Academic and campaigner was a ‘force of nature’

Joan Perkin.
Joan Perkin.

A tireless academic, campaigner and writer who co-founded the Lancaster University Women’s Association 50 years ago has died, aged 89.

Dr Joan Perkin, who died last month on her 89th birthday, was awarded the British Empire Medal earlier this year for a lifetime of unstinting voluntary work in Lancaster, Manchester and Stoke.

Joan was born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1926, the third child of a miner Henry Griffiths and his wife Jane.

She was brought up a devout Christian and developed a passion for social justice.

After being orphaned at 17, Joan led her local youth group and put forward young people’s views for planning the post-war reconstruction of Britain, most notably at the 1944 Youth Congress.

This is where she met her future husband Harold, who would go on to become a leading historian.

Aged 19 she became Britain’s youngest ever National Insurance Inspector.

She married at 21. After Harold returned from national service, he got a job at Manchester University. Joan worked as PA to the boss of Courtaulds and also worked unpaid for the Labour Party, helping set up a home for unmarried mothers.

She moved to Lancaster in 1965, when Harold was offered a professorship at the new 

“Mum was a force of nature in the community, relishing her role as full time mother, but interweaving it with seriously demanding projects, the kind of thing people should be paid for,” said her daughter Deborah.

“In the village of Caton where we lived, she founded and ran its first pre-school playgroup, and its first Parent Teacher Association, both of which are still going strong, 50 years on.

“She was a school and college governor, and she became one of the first women magistrates on the Lancaster bench, nominated by the Labour Party - eventually winning over the Tory men who had objected to her appointment with her charm and common sense.”

After her tireless work to improve the lives of others through pre-school, primary, secondary and higher education, Joan eventually found academic success of her own.

She signed up at a further education college, took A-levels, and went on to graduate from Lancaster University at the age of 52.

Then she wrote a successful book ‘It’s Never Too Late’ to encourage other mature women to return to education and improve their life chances.

After moving to the USA in 1985, she taught women’s history courses at Northwestern University in Illinois, where she was a popular mentor and teacher to many students, and wrote three more books.

In retirement she wrote more articles and reviewed books. After Harold died in 2004, she continued to take on varied challenges. She attended an Ozzy Osbourne concert at Wembley Arena aged 81, became a school governor again at 86 and travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia three years ago, walking with a stick up to the great palace at Siem Reap.

Joan died on July 27 2015 in Dubrovnik General Hospital while she was on a Mediterranean cruise with her granddaughter Hannah.

“It was sudden but peaceful and she died as she had lived, on an adventure,” said Deborah.

Joan is survived by Deborah, her son Julian, and grandchildren Nathaniel, Hannah and Fabio.