Ada Summers was the first female magistrate, one of the first women in England to become a Justice of the Peace and was the first female councillor, mayor and freeman of Stalybridge.
Born Ada Jane Broome in 1861, Summers was elected as a councillor in Stalybridge in 1912, representing the Liberal Party, years before women were enfranchised.
Summers was elected mayor in November 1919, serving for two years, through which she was an ex officio Justice of the Peace, becoming the first woman to hold the post in the England on 31 December 1919, only one week after the enactment of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. She stated her intent to sit on the bench often, because “there were so many women and children coming before the courts who could be more easily understood by women than by men”.
The following year, when an Act of Parliament was passed allowing women to perform the duties of a magistrate, she was appointed a Justice of the Peace in her own right, becoming the first woman in Britain to hold the position. That her appointments to such prominent positions were so immediate is testament to the high esteem in which she was held.
Known locally as “Lady Bountiful”, Summers used her inherited wealth from her husband to fund a maternity and child welfare centre, an employment centre, the Ladies Work Society and a nurses’ home which would include treats for nurses and convalescent treatment for sick members. She later donated a considerable amount of money towards building a second nurses’ home. She was also known to give presents to the local children and pay for a Christmas tree for the community.
From 1926 to 1936, Summers was President of Stalybridge Mechanics Institute. She was also President of many other societies, including the Stalybridge auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society.
Summers died in 1944 and there is a blue plaque about her at Stalybridge Civic Hall. At her funeral, the Coroner said that “it does not require any words of mine to appreciate Mrs Summers beneficence to this town and the services she rendered to the town upon the Council on which she served many years”, adding “her services were innumerable”.
Written by Caroline Dix, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years