Lily Anderson

Lilian Anderson (1922 – 1981)

Lilian (Lily) Anderson was born in North Belfast in 1922, she was married to Theo and they had seven children. She had the will and energy to combine rearing their family and working part-time, seeking to improve conditions for women and children in working-class areas of Belfast in the post-World War II period.  She joined the Communist Party at the age of 20 and was a member of the Women’s Committee and the Education and Social Services Committee.

For over 25 years she played a key role in the campaign for nursery provision for the under fives, which barely existed in Northern Ireland at that time. In the 1950s, Belfast, with just 4 voluntary nursery schools, lagged far behind similar cities in Britain. During the war, the Stormont government had funded 23-day nurseries for women workers in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland, as part of the war effort, but these had all closed down by the early 1950s, in spite of a continuing need for childcare for women workers. Lily herself had used one of these nurseries in North Belfast, when it closed she went to Frederick Street voluntary nursery school. There, she became an active member of the Nursery School Mothers Club. The Mothers Club raised necessary funds for the nursery, but it also served as a social and supportive group for the mothers and eventually linked with other groups to spread the word on the value of nursery education for both children and mothers.

At the time, there was no interest in nursery education from the Stormont Ministry of Education or the Belfast Education Authority and very little awareness of its benefits and some hostility to the idea from the general public. A letter to the press referred to “lazy mothers dumping their children in nurseries”; this was in a city where women had worked in the linen mills for generations.

In 1964, Lily spearheaded a successful campaign for more nursery schools in Belfast. She was a leader in the Nursery Mothers Action Committee, representing mothers’ groups from the different nursery schools. They enlisted wider support from a sympathetic woman MP and a Belfast City Councillor. They organised a public meeting in St Kevin’s Hall, North Queen Street, which Lily chaired. The meeting was “packed” and during the meeting, a deputation was formed to go to the Belfast Education Committee. Nine new nursery schools providing 400 places were promised. Two were opened quite quickly in the New Lodge estate, the others were eventually provided by the mid-1970s.  Lily’s enthusiasm and warm, outgoing personality, coupled with her perseverance, succeeded in bringing about the change she had always sought.  “We had great fun in the campaign, we hired a bus and went to Stormont and took all the children and banners”.

When the family moved to Newtownabbey, she continued to support nursery education and helped to achieve a nursery class in Whitehouse Primary School.  
Her untimely death in an accident in 1981 was a tragedy for her family but also for the wider community and society.