Women Who Changed the World: Jennie Lee

Every Wednesday throughout March, we'll be introducing you to women who changed the world with their creativity. Our second instalment of the mini-series shines a spotlight on Jennie Lee. 

“As soon as I had an independent roof over my head, I was ready for battle.”

When the 24-year-old Jennie Lee became a member of parliament in 1929 she wasn’t even old enough to vote for herself. After growing up in a mining community so close-knit that her house literally had no back door, she went on to have one of the most colourful and inspiring political lives of the twentieth century.

A fearless, uncompromising socialist, her accomplishments included becoming the first minister for the arts and founding Britain’s last great social project, the Open University. Her 1965 governmental arts white paper—still the only arts paper ever written—argued for the arts to be a crucial part of everyday life, available to everyone. Under her stewardship the creation of new galleries, museums, music venues, theatres and other institutions fostered an unprecedented creative environment that continues to benefit the entire country.

Until the end of her life, Jennie was unable to attend the theatre without receiving a round of applause.

You can read more about her in Jennie Lee: A Life by Patricia Hollis, and find more of Cristina BanBan's beautiful illustrations of women who changed the world in Issue 29. Inside, we also pluck pennies from pavements, watch caterpillars burst from cocoons, and talk personal turning points. Get your hands on a copy here!

Illustration: Cristina BanBan