The Mayer Society evolved from the Solihull branch of the British Federation of University Women, which was established in 1973. In 1993, the Solihull association decided to separate from the national group and take the name of the branch’s second president – Marjorie Mayers (1898-1982) – whose widower, James (“Jack”) Bowen Mayers (1901-1990), bequeathed £250 to the group. For the sake of simplicity, the ‘s’ was left off the group’s name. The Mayer Society closed in October 2021.
The British Federation of University Women (BFUW)
The origins of the Federation lie in a meeting of seventeen women in the library of Manchester High School for Girls in 1907, when the decision was taken to form the Manchester Federation of University Women (Cambrian News, 7th June 1907). At the time, women were not entitled to vote in parliamentary elections and, at a meeting of the Manchester group on 6th March 1908, a resolution was unanimously adopted:
That this Federation heartily approves the general principle of women’s suffrageWomen’s Franchise, 17th March 1908
Other associations were created in Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield. In 1909, the British Federation of University Women was formed by delegates from these Associations attending a meeting at Manchester University. In 1910, an International Federation was formed.
At the time the Federation was founded, it was only 29 years since women were first awarded degrees. Although women had been allowed to study at university, it was not until 1878 that the University of London became the first university to award degrees to women. In 1920, Oxford became the penultimate university in the UK to allow women to award degrees to women. Although Girton College, Cambridge was established in 1869 as the first residential university establishment for women in the UK, it was not until 1948 that the University of Cambridge began to award degrees to women.
By the time the BFUW held its annual conference in Birmingham in 1944, the organisation had 4,000 members in 28 local associations.
In 1995, the BFUW changed its name to the British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG).
Only around four per cent of school leavers went on to university in the early 1960s, rising to around 14 per cent by the end of the 1970s (source: The Guardian, 24th June 2016). According to the Office for National Statistics, just 24 per cent of the UK population in 2002 had a degree – this had risen to 42 per cent by 2017.
Solihull & District Association of University Women
A Local Association of the Federation of University Women covering Birmingham and the Midlands was founded on 7th March 1921. It was comprised of women with university degrees or their equivalent with the aim of enabling them “to take concerted action on matters affecting their interests in public and private life” (Birmingham Daily Gazette, 8th March 1921).
Fifty years later, following discussions between Mrs Hayward (Liaison Officer between the Birmingham Association of University Women and Solihull area) and Solihull resident, Mrs Kathleen Mosey, it was decided to try to form a group of University Women in the Solihull area. Mrs Hayward had the names of several female graduates and these were invited to a coffee morning at Mrs Hayward’s home on 24th January 1972. The event was attended by 14 women.
A meeting was subsequently held on 29th February 1972 at Mrs Mosey’s home, at which Lady Burnham of Lapworth spoke about the work of the courts. It was decided to hold monthly meetings, each of which would include a speaker. Speakers included Miss Beatrice Martineau who talked about ecclesiastical embroidery and Mr James Mayers – husband of one of the attendees – who spoke about his work as a Trustee of the Birmingham New Repertory Theatre. In November 1972, Solihull’s Town Clerk spoke to the group about the forthcoming restructure of local government and how it would affect Solihull.
As the British Federation of University Women had just reduced from 30 to 20 the number of members required to form an independent Association, the Solihull & Dorridge Neighbourhood Group of University Women – then having 27 members – decided at its meeting in December 1972 to proceed with preparations for application for recognition by the BFUW as a Local Association in its own right, rather than being loosely attached to Birmingham.
A letter dated 1st March 1973 and sent to the group’s temporary convenor, Mrs Mosey, confirmed that Solihull had been recognised as the 69th Local Association at a meeting of the BFUW Executive on 24th February 1973.
The first committee meeting of the Solihull Association was held at 8pm on Monday 12th March 1973. The annual subscription was set at £2.50 (£1.55 for a junior member).
The first President was Miss Beatrice Ellen Martineau, who served a two-year term of office, in line with the Association’s regulations. She was succeeded in 1975 by Mrs Marjorie Mayers. The first Honorary Secretary was Mrs Kathleen Mosey and the first Honorary Treasurer was Mrs Pamela J. Rouse.
Beatrice Ellen Martineau
Miss Beatrice Ellen Martineau (1901-1988) was the oldest of the six children of parents Charles Edward Martineau (1862-1945) and Ellen Schürhoff (1876-1957) who had married in 1900 and then set up home at Beechcroft, Hampton Lane, Solihull by the time of Beatrice’s birth.
The family had moved to The Moat, Four Ashes Road, Bentley Heath by 1933 and remained there until Mrs Martineau’s death, after which the property was advertised for sale in 1958. Beatrice Martineau then moved with her unmarried sisters, Erica Irene Johanna Martineau (1902-1993) and Margaret Hilda Martineau (1905-1987) to Kendalcroft, 118 Dorridge Road, Dorridge.
The sisters’ house in Dorridge was described in the Solihull News 3rd February 1973 as being a “20th century salon of the arts,” with Miss Beatrice being a very fine embroiderer, Miss Erica being a painter, and Miss Margaret playing the viola and violin. All three were founder members of the Solihull Society of Arts. In 1973, Beatrice and Margaret were still helping with Meals on Wheels, whilst Erica was a Parochial Church Council member. The three sisters told the newspaper that they rarely watched television and that “time does not hang heavy on our hands at all.”
Beatrice Martineau was educated at the Church of England College, Edgbaston before going on to Cheltenham Ladies’ College, where she worked for her teacher’s diploma. The Western Daily Press, 24th December 1920 includes her name in the “pass list for the entire examination of the Intermediate Examination in the Arts of the University of London (external students).”
Unfortunately, Miss Martineau became ill and was unable to teach, so spent two years in Switzerland recovering. After this, she helped her father – a Professor of Accountancy at the University of Birmingham from 1910 until 1931 – in his work. She later worked for the Youth Employment Department of Birmingham City Council. After the death of her father in 1945, she gave up her job in order to look after her mother.
In 1958, after her mother’s death, she was invited to become County Commissioner for Girl Guides – a position she held for 10 years. She had become interested in guiding whilst at the University of Birmingham and joined the movement as a ranger in 1928.
Her funeral was held at Knowle on 11th March 1988 and the Vice-President and Hon. Secretary of the Solihull & District Association of University Women attended on behalf of the organisation.
There were 31 founder members of the Solihull & District Association of University Women, including eight women who had transferred to Solihull from neighbouring associations (six from the Birmingham group, one from Warwick & Leamington, and one from the Cotswold Branch). The list of members from December 1973 notes the degrees and universities at which members had studied.
Two new members joined in May 1973, following a report in the local newspaper of the group’s activities.
The first general meeting took place on Monday 26th March 1973 at the Solihull home of Mrs A. P. Mortis. The guest speaker was Miss Eva Wootton, who gave a lecture entitled “Knowle and its History.”
Meetings for 1973 also included lectures on:
- Hall-marking and the work of the Assay Office – Mrs B. W. Harley (April 1973)
- Women in Europe – Mrs A. Wilson (May 1973)
- Warwickshire villages – Mrs B. M. Ellerslie (June 1973)
- Life in Madras – Mrs P. J. Rouse (September 1973)
- The Bank of England – Mr F. Aynsley-Smith (October 1973)
- Round the World – Miss B. E. Martineau (November 1973)
It was decided in September 1973 that, with membership standing at around 32, the group did not want to grow too quickly and so would stop sending reports of its meetings to the local newspaper, unless there was something of special interest to report. Publicity was resumed in April 1977, as membership had fallen to below 30.
The BFUW had financial pressures over many years and increases in capitation fees payable by local associations meant that the Solihull group’s subscription was set to increase from £18 to £21 during 1990/91. The group objected strongly to such a steep increase (capitation accounting for £20 per member), and wrote to the National President expressing their fears that it would lead to a decrease in membership.
At the Solihull association’s AGM in May 1993, it was announced that no nominations had been received for the positions of President or Secretary and that, without these officers, the group could not continue. An Extraordinary General Meeting was held on 20th July 1993 at Alderbrook School, to decide the future of the group. It was as a result of this meeting that the Solihull & District Association of University Women closed and the Mayer Society was born.
There were usually about 25 members, although not all attended every meeting. Several members had been on the staff of Malvern Hall when it was a grammar school (Solihull High School for Girls) under the impressive leadership of Miss Forster. One of these was Miss Alice Mary (“Molly”) Bullock (1904-2005), who was known by many Silhillians as she taught Modern Languages through many decades. She was a great raconteur and, almost until her death aged 100, was a lively participative member of the Mayer Society.
Another interesting member was Dorothy Stych (1912-2007), a botanist and keen gardener. She lived in a bungalow on Whitefields Road with a beautiful large garden. When this had to be sold, the bungalow was demolished and a gated development of six luxury homes was built on the site, which is appropriately named Dorothy’s Gate.
Structure of the Mayer Society
From the beginning, the simplest possible organisational structure was agreed upon, with just a Treasurer, and a Programme Co-ordinator. There was no President and no single individual had to take responsibility for organising a programme of events.
The Annual General Meeting became a forum for members to suggest topics for future sessions and to offer to host meetings.
There was no formal advertising as the group wanted to remain small enough to be able to meet in members’ homes, so any promotion was via word of mouth.
The annual subscription of £5 payable by members remained the same for the lifetime of the Mayer Society. Outgoings were low as a result of the organisation meeting in members’ homes and the majority of speakers being group members.
Meetings were most frequently led by a member of the group. Many members were animated in offering excellent presentations and illustrated talks on a wide range of topics. Outside speakers on a specialised subject were more occasional, and often invited through a personal connection.
Closure of the Mayer Society
As members grew older, meetings became more difficult and, with 10 members remaining (not all of whom were well enough to attend meetings) it was reluctantly decided in October 2021 that the group should close. A final lunch was held on 7th October 2021.
The society’s balance of funds was given to Practical Action as a one-off donation to support the charity’s work in empowering women in improving agricultural practices in Nepal.
The archives of the Mayer Society and its predecessor, the Solihull & District Association of University Women, were given to Solihull Libraries in December 2022 (ref.: D188) and are available for consultation by arrangement with the Library Specialist: Heritage & Local Studies (contact details are below).
If you have any further information about the societies, please let us know.
Library Specialist: Heritage & Local Studies
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