Viva Juanita!

PUBLISHED: 12:26 23 August 2012 | UPDATED: 12:30 23 August 2012

Archant

Book to shine a light on life of Honiton feminist who blazed a trail for women across the district.

In life, she was a living legend.

Juanita Maxwell Phillips OBE blazed a trail for women in East Devon that has never been surpassed.

As a suffragette, she fought for the vote but, when she got it, she was hungry for more.

It was not long before the solicitor’s wife from Honiton was, herself, standing for election. And, not long after that, she was mayor of the town she called ‘home’. In all, she was mayor a staggering 11 times - a record.

She went on to win a seat at County Hall and became a powerhouse, fighting for the rights of the less well-off and leading from the front in every aspect of local government.

Campaigning for contraception for the poor and child welfare issues were among her many priorities.

In effect, she was a champion for change in Devon between the wars.

The austere Mrs Phillips, an accomplished actress, who was no stranger to the London stage, led the Second World War effort in Honiton and beyond, running the show from her Little Theatre in King Street.

Her Food Office staff recall her holding three or four telephone conversations at the same time, often discussing matters of national importance while arranging dinner parties.

Juanita did not suffer fools gladly and was never afraid to bring even the most arrogant man down a peg or two.

And she was not beyond policing ‘her’ town. She is alleged to have sat next to the door at the Doughnut Dug Out, part of the former Dolphin Hotel that was frequented by American servicemen, to ensure only the ‘right type’ of women were allowed in.

It is hard to believe that, in death, her greatness as a champion for change has been largely forgotten.

Memories of her leadership were revived in a series of newspaper articles seven years ago and now a book, which takes its title from a newspaper headline, is due to shine an even brighter light on the larger than life character who fought for women’s rights.

Written by Julia Neville, Viva Juanita, follows an exhibition about Mrs Phillips’ extraordinary life, staged by Honiton Senior Council in 2009, and a play about her accomplishments, performed by members of Honiton Players.

The book will be launched at a meeting of Honiton Senior Voice, formerly the senior council, at Honiton Methodist Church. The event will take place from 10.30am on September 12, with the author present to sign copies.

The 168-page paperback, featuring more than 60 illustrations, is priced at £10 (£9 if pre-ordered before September 8) and will be available from Honiton Tourist Information Centre.

Viva Juanita aims to ensure this remarkable woman - and her many, many achievements - are never forgotten.

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