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Obituary: Dr Marie-Louise Jennings

Lecturer and Fellow in the Department of History

Birkbeck Fellow Marie-Louise (Mary-Lou) Jennings, who died on 3 August 2015 aged 81, began her long connection with the College first as a student, and then lecturer, in the Department of History.

Having left school at 16, Dr Jennings trained as a secretary and worked for a number of Labour MPs. She was elected a Labour councillor for Hammersmith and Fulham, becoming borough member for the Inner London Education Authority in 1974, and subsequently chair of its Schools Sub-Committee.

It was when her daughter Anna began her studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies that Dr Jennings decided, aged 45, to enrol on Birkbeck’s BA History course, graduating in 1982, the same year as her daughter. An MA in Victorian Studies followed, and then a PhD, ‘Newspapers and Nationalism: The Irish Provincial Press, 1850-1892’, which earned her Birkbeck’s Armitage Smith Memorial Prize, awarded every three years for the best research in the then Faculty of Arts.

The result of her extensive period of study was a new career. In 1992 she became a part-time lecturer in British and Irish history at Birkbeck. She was later made Honorary Teaching Fellow in what is now the School of History, Classics and Archaeology.

Dr Jennings was widely published as an editor and collator of archival and manuscript material, and contributed extensively to the New Dictionary of National Biography. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, she was the General Editor of Ireland: Politics and Society through the Press, a major project to archive Irish newspapers from 1760 to 1922.

Dr Jennings retired from teaching in 1998, but remained very much part of the Birkbeck community. She served as the College’s alumni governor 1998-2002, in which capacity she gained a reputation for thoroughness, tenacity and firmness of judgement. In 2003 she was invited to become a Birkbeck Fellow, the College oration on that event noting the pleasure she took at graduation ceremonies in applauding the triumph of students she had begun teaching years earlier. The oration continued: “Nobody could have a better insight into the special relationship that exists between the college and its old students.”

The eminent historian Roy Foster, who supervised Dr Jennings’s PhD and later became a close colleague and friend, said in a tribute: “Her friends in the worlds of Irish academe and publishing were many, and her great gifts for friendship and enjoyment came into their own. Mary-Lou was a considerable scholar whose work made a difference: and so did she.”