’s Organisations (NJC) and contributed extensively on health policy issues.

In 1982 she wrote a report which recommended a national food policy and supported a national minimum wage campaign to help women achieve equality at work.

In 1990 she received a Shadow Ministry for Women award and continued to be politically active after moving to Newport, Wales, in 1986 where she was appointed to advise the Welsh Government on policies affecting older people.

David and other family members will travel to London on December 19th to collect the MBE on her behalf.

David said: “I’ll be very proud to collect the MBE not just on behalf of my mother but in recognition of all the work which has been done to improve the opportunities people have access to.”

Mrs Smith, whose husband Harry died in 1982, also had three grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.