Research group share story of Wakefield's 'silent saviour' and pioneer for social reform Edith Mackie

Edith Mackie, pictures supplied by The Forgotten Women of Wakefield project.
Edith Mackie, pictures supplied by The Forgotten Women of Wakefield project.

Her influence on the city lasted several decades, but the name Edith Mackie is little known on the streets of Wakefield today.

Born in 1853, from an early age she devoted her life to helping others, using her wealth to pioneer social reform in the community.

Now, seven decades after her death, members of The Forgotten Women of Wakefield Project are researching and sharing her story - and they hope to have her honoured with a blue plaque next year.

The legacies Edith left behind are numerous and helped to shape the city for years to come.

West Riding Industrial Home for Discharged Female Prisoners, later known as St John's School for Girls was the focus of much of her attention, the research group has found.

After years of fundraising for the facility, Edith, who lived in St John's House, a mansion in St John's Square in the city, began teaching there and later ran it.

Nicky Harley, the group member who has voluntarily carried out much of the research, said: "Her inspiration to help came from the stories told to her by her father and uncle, who were both city magistrates, of youngsters who went before them in court for minor offences such as stealing food.

"Her father often expressed a wish that there was another route for them, instead of prison. In the home she provided them with an education and trained them to be domestic servants giving them positions in her friends' homes to save them from a life of destitution."

On her death she bequeathed land surrounding the school to be given to the girls as playing fields, and when it was later sold in the 1980s, she had requested in her will that the cash be given to St John's Church to pay for renovations.

Much of Edith's youth was spent organising charity events to raise money for Clayton Hospital and the West Riding Asylum, the research has revealed. And from 1886, for more than 50 years, she visited hospital patients at least three times a week.

She joined the board of governors at the former in 1917 - and the hospital's children ward was named in her honour.

Her time spent with patients inspired her to found the first training centre for nurses in the city - the Wakefield Victoria Nursing Institute in the 1890s, which she presided over until her death aged 88.

Describing her as a "silent saviour", the research group said her other acts of kindness included supporting the Paxton Society to create the city's first public parks in 1889, gifting land at Balne Lane to create recreation grounds for children, lending Wakefield Girls' High School her hockey equipment and a field to play on and chairing the committee of Wakefield Invalids Kitchen.

In 1900, she joined the board of the Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education and in the same year created The Mackie Library for the community using her personal collection of books.

Ms Harley said: "Her motto was always ‘deeds not words’ and as such she never courted the limelight of publicity, instead she set about actively making changes, never taking any credit, which is why today few will remember her name until now."

Sarah Cobham, who is leading the Forgotten Women project, researching and sharing stories of inspirational women from Wakefield's past, described Edith as her heroine.

She said: "She seemed to have a fire in her, a real sense of what is right and what is wrong.

"She was determined and completely committed to making life better for girls and women in Wakefield."