She was the daughter of Ashton-Under-Lyme cotton spinner, orphaned as a child and at the age of 14 was ‘mother’ of a household.
And Jean Robinson made history when she became the first woman Mayor in Blackpool, 50 years ago this week.
She had been a member of the council for 14 years, when the mayor-making ceremony took place at Blackpool Town Hall.
Mrs Robinson was wearing a two-piece robe, which was designed and made in the Technical College and School of Art, of which she was a governor. Her outfit was made up of a wine-coloured, day-length coat and detachable elbow-length cape. The Gazette reporter claimed it was “most feminine” and “for local mayoralty, it struck a new and decidedly ‘with it’ sartorial note.”
Blackpool’s Mayoral chain had gone into storage, as Mrs Robinson had said she did not feel the regalia, which weighed 33oz, was suited to feminine shoulders.
Proposing the new Mayor, Coun I Taylor referred to the transformations in the lives of the people of Blackpool and the country over the last 77 years – Mrs Robinson was the 78th Mayor – and the rise of women.
He said women need look no further to the part they could play than Ald Mrs Robinson.
She was born of a poor family, and had started work at the age of just 12 – experiencing much of the poverty of the East Lancashire cotton towns of those days. Her mother died in 1907 and her father left home in 1909 – the children had to fend for themselves.
In 1934, faced with the misery of unemployment, Mrs Robinson had come to Blackpool with her husband and they set up a stall in Abingdon Street market, which they managed for 27 years.
She had thrown herself into work for the Labour movement and the co-operative movement. She was almost entirely self-educated – though later, in the 70s, she went back to college to study for O and A-Levels. She was active in the Soroptimists and the Workers Education Association.
Mrs Robinson chose as her deputy Mayor, Ald Ernest A Machin – who was Blackpool’s first Labour Mayor, and as Mayoress, a Labour councillor of the immediate Second World War period, Mrs Rhoda Sudlow.
In her mayor-making speech, Mrs Robinson said she would place the best interests of the town and its people at the forefront of all that she did.
She said that through her work on the council and other public bodies, it had been her ambition and endeavour to play a part in giving ordinary people a chance to live full and happy lives, with opportunities to do better and to give people with special needs – such as children and the elderly – the kind of help an “affluent society with a real concern for people should be more than ready to spare.”
Mrs Robinson told those gathered at the mayor-making: “Women should make their voices heard louder in the corridors of power to insist that the things which matter most to them – their homes, their children, the health of their families, both young and old – are given the benefits of what the 20th century ought to be able to offer from its great wealth of technical and physical resources.”
She recalled it was under a woman – Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt – the Commission on Human Rights drew up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly, in 1984.
The new Mayor of Blackpool said: “Everyone has a right to participate fully in the life of the community and to enjoy the arts and sciences.”
She praised developments in Blackpool – including the building of the new Palatine and Warbreck schools, a 200-home housing programme and the business community’s work, such as the redevelopment of the Central Beach.