Wicken, Joan E.

First name/s: Joan
Last name: Wicken
Known names / nicknames:
Date of birth: 12/07/1925
Year of birth: 1925

Life before Ruskin

Date and place of birth: 12 July 1925, Plumstead, London

Family:Her mother died when she was very young .Her father was a member of the shopworkers union USDAW and worked in the Co-operative Society’s grocery department.

Work: Educated at grammar school, Joan left to work as a clerk in a garage, picking up typing and shorthand skills. She volunteered for wartime service with the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Politics/Trade union activity:

Trade Union membership (at time of entry to Ruskin)

Life at Ruskin

Dates at Ruskin: 1947 – 9

Source of funding:

Campaigns/political activity:

Subjects studied at Ruskin:



Life after Ruskin

Education: 1951 -3 mature state scholarship at Somerville College, obtaining a degree in PPE.

Work:1949 -51 Labour Party Agent in Gloucestershire;1953 -9 Labour Party headquarters as Commonwealth Department assistant; 1959 – 60 Secretary, Africa Education Trust, London; 1960 -1 Secretary , Tanganyika African Education Trust in Dar es Salaam.As  Joan explained she was, ‘working with the Nationalist Movement in starting a “College like Ruskin College, Oxford”. It was entirely financed by voluntary contributions: after independence the government took over the running costs and paid for extensions to the building. It closed in 1993 ‘ another victim of the IMF enforced public expenditure economies.’

From 1961 – 94 ‘ When the College was opened, I was asked to become the “Personal Assistant” of the then Prime Minister, Julius K.Nyere, “to help him prepare for independence.” Somehow I was still there when he was preparing for his retirement from the Office of President of the United Republic of Tanzania!’ She subsequently worked with him as chairman of the party and then as chairman of the South Commission. She described it thus, ‘The whole experience was the kind of job one dreams of – work for socialism,justice and African unity through help to a great human being and political leader in a very poor developing country of a poor continent.’ She continued working with the South Centre, at a distance, on her return to England in 1989.

Politics/trade union activity: see above


Place & date of death: Keighley, West Yorkshire 3 December 2004

Date of death: 03/12/2004
Year of death: 2004

Achievements / Publications

‘An unsung figure who worked alongside Julius Nyerere in the building of Tanzania’  ‘Celebrating her life, the South Commission noted her integrity, dedication, tenacity, intellect, simplicity and modesty. She was an example to inspire young people – north and south.’ Lionel Cliffe, obituary Guardian

Material in archives or already published articles

Obituary Guardian Tuesday 21 December 2004. The full and interesting obituary states that Joan ‘Having recorded the happenings of more than a quarter of a century in her notebook, she spent her later life transcribing them.’


Notes on Image/s

Comment of contributor/s and sources

In addition to the Guardian obituary, I also used a letter  Joan wrote to tutors at Ruskin who were writing a book for the centenary of Ruskin College in 1999. It has only just came to light again and I will deposit it with my papers in the Bishopsgate Institute.

It would be helpful to know if the notebook was deposited in a public archive.


Hilda Kean

created 26/11/2013 at 7:54 pm, updated 26/11/2013 at 8:25 pm

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