Lilian Calvert

Lilian Irene Mercer Calvert (née Earls) (1909-2000)

Born in Belfast and educated at Methodist College Belfast, Lilian (also known as Irene) Calvert studied economics and philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast. In 1941, she was appointed to the vacant post of Chief Welfare Officer for Northern Ireland, a post which gave her responsibility for organising wartime evacuees, including those evacuated to Northern Ireland from Gibraltar in 1940 and those impacted by the 1941 Belfast Blitz. Although defeated in the 1944 by-election as an Independent candidate for Queens University, she was elected a year later and served until 1953.  As an economist offering a woman’s perspective, Calvert was particularly focused on prioritizing social reforms, such as those in education and child welfare, regarding the constitutional question as an unwelcome distraction.  Her interests ensured she was well placed to chair the 1945-7 Standing Conference of Women’s Organisations for Northern Ireland.

She began working as an economist for the Ulster Weaving Company in 1950; developing new markets and increasing sales, she was made managing director in 1953. Her expertise was also recognized in 1956 when she was invited to become a group chairman at the Duke of Edinburgh's Study Conference on Industry. She served on the Belfast City Chamber of Commerce, and during 1965-6 was its first and only woman president.  She was a member of Queen's University's Senate and Board of Curators, and in the mid-1960s she was secretary of the Irish Association for Cultural, Social and Economic Relations 1965 – a body set up to promote better relations between North and South. This was an issue close to her heart as she questioned the economic viability of partition and gave this as the main reason for her resignation from parliament in 1953.

She continued her work as an economist, working as the executive manager (subsequently development manager) of Great Southern Hotels until early 1970 when she served briefly as Head of Households for the Doris Duke Charity. On her retirement to Dublin, she worked for the Irish Labour Party in the Dun Laoghaire constituency well into her 80s and died at the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook, on 19 May 2000.


Maedbh McNamara and Paschal Mooney, Women in Parliament: Ireland: 1918-2000 (Dublin, Wolfhound Press, 2000)