IN 1895, a young woman gave birth to a baby daughter in the York Union Workhouse in Huntington Road.

The mother, Emma Pallister, was an unmarried domestic servant at a house in Clarence Street. Her baby daughter was christened Elsie, and then given up for adoption.

It was a sad story, of the kind not uncommon at the time. But it was a story that was to have a remarkable sequel.

Yesterday, Labour councillor Barbara Boyce, the granddaughter of that baby girl born in the York workhouse 122 years ago, was officially sworn in as York's First Citizen.

That's quite a journey to have made in three generations. In fact, it would make a pretty good episode for the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

There is something else that was remarkable about yesterday's Mayor-making. It marked the first time in the 800-year recorded history of local government in York that all four members of the Civic Party have been women.

Cllr Boyce is a widow, as is her friend Gillian Brian, who she's invited to be Sheriff. And from there it seemed an easy step to go for an all-woman Civic Party.

So the Lady Mayoress sworn in yesterday was another of Cllr Boyce's friends, Valerie Clark, while the Sheriff's Lady was Anne Bush, a friend of Gillian Brian.

York Press:

Civic Party: L-R Sheriff Gill Brian, Lord Mayor Barbara Boyce, Sheriff's Consort Anne Bush and Lady Mayoress Val Clark

"It took us until 1940 to get a woman Lord Mayor - and it has taken us more than 800 years to get an all-female Civic Party!" Cllr Boyce says. "I'm very proud..."

The woman who is now York's First Citizen was brought up in the Haxby Road area. Her dad, William Naylor, was a self-employed builder; her mum Doris worked at the Thorpe Arch munitions factory during the Second World War.

Both her parents were actually brought up on Union Terrace, where the car and coach park is now. "So whenever I park in that car park, I always say I'm parking in grandma's back yard!" Cllr Boyce says.

The young Barbara went to Haxby Road primary school: and she's never forgotten that while she was there, the school was visited by another woman Lord Mayor - possibly Ivy Wrightman, Cllr Boyce thinks, although she was too young at the time to be sure. One thing she is sure of. "I never imagined that one day I'd be wearing that same chain of office!"

Barbara went to Mill Mount Grammar School, and has never forgotten her mum drumming into her the need to work hard.

"Mum used to say 'If you don't work hard at school, you could end up bagging chocolates at Rowntrees!'" It wasn't necessarily the right thing to say, she admits. "That sounded like heaven!"

Nevertheless, she got her 'O'-levels - then promptly decided she'd had enough schooling.

A friend had left school at 15 and got a job with Woolworths. Barbara decided she wanted a bit of that same freedom. "I wanted money to buy clothes, and go to the dances. I wanted to be independent!"

York Press:

Heavenly job: Rowntree workers leaving the factory. But it wasn't to be for Barbara Boyce

So she left school at 16. Because she had O-levels, she was able to get a white collar job - which was how she ended up working for the city council as a 'very junior' member of the planning department.

It was the time of the three-day week. To try to save energy, the government forbade the use of lights even in January, she recalls - and the TV stopped at 10.30pm. There were supposed to be punishments for using electricity 'out of hours' at work. "But I would switch on an illicit bulb in the windowless loo in 5 St Leonard's Place!"

Her rebelliousness didn't end there. The Sex Discrimination Act was still some years off - and there were different pay scales for men and women doing the same work. Sexual inequality was institutionalised, in other words.

Barbara got involved with her union, NALGO (today's UNISON) - much to the disgust of her very Conservative parents. Following a blazing row with her mum, she stormed off and joined the Labour Party in protest - and has remained a member for more than 40 years.

It wasn't just the workplace inequality between the sexes that got her interested in politics, she stresses. Working at the council, she saw first-hand how vital were the public services - schools, social care and the like - that people relied upon. "That fired me up!" she says.

She stayed with the council for more than a decade then, in her late 20s, realised she wished she'd got a better education after all.

She applied to study social science at the University of Bradford, citing her work experience in place of A-levels. She had to write an essay to demonstrate she could cope with the academic demands of a degree course, and was accepted.

Having got her B.Sc, she went to Huddersfield to do a postgraduate teaching degree, specialising in Further Education: a qualification that would allow her to teach at college rather than school.

"I had come to education late, and I wanted to work with people who had also come to education late - people who perhaps hadn't done well at school, people whose first language wasn't English, people who wanted to better themselves and get an education later in life."

York Press:

The new Lord Mayor yesterday

She'd met her first husband, Carlton Roxburgh, while at university. He got a job at York College, which was how she ended up returning to her home city.

The marriage didn't last, however. She walked out, taking her pet dog with her, and got a full-time job teaching business and then IT at Rotherham College of Art and Technology.

In Rotherham, she met and married her second husband. Jimmy Boyce was a Labour councillor when she met him, but in 1992 he was elected MP for Rotherham.

They were happy together. But Jimmy had a heart condition. On Christmas Eve1993 he was put on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

A month later - it was Burns Night, Barbara recalls - she came home to find him lying on the floor. He was rushed to hospital by ambulance, but there was nothing that could be done. She was told later that he was almost certainly dead when she found him - in fact, he would have died almost instantaneously when he collapsed. "He wouldn't have known anything about it," she says.

She decided on another career change, doing a masters degree in computer science at Sheffield Hallam University and then getting a job with an educational software company based in Hull. She lived in Beverley, but after a few years decided to return to York to help look after her parents, who were in their 80s.

She worked as an Information Manager at City of York Council, then took a part time job at York College for a while, and has also done some work for the Alzheimers Society.

She been involved in politics for much of her adult life, serving as a Labour councillor in Rotherham, and then on Beverley Parish Council. In 2009, she was selected as a Labour candidate for the Heworth ward in York, expecting to fight the 2011 election. Then there was a by-election, and she was elected in 2009. She's been a Labour councillor in York ever since.

York Press:

The new Lord Mayor with her beloved Scottish Terrier, Maisie

As Lord Mayor, she'll have to be above politics for a year. That won't be a problem, she says - she's looking forward to getting out and about and meeting people, including members of different ethnic communities. One of her charities for the year is Refugee Action York, and she is determined to make a stand during her year of office against intolerance and prejudice. "I'm not going to be tolerant of intolerance just because I'm apolitical!"

Some of the businesses and voluntary groups she meets during her year may also find she brings a fifth member of the Civic Party with her - her beloved Scottish Terrier Maisie.

She's also looking forward to chairing council meetings - where her teaching skills might just come in useful. "There won't be any bad behaviour!" she says.

Councillors have been warned...

Lord Mayor Barbara Boyce's three charities

Each year the Lord Mayor of York chooses a number of local charities to raise money for. Cllr Boyce's three charities are: - Refugee Action York - Hearing Dogs for the Deaf - Age UK York's Keep Your Pet service.

It isn't easy choosing three charities out of so many, Cllr Boyce says. "But I am really happy to be working with a wonderful group of colleagues to raise money to support people who suffer the isolation of hearing loss, people who are building a life in York after escaping war and conflict, and elderly and vulnerable people who face losing their beloved pets if they need care or medical attention."