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New exhibition celebrates Jennie Lee, Scottish founder of The Open University

Jennie Lee lecturing circa 1930s © The Open University.

Jennie Lee: From Lochgelly to The Lords opens at the Glasgow Mitchell Library today, and will travel to the Lochgelly Centre on 6 December, where it will be on display until 6 March 2020. 

Jennie Lee (1904-1988) was an MP before she was old enough to vote. She caused uproar in parliament during her first speech, in which she accused Winston Churchill of “corruption and incompetence”. 

She was a Labour rebel who protested the introduction of prescription and dental charges, and was the first UK Minister for the Arts, and arguably the most influential. 

Lee was in her 60s when she produced the White Paper that outlined the plans for what would become The Open University, which was supported enthusiastically by Prime Minister Harold Wilson and called “blithering nonsense” by other MPs. 

Susan Stewart, director of The Open University in Scotland said:

“Jennie Lee fought passionately for a university open to all, regardless of educational background. 
“She left a massive legacy, with more than 200,000 Scots and two million people worldwide studying with the OU in its fifty years. 
“It’s important to acknowledge the Scottish roots of the OU and I hope that this exhibition will help to keep Jennie’s story alive.”

Claire Baker MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife and a relative of Jennie Lee, who officially opened the exhibition, said:

“It is wonderful to see this exhibition on Jennie Lee, celebrating her life and recognising her legacy. 

“This display of personal, political and public papers offers a wonderful insight into the life of a ground-breaking woman, from her childhood in Fife to her time in government and latterly the House of Lords.

"In her role as Minister for the Arts, Jennie Lee had a critical role in establishing The Open University, which at the time was a radical idea that challenged tradition and privilege.

“Her wholehearted commitment to the idea was central to its delivery and now here we are, celebrating the OU's 50th anniversary.

"I would encourage as many people as possible to visit the exhibition here in Glasgow and when it comes to Lochgelly, and learn more about the fascinating life of Jennie Lee."

Councillor David McDonald, chair of Glasgow Life, added:

“We are delighted the Mitchell Library in Glasgow will be the first venue to host this exhibition honouring Jennie Lee.

“As the display details, she was a trailblazer in the field of arts and education, like Jennie we continue to believe in the importance of inspiring Glaswegians and visitors to the city to lead richer lives through culture and learning, be that via The Open University or through engaging with the City Archives and discovering more of our city’s incredible history.

"I hope this exhibition will bring Jennie Lee’s story and her enduring impact to a wider audience.”

Heather Stuart, chief executive of the Fife Cultural Trust, said:

“Jennie Lee encapsulates what Fife Cultural Trust is all about - opening doors to inspiring experiences and making learning and culture available to all.

“She was one of our own from Lochgelly, and we are incredibly proud to be so closely associated with her formative years and to be safeguarding her legacy for future generations to know just how much of a trailblazer she was. 

"We are particularly proud to have developed the Jennie Lee Library as part of Lochgelly Centre and it is indicative of her impact that it was the local townspeople themselves who chose to name the library after Jennie in order to pay homage to her."

In the exhibition archive materials from the OU Jennie Lee Archive Collection, Glasgow City Archives and ONFife (Fife Cultural Trust) have been brought together for the first time to tell the fascinating story of Jennie Lee’s life, from her childhood in Lochgelly to her final years in the House of Lords. It's a rare opportunity to see original archive materials on display. More information.

An online exhibition of the OU Jennie Lee Archive Collection also launches today on the OU's Digital Archive

  • Photo: Jennie Lee lecturing circa 1930s © The Open University.

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