Dorothy Thompson, 87, innovative historian who focused on the Chartist movement

Historians in the News

The historian Dorothy Thompson, who has died aged 87, was best known for her writing on the social and cultural aspects of the 19th-century Chartist movement. Her interest in the struggle of workers and women for rights had been awakened during her school days in suburban Bromley, Kent, when she was active in a communist youth group, and was deepened by her long engagement in radical politics. As a result she brought a complex understanding of the process of organising to her historical work.

Ever alert, Dorothy probed beneath the outer surface of evidence. The results were innovatory. The documents she edited in The Early Chartists (1971) brought to life the intense and dangerous interior world of working-class meetings, conventions and newspapers, while The Chartists (1984) revealed greatly neglected areas such as middle-class involvement, women's role and schemes for land settlements. Her collection Outsiders: Class, Gender and Nation (1993) demonstrated a mix of exacting scholarship and conceptual clarity which led to her being admired by specialists and grateful A-level history students alike.

She was born Dorothy Towers in Greenwich, south-east London. From 1942 she studied history at Girton College, Cambridge, where she was active in the Communist party and attended meetings of the Communist party historians' group. In 1945 she began a lifelong love affair with a fellow historian, Edward Palmer (EP) Thompson. After helping to build the railroad in Tito's Yugoslavia, they married and settled in Halifax, West Yorkshire, where they taught in extramural adult education. Dorothy's first organisational endeavour was a campaign to keep wartime nurseries open in the late 1940s....

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