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Our Ellen, Whose Ellen? The Death of Ellen Wilkinson, Obituaries and the Making of a Labour Heroine

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Matt Perry


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Ellen Wilkinson, the serving Minister of Education, died in February 1947. Subsequently, through commemoration, she has attained the status of folk heroine. This article explores three dimensions of the death and afterlife of Ellen Wilkinson. First, it identifies a process of commemoration that has lead to Ellen Wilkinson’s heroic status as a figure associated with some of the key myths of British political culture and in particular of the Labour movement. Secondly, it locates Ellen Wilkinson’s death in the contemporary medical, funerary and cultural practices. As various scholars of death have noted, modernity transformed the experience of death and the rites of passage associated with it. This provides a context for considering the controversy as to whether Ellen Wilkinson committed suicide, which was crucial to heroic constructions of her life. Thirdly, the article scrutinizes the obituaries of Ellen Wilkinson as crucial point of departure of her myth, as a means of identifying her significance and how she was transformed into a labour heroine.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Perry M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Snodi

Year: 2013

Volume: 10

ISSN (electronic): 2280-6903