Clara Rackham studied Classics at Newnham College Cambridge (1895-98). She married the scholar Harris Rackham, brother of the illustrator Arthur Rackham, in 1901. Clara believed strongly in co-operative ideals and founded the Cambridge Co-operative Women’s Guild in 1902. She chaired the Eastern Federation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and served on the national executive committee. One of a handful of women appointed as government factory inspectors during the First World War, she became a nationally respected authority on factory legislation and an early advocate of the 40-hour working week.  

After the war Clara was elected as a Labour councillor for Romsey, a ward containing many railway workers’ families. Her name became synonymous with enlightened local government and she served as a city councillor for 28 years, a county councillor for 38, and as vice-chairman of Cambridge County Council from 1956-58. There was hardly a progressive cause, organisation or initiative in the city to which she did not give her time and support including the establishment of the first family planning clinic, the Rock Road Library, and the heated swimming pool on Parker’s Piece. 

Clara was among Cambridge’s first women magistrates and a lifelong supporter of the Howard League for Penal Reform. She was chairman of the County Council Education Committee (1945-57) and fought innumerable battles to expand educational opportunities for adults in her roles as a governor of the Cambridgeshire College or Arts, Crafts and Technology and as chairman of the Eastern District of the Workers’ Educational Association. Clara greatly valued her own education at Newnham College and served on the college council from 1924-31 and on the governing body from 1920-40.

Loss of hearing eventually forced her to relinquish committee work but she remained a much-loved and easily recognisable figure in her final years, still cycling around Cambridge, taking an interest in her many friends, charities and voluntary organisations, and conversing happily with young and old alike. 

Clara Rackham died peacefully in Langdon House residential home at the age of 90.

‘Anyone who studies the social reforms of the century in Cambridge will see how much they owe to Mrs Rackham's devoted and unstinting championship of the under-privileged. Her aim was to give them a better way of life. Her success is her memorial’. 

From the Newnham College Roll, 1967

A commemorative blue plaque to Clara was erected in January 2019 on the gatepost outside 9 Park Terrace, Cambridge where she once lived.

We are grateful to Professor Mary Joannou for nominating Clara Rackham for a blue plaque, for helping to bring this to fruition and for this biography.

We could not have created Clara’s blue plaque without the financial donations from Paul Soper & Nyasha Gwatidzo, Greenwich Leisure (Parkers Piece pool), Anne Wright, Sarah Rackham, Viv Peto and Mary Joannnou to whom we are incredibly grateful.

We are also grateful to Newnham College for their help in organising a commemorative event for Clara at the college in November 2018 and to Emmanuel College for agreeing to the plaque being installed on one of their properties.