Mary Leslie – Stockton’s First Lady Sanitary Inspector

Mary Leslie – Stockton’s First Lady Sanitary Inspector

Mary Leslie was the first Lady Sanitary Inspector in Stockton-on-Tees. Throughout her career, Mary tried to improve the quality of people’s working and home life.

Mary Martin was born in Sunderland but moved to Stockton when her father was appointed the Vicar of Stockton in 1885. The family took up residence in the new vicarage on the High Street. Although Mary didn’t suffer any hardships in her own childhood she was always aware of the suffering of the poor people, even from a young age, Mary was concerned with the welfare of others and would help her mother at the ‘Mothers Drunks’ and ‘Band of Hope’ meetings which were organised to combat the evils of alcohol. Mary attended the Queen Victoria High School for girls on Yarm Road and was encouraged by her father the Rev. H Martin to put her good education to use and teach algebra to less fortunate children in St Thomas’.

In 1898, Mary went to Durham University and attended the Medical and Science Colleges at Newcastle, she went on to win the ‘Alder exhibition’ in her B.Sc.¬†Biology finals. In 1901 Mary returned to Stockton. Upon hearing that the town intended to appoint a Lady Sanitary Inspector Mary began studying for the Royal Sanitary Institute exam which covered law, building, diseases of animals and people, factories and workshop regulation and housing problems and at the age of 22, Mary became Stockton’s first lady Sanitary Inspector.

Her role as the new Inspector was to improve the housing and health of Stockton’s poor by visiting work places and workers homes, here she saw the real effect poverty had on the working classes. In her first year, Mary visited 2169 homes of these she found 503 far from clean, 99 exceedingly dirty and 45 actually filthy. She was in the vanguard of a growing trend of women entering professional positions previously dominated by men. Only 6 years earlier in 1895 there were only two female sanitary inspectors – both in London.

Mary’s work was a constant struggle, battling with stubborn employers and filthy conditions but her determination and concern for the poor and those less fortunate than herself made a difference to many lives in Stockton.

During her time as Sanitary Inspector Mary attended a course in Practical Midwifery in Newcastle to help her work more effectively with children and was eventually appointed Inspector of Midwives by the Public Health Department of Oxford. It was in Oxford that Mary met her future husband Norman Leslie. Soon after Norman was posted to China by his company, Shell. After being engaged for three years Mary and Norman were married in Canton, China in 1913. Mary was to spend twenty-five years of her life in China.

Mary wrote of her experiences in both Stockton and China titled ‘Through Changing Scenes’ when she was in her 90’s. Mary Leslie died in 1974.