Dame Meriel Lucy Talbot, DBE (16 June 1866 – 15 December 1956) was a British public servant and women’s welfare worker. During the First World War, she organised the Women’s Land Army and edited their magazine, The Landswoman. Meriel was born in Westminster, the daughter of the politician John Gilbert Talbot and his wife, Meriel Sarah, daughter of George Lyttelton, 4th Baron Lyttelton, and was educated at Kensington High School.
During the 1880s and 1890s Meriel participated in the settlement movement, a reformist welfare programme the aim of which was to bring together society’s rich and poor, physically and socially. She was secretary, jointly with Idina Brassey, of the Bethnal Green Ladies’ Committee in 1889, chaired by her mother. In 1891 she combined work at the Women’s University Settlement (WUS) for the Children’s Country Holiday Fund, the post of secretary to the Ladies’ Branch of Oxford House (again chaired by her mother), and social work training at the WUS relating to the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants. She also took on some of the house management work that had fallen to Margaret Sewell, the incoming Warden of WUS. In 1897, again with Idina Brassey, she was joint secretary in the newly formed West End Association.
From 1901 to 1916 Meriel served as secretary to the Victoria League, a charitable organisation that brings together people from all over the Commonwealth, and in this capacity travelled widely throughout the British Empire. The experience she gained in that role proved useful in the aftermath of the First World War, when she assisted in the settlement abroad of British women.
In 1915 Meriel served on the official advisory committee for repatriating enemy aliens., and the following year was appointed the first woman inspector with the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. She became director of the Women’s Branch of the Board in 1917, in charge of the recruitment and co-ordination of what was to become the Women’s Land Army. The Land Army had 23,000 recruits by the end of the war, and Meriel edited its monthly magazine, The Landswoman. Her contribution to the development of the Women’s Land Army led to her appointment as Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1917 and Commander of the British Empire (CBE) the following year; in 1920 she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE).
Meriel was appointed an adviser on women’s employment to the Ministry of Agriculture in 1920, a role she performed until her retirement in 1921. But she did not withdraw completely from public welfare work, serving as intelligence officer for the Overseas Settlement Department and on a number of official committees, including the Royal Commission on Police Powers and Procedure in 1929. In the 1930s she became chairman of the BBC Central Appeals Advisory Committee, and from 1935 to 1951 she was chairman of the London Council for the Welfare of Women and Girls.
Meriel Talbot never married. She died at her home, Newtimber Lodge, Newtimber, Hassocks, Sussex, on 15 December 1956, and was buried three days later at Markbeech parish church, near Edenbridge, Kent.
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