Alexandra Reilly

Alexandra (known as Alexa) Marie Reilly née Wakim (1914 -2000)

Born in 1914, Alexa, the adored daughter of well-off parents, wanted for nothing. If she had chosen she could, like the majority of her friends, have stayed at home supported by her father until she married. Instead, showing a fierce independence, she went against her parents wishes, gained secretarial qualifications and went out to work. Later she married and had a family. Once married, she had no option but to give up work as at that time a marriage bar (which forced married women to resign from their jobs) was in effect.

Some years later, while her children were still young, the family’s circumstances changed and they were plunged into poverty. Despite her good education (she spoke 3 languages as well as being a qualified shorthand typist) Alexa couldn’t find congenial work, as during the 1950s and early 1960s employers were reluctant to employ mothers. Undaunted, she worked in a bar and wore herself out going from door to door as a shopping catalogue agent to help support her family. Money remained tight while her children were growing up but she refused the easy option of sending them to work once they reached school leaving age, insisting that their education was more important than the extra money. In this she had the support of her husband.

Her friends and neighbours tried to persuade her to send her only daughter to work, telling her that education was wasted on girls ‘as they only get married.’ But Alexa was adamant that all her children be treated in the same way. Hers was an unusual stance for the time. Her life would have been easier had she put herself first but she never did. She adored her family and only wanted the best for them. She always said that though she had little to give her children she was determined to give them the gift of education. She did that and more: she taught them about justice and equality; she encouraged them and gave them self-esteem. But more than that she gave them unconditional love. I know, I am her daughter.

Mary Turner (author of ‘The Women’s Century’)