Born in late 1909, Gladys Mary Main was fluent in Esperanto having begun to learn it when she was only 13 years old. A talented artist, she attended art school in her youth and was active in the left-wing of the ILP before joining the Communist Party in 1929. She was immediately appointed the organiser of the small Southend-on-Sea branch and contributed drawings to Party Centre and National Minority Movement for factory and pit papers.
Gladys produced the Daily Worker Children's Corner from the paper's inception, Jan 1st 1930, when she was not yet 21 years. A copy of one of her articles in the Corner appears at the end of this article. She was also creator of “Micky Mongrel, our class conscious cur”, a cartoon feature that appeared from the first issue of the Daily Worker for about two years.
She married Bill Keable (see separate entry) in the Rochford district of Essex in June 1930, having met him at the ILP Summer School in 1927, when she had been only 17 years old and still a student. Like her, he was also an Esperantist and the couple developed what Bill later called a “fruitful political partnership” over the next four decades, with most of their Communist Party activities being carried out in close association.
After moving to London after marriage, she became a member of the YCL National Executive Committee, responsible for children's work. She was National Organiser of the Young Pioneers, the YCL children’s’ organisation, in the 1930s and member of the YCL national bureau (equivalent to political committee, or politburo).
A report from 1932 in the Daily Worker from Gladys gives a flavour of her work as leader of the British Pioneers. Although the Pioneers were divided into `troops’, like the Scouts, this rather military sounding approach belied the practice, which seems to be more like the modern Woodcraft Folk: http://www.woodcraft.org.uk/ with a tinge of the YCL. The Scouts had their greeting, so did the Red version: "ALWAYS READY!"
The London troops were particularly urged to send in to the Children’s Corner of the Daily Worker any and all news of their activities. In the 1930s it was common for Pioneer troops to be shown how to make things for a joint stall with the YCL at the Daily Worker Bazaars, which were mostly held in the run-up to Christmas. But the Pioneers were often more enthusiastic than the YCL!
Stepney branch had a really effective Pioneer troop, which made calendars, Pioneer ornaments, and other things. Clapham spent a night making tickets for the things they had made, to raffle them there were so many items.
The newly-formed Cromer Street (near Kings Cross) Pioneers were very keen on sport and had got a football team together to play the Stepney Pioneers. In the most democratic of spirits, they elected a “swimming leader” to take them swimming every Saturday morning! Organising recruits and ensuring Pioneers paid their membership dues, or fees, was considered important.
Six Hendon Pioneers had multiplied to 24 in less than a year by devoted organising work. They had also raised funds for textile strikers on strike and were in race to beat Stepney on who could raise more for the Daily Worker.
Clapham Pioneers elected a secretary to send reports into the district every week in place of the troop leader doing it, so s/he could get on with other things. Sounding dull now but in the days of flickering and costly films, a lantern slide talk on Soviet Russia was thoroughly enjoyed by Clapham. In a few short years, the lantern would be on the back of a cart and away into the streets, where mobs of young kids sucked up the enthusiasm for Communism that these young people were now taking into the anti-fascist movement as they went into their teens. Whilst some would feed into street theatre and the Workers’ Theatre movement. Clapham Pioneers had the poles taken from their banners by the police when they demonstrated recently with the Socialist Workers' National Health Council (later to become the Socialist Medical Association) in Hyde Park.
Gladys joined Bill as effective leader of the pre-war British Labour Esperanto Association (BLEA). Bill was Editor of its journal and chief theoretician and Gladys was National Organiser. They were foundation members of the International of Proletarian Esperantists at a Berlin Congress in 1932 and Gladys became the IPE International Secretary from 1937-1939. In its short existence the BLEA membership reached about four hundred, 90% of whom were manual workers, builders, miners, railwaymen, tailors, furniture workers, and so on.
A drawing of Gladys – many thanks to Ken Keable for this – for a short autobiography see:
It is probably due to this international travel that led to security force observation. Years later, Bill would write that “Snapshots still exist of the Keable's Special Branch detective.”
During war Gladys became Organiser of Stoke Newington Branch of the Party.
In 1947 the Keables jointly led a tenants’ Strike of Stoke Newington Council Tenants, and, in 1952. the school strike at Debden, Loughton, which caused a school to be built one year ahead of schedule for new housing estate.
After war Gladys was a leading figure in the World Esperanto Peace Movement (Mondpaca Esperantista Movado – MEM), founded in 1953 with the aim of using the language “to serve the peace and the reciprocal understanding between the peoples”.
Gladys returned as Editor of the Daily Worker Children’s’ Corner for the lengthy period of 1956-70. During this period, Gladys took the paper into a whole new arena with its Daily Worker children’s annuals, a mainstream traditional present at Christmas. It is probable that she designed the covers herself.
She was a frequent illustrator in many left wing publications, as well as a professional illustrator in advertising and children’s’ literature.
Gladys died in January 1972.
Daily Worker `Our Children's 'Corner’ November 1932 By GLADYS KEABLE
Here is an article by Comrade Gladys Keable describing her visit to a Red School in Berlin. Next week a, letter, will be published describing a Russian school and after that, we will contrast them with an English school.
WHILE in Berlin to take part in the first congress of worker Esperantists, I was lucky enough-to visit what was known as the People's School in Neukölln (in the post-war era a suburb of Berlin).
As we entered the playground we were reminded that we were in "'Red " Neukolln (one of the districts where the workers fought on the barricades, May Day, 1929), for a number of the children greeted us with " Rot Fronte," which means Red Front, and gave us the sign of the closed fist, which is to show that they are ready to fight.
We were introduced to the headmaster, who is also an Esperantist and a Comrade. He showed us round the school and we were surprised to find that not only the other teachers, but also the children all called him "Comrade." The first thing I noticed about the classes when we went in was that they were not overcrowded as the schools I know in England.
In no class did I see more than 20 children, and in some there were less. Then I surprised to find "Comrade" teacher taking a back seat in the class and one of the children taking the lesson. This was in the geography class. The girls who were taking the lesson told the other children what they knew about the subject, and would ask them questions about some of the points. They would add others if they thought necessary, and only once or twice did "Comrade" teacher interrupt to explain a knotty point.
We were' told afterwards that the children themselves always have to prepare the lessons, and so they really know what they are discussing in the class instead of having to sit and listen to a teacher all the time. In the poetry class we found the same sort of thing. Each child had selected his or her own poem, just what he or she liked best. One had chosen a poem about the fight of the unemployed workers for bread, and he recited it with great vigour to the class. Here again teacher was sitting in the class.
We visited a, bookbinding class, where the children, were repairing the school library books so that they looked like new. They were very proud of their handiwork. We also visited woodwork and physics classrooms, and heard one class, sing the Red Army March.
But best of all, I think, were the hosts of wall newspapers which were shown to us, from which we could see that the children were not only taught to read and write, but to take an interest in everyday affairs in the fight of the workers against the boss class. These newspapers were all written and painted by the children, and had on them photos, drawings and paintings about Hitler and Hindenburg. On one was a very good painting of a Red funeral of some comrades who had been murdered by Fascists.
The only class which we did not and could not visit was the Scripture class because there was no such thing in the school. Then what about putting your shoulder to the wheel and. trying to make your school a bit more like the one I have told you about?
It won't be easy to do, but if you start off by looking around to find out some of the things that are wrong with your school, such as crowded classrooms, bullying teachers, and so on, then trying to get your mates to protest about these things, that will be a step in the right direction.