facebook.com/HRASouthampton highfieldracomms@gmail.com

Join /
Renew

Contact
Us

Cobden Bridge was opened by the first woman Mayor of Southampton!

This is some interesting background on the first woman Mayor of Southampton who opened Cobden Bridge, and the difficulties of a woman holding such a role at the time.
The new bridge at St Denys was opened during the Mayoralty of our first woman mayor.
Lucia Foster Welch
There were many firsts in the life of Lucia Marion Foster Welch: she was Southampton’s first woman councillor, first woman alderman and first woman mayor. She was also, nationally, the first woman sheriff in 1926 and the first woman admiral because the Mayor of Southampton also holds the title Admiral of the Port. All this was achieved against a background of hostility to women in public office. Her granddaughter, Bettine Byrd, described how her grandmother would have abuse shouted at her while making speeches –“Get back to the kitchen where you belong,” and worse. This demonstrates what sheer strength of character she must have had in order to blaze a trail for women in the way she did.
When Lucia Foster Welch became councillor for Newtown Ward in 1918, some women were on the cusp of getting the vote but it wasn’t until 1928 that universal suffrage for women was achieved. Lucia is often wrongly labelled a suffragette. She did in fact belong to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and was therefore a Suffragist who believed in gaining votes for women by peaceful and legal means. This didn’t prevent her sympathising with the aims of the Suffragettes; indeed when Mrs Pankhurst came to Southampton to give a speech at the palace Theatre in Above Bar in 1911, Lucia offered her and other leading Suffragettes hospitality at her house at 61, Oxford Street. She did not however agree with the use of illegal acts in order to achieve female suffrage.
She was born Lucia Marion Brown in Liverpool in 1864. She came from a Quaker background and her mother was a close friend of Elizabeth Fry, The prison visitor. She married Philip Braham, a doctor, in 1884 and had three children with him. She came to Southampton in 1903 and married her second husband, Robert Foster Welch, a year later. She threw herself into the life of her adoptive town. Health was one of her ongoing concerns and she served on the civic health committee eventually becoming its chairman. During World War One she took charge of a scheme for feeding needy children. On her death, early in the Second World War, the Daily Echo referred to two enduring memorials to her public work: the maternity ward at the Borough (now the General) Hospital and “the town’s fine system of school clinics”. She also became a magistrate and was one of the first female magistrates to visit Winchester Prison. In 1920 she became a Justice of the Peace.
The year of her mayoralty was an eventful one. She had unfortunately suffered the loss of her husband prior to her mayor making ceremony but her daughter, Mrs Dorothy Patton, stepped into the breach and acted as her “mayoress” for the year. Lucia was famously photographed with Amelia Earhart after her celebrated flight across the Atlantic as a passenger (her ground breaking solo flights were still in the future). She also hosted Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company in Southampton. She herself visited America and was given a tickertape parade in New York. In Washington the Mayor and Mayoress, as guests of Commissioner Proctor, visited Mount Vernon and Arlington National Cemetery and laid wreaths on the tombs of George Washington and the Unknown Soldier. Lucia was photographed with Admiral Charles Hughes, Chief of U.S. Naval Operations and it was published with the caption ‘Admiral meets Admiral’. When interviewed by a local newspaper she declared herself anti-prohibition but very much in favour of ‘the modern girl’. They also squeezed in a short visit to Philadelphia before returning to New York and setting sail for home aboard the S.S. Leviathan. Sadly it was to be twenty-six years before another woman became Mayor of Southampton.
Her funeral, in 1940, was a grand affair. The Mayor and Corporation walked in procession to All Saints Church but behind them were rows of uniformed nurses. The pioneering lady mayor would probably have liked that