16th November 1988

Open University founder Jennie Lee dies

Fife-born Janet Lee, known as Jennie, was first elected to Parliament, as the member for North Lanarkshire, in March 1929. She lost her seat in October 1931, but was re-elected – for Cannock – in 1945, and served her constituency until May 1970.

During her first term, she had been inducted to Parliament at the age of just 24. Not only did this make her the youngest woman in the House of Commons: she was also younger than any woman who could vote for her in a ballot. At that time, women under 30 were not eligible to take part in elections, and the campaign for universal suffrage was ongoing.

In the 14 years she was our of Parliament, between 1931 and 1945, she stood unsuccessfully for a number of other seats, campaigned on matters relevant to the Spanish civil war, and worked as a journalist.

Minister for the Arts

She was appointed Minister for the Arts in 1964 and, in this position, was a driving force in the foundation of the Open University, which would provide further education for all, regardless of existing qualifications. Getting it off the ground – and on air, on TV and radio – took less than five years. It was granted its charter in 1969 and the first students were enrolled in 1971.

The Open University named the library on its Walton Hall Campus in her honour and, when this was demolished to make way for a new High Technology building, this became the Jennie Lee Building in its place. The Open University also has a Jennie Lee House in Edinburgh, at Drumsheugh Gardens.

Political family

She was married to Welsh politician Aneurin Bevan who is remembered for his work while Minister of Health in Clement Attlee’s Labour government, in establishing the National Health Service.

The Dundee Courier of 18 November 1988 reported her death in London, aged 84, two days earlier, by which point she had been Baroness Lee of Asheridge for 18 years. In a potted history of her early life, it outlined how she had “topped her class at Cowdenbeath elementary school and won a scholarship to Edinburgh University. There she took an MA and a law degree and qualified as a teacher, funding her studies with bursaries and prizes.”



Other events that occured in November

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