Corona Hicks

(1891-1959) – Women’s rights activist

A daughter of the brewery, Corona worked her way up from clerk in the Ministry of Pensions to superintendent in the Soldiers’ Awards Branch during the war. Later, she worked tirelessly to secure a better deal for young women, who were often turned out of their jobs when the men returned.

Credit: St Austell Brewery

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Edith Corona Hicks was born in St Austell in 1891, the eldest daughter of Walter Hicks Junior (heir to the burgeoning St Austell Brewery business) and Kattie Hicks. Like her brother and sisters she chose to be called by her second name, Corona; an eccentricity adopted by the independent young trio who were orphaned early in their lives following their mother’s death from tuberculosis in 1905 and their father’s tragic motorcycle accident in Helston in 1911.

As women stepped forward in the First World War to fill the void left by men away fighting in the trenches, a whole new world of opportunity opened up for Corona and her contemporaries. By 1914, she was living in London. It was from here that her beloved younger brother, Walter Gerald, signed up for active service in August 1914 and where Corona, as his next of kin, administered his estate following his death in 1915.

As a young clerk within the Ministry of Pensions, Corona was just one of the many young ladies who found a degree of emancipation as a result of the men being away fighting. Living an independent life in London, she rose quickly through the ranks to the position of Superintendent in the Soldiers’ Awards Branch of the Ministry.

She also took an active interest in women’s rights, becoming a member of the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries (AWCS) and adopted the Great Auk as their emblem; a lively, controversial and provocative outfit. The end of the war brought employment tensions in Britain, with many women understandably not keen to relinquish their new jobs.

In November 1919 the AWCS took up the case of 700 women War Office employees who had been given their notice. They organised a demonstration called ‘the flapper stunt’ to persuade the Prime Minister to reinstate them. Lloyd George was in France but, undeterred, the women - including Corona - found a pilot prepared to fly them to France and when bad weather prevented their flying, booked 19 berths on a cross-channel ferry. Lloyd George promptly returned before they set sail to avoid the bad publicity, but agreed to meet them later.

The women argued that while they did not object to jobs being given to ex-servicemen who had been civil servants pre-war, they did object to them going to any man simply because of his gender. Corona went further than most, resigning her post, worth £350 a year, in protest at the dismissal of her colleagues.

Corona was subsequently awarded the MBE in recognition of her efforts in securing a better deal for young women at the end of the war (see the London Gazette 8 Jan 1919 supplement).

Sadly for Corona, while she was helping to win the battle on the Home Front, her fiancé was killed on active service on the Western Front.  She never married, living the single life like so many other women of her generation.

Key words: women

Credit: St Austell Brewery