THE amazing work of a Lochgelly woman, who won her seat in Parliament before she was old enough to vote, is the subject of an exhibition which has been creating a lot of interest.

Based at Lochgelly Centre, the story of Jennie Lee, the first ever Arts Minister in the UK, tells of the miner's daughter, who was dux of Beath High School, and went on to be

educated at Edinburgh University and then became the politician who devised the mechanism that created the Open University.

The Jennie Lee: From Lochgelly to the Lords, exhibition, with the clever use of photographs, studies how she was able to go to University and develop her talents. The Carnegie Trust, Fife County Council and the Fife Education Authority agreed to pay her university fees and she attended the University of Edinburgh as a student teacher. She later won a bursary to study law.

At university she joined the Labour Club, the Edinburgh University Women's Union and the editorial board of the student newspaper. One of her first campaigns was to elect Bertrand Russell as Rector of the University. After graduating initially in 1927 with a MA, a LLB and a teaching certificate, she worked as a teacher in Cowdenbeath, but she was someone who was very interested in the left wing of the political spectrum.

Jennie Lee was adopted as the Independent Labour Party candidate for the North Lanarkshire constituency, which she won at a 1929 by-election, becoming the youngest woman member of the House of Commons. At the time of the by-election, women under the age of 30 were not yet able to vote, and she held the seat at the subsequent 1929 General Election.

In Westminster she immediately came into conflict with the Labour Party's leadership in the Commons. She insisted on being sponsored by Robert Smillie, and her old friend James Maxton, to be introduced to the Commons, rather than by the leadership's preferred choice of sponsors.

Her first speech was an attack on the budget proposals of the Chancellor Winston Churchill, accusing him of 'cant, corruption,

and incompetence', but it was speech that met even with his approval, with him offering his congratulations after their exchange in the Commons. She forged a Parliamentary reputation as a left-winger, allying herself to Maxton and the other ILP members. She was totally opposed to Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald's decision to form a coalition National Government, and in the 1931 General Election lost her seat to Unionist candidate William Anstruther-Gray.

She later returned to the Labour Party, from the ILP, and at the 1945 General Election she was once again elected to the Commons, this time to represent the Cannock constituency in Staffordshire. She remained a convinced left-winger, and this brought her sometimes into opposition with her husband, Welsh politician Nye Bevan, with whom she usually agreed politically. Lee was critical of Bevan for his support of the UK acquiring a nuclear deterrent, something she did not support.

She was appointed as the first Minister for the Arts, in Harold Wilson's Government of 1964, and played a key role in the formation of the Open University.

The Open University was based on the idea of a 'University of the Air'. It was intended as a correspondence university reaching out to those who had been denied the opportunity to study. Jennie produced a White Paper in 1966 outlining university plans, which would deliver courses by correspondence and broadcasting as teaching media, and in 1969 it was launched.

In 1970 she was defeated in Cannock at the General Election and became Baroness Lee of Asheridge, of the City of Westminster and took her seat in the House of Lords.

She was to see the Open University as it opened, have an amazing number of 42,000 applicants for the 25,000 places available.

By 1981 over 6,000 TV and radio programmes had been produced by the the BBC and OU Partnership which helped thousands of students graduate.

In 1984 Jennie was very proud to see the Open University team win the BBC TV University Challenge competition and four years later she died aged 84. In 1993 the OU in Scotland move into a new base in Edinburgh called 'Jennie Lee House'.

To this day the the OU is still helping hundreds of students reach their goal, and many of them are from the Cowdenbeath-Lochgelly area.

On Thursday our reporter bumped into two ladies who were viewing the exhibition and sisters Maureen and Jean were impressed with what Jennie Lee had achieved.

Jean said: "I wanted to get some qualifications and felt the Open University could let me achieve that and I found it gave me the base from which I was able to get qualifications that I would not have without starting out on the OU route.

"Jennie Lee was an amazing woman and it was remarkable she won a seat in Parliament before she was old enough to vote!"

The Exhibition at the Centre runs until March 6.