This month’s online memory box celebrates the achievements of women who have made an impact on our lives. We take a look at the Suffragists and Suffragettes who paved the way forward for women to have the right to vote in the UK. We have chosen a selection of photographs of women at work during the war years who took on the traditional working roles of men. Fast forward to the 1970s and 80s, we have a collection of photographs of female activists in Manchester, campaigning for a better and fairer society. And let’s not stop there! Who are the inspirational women influencing young people in our communities today?
Suffragists and Suffragettes
Lydia Becker – Suffragist
Lydia Becker was born in Manchester in 1827, the daughter of Hannibal Becker, a calico printer, and the eldest of fifteen children. When her mother died in 1855 she had to take responsibility for looking after her younger siblings. But she had a life outside the domestic circle and developed a passion for politics and the women’s suffrage campaign.
Through her involvement in local suffrage groups she became a leading figure in the suffrage movement in the North of England and in the country as a whole. She was a founding member and secretary of the Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage. In 1870 she founded the Women’s Suffrage Journal, the first periodical devoted to women’s suffrage and an important forum for the exchange of news and ideas. That same year she was voted on to the Manchester School Board, becoming one of the first women to serve on a government body. In 1887 she became president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
Lydia was a constitutional suffragist, meaning that she believed in campaigning for women’s suffrage by law-abiding means, such as petitioning Parliament. Underpinning her campaigning work was the belief that women’s suffrage was the first and most important step to the equal treatment of men and women in other fields.
Margaret Ashton – Politician/Suffragist
Margaret Ashton (1856-1937) was the first woman councillor for Manchester, elected in 1908. She was a non-militant suffragist and a staunch supporter of women’s rights. She worked tirelessly for the peace movement nationally and internationally and was a well-known speaker on public platforms across the country. She resigned her position as executive committee member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1915 in protest at their decision not to send delegates to the International Congress of Women at The Hague. She was elected as a delegate to the Congress although she could not attend as the channel was closed to shipping. She became a founder member of the Women’s International League and worked for the organisation until her death.
Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy – Campaigner for social, legal and political equality for women.
Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy (1833-1918). Born in Cheetham Hill, Elizabeth was named after her mother who died within days of her birth. Elizabeth campaigned for girls to have the same access to higher education as boys, motivated by personal experience; her brother went to Cambridge University and as a girl she was denied the same opportunity. In 1865 she founded the Manchester Schoolmistresses Association and in 1866 she gave evidence to the Taunton Commission into education, making her the first woman to give evidence at a Parliamentary Select Committee. Elizabeth founded the Manchester Committee for the Enfranchisement of Women in 1866 and continued to campaign for women’s suffrage throughout her life. In 1871 she became the first paid employee of the suffrage movement to lobby parliament with regard to laws that were injurious to women. She was a founding member of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1877, and with her friend Emmeline Pankhurst, worked together to found the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). This is a tiny snippet of Elizabeth’s role as campaigner for women’s rights, to find out more about her life and work, take a look at “Elizabeth’s Group“, a group of activists in Congleton who are keeping her story alive.
Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst – Suffragettes
One of the many women involved in the campaign against slavery was Emmeline Pankhurst’s mother, Sophia Crane. Sophia joined her husband Robert in the anti-slavery campaign. She was also a passionate feminist and took Emmeline to suffragette meetings. It was this and ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, a novel on African-American slavery written by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, that inspired Emmeline to go on to become an advocate of women’s rights. Not all women fighting for the Vote were interested in peace: Mrs. Pankhurst (on the left) and her eldest daughter Christabel (centre) were strongly nationalistic and patriotic and in favour of the war, they even changed the name of their newspaper The Suffragette to Britannia reflecting their pro-war stance. However Sylvia Pankhurst (right) was always a staunch pacifist and fought tirelessly for peace and for women’s rights, her newspaper the Women’s Dreadnought was critical of the war.
Women at Work during Wartime
Female activists in Manchester 1970s/1980s
Campaigner for Disabled People – Lorraine Gradwell MBE
Lorraine was a disabled woman who lived in Manchester and was a founding member of two important organisations run by disabled people, the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and Breakthrough UK. As a young disabled athlete she represented England at the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand in 1972 and won a gold medal. She was born in Middlesbrough near the steelworks where her father worked, Lorraine sat on committees within Government and Parliament as well as being an activist in the disabled people’s movement.
The archive for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and the wider Disabled People’s Movement, which contains thousands of historical documents, photographs, campaigning materials, videos and audio files plus many other items are safely stored at Archives+. The aim of this partnership is to catalogue the archive and make parts of it available via open viewing, exhibitions, web access and publications.
Campaigners for racial equality – Elouise Edwards MBE and Kath Locke
Elouise Edwards MBE came to England in 1960, from Guyana, West Indies and soon became active in the struggle against inequality and racism at that time. She was a founder member of Manchester Black Women’s Mutual Aid, the organisation initially responsible for the Roots Festival, which went on to sponsor the Roots Family History Project. During her lifetime Elouise was involved in many organisations, and was awarded an MBE for her amazing contribution. In 1980 the Abasindi Co-operative was formed by a group of black women in Moss Side, including Elouise and Kath Locke. The state funded Black Women’s Co-operative was initially set up to provide a self-help educational programme to young mothers, but with a male dominated management at the helm, it became a wide-ranging community resource centre, out of touch with the needs of black women. After a 10 day sit in headed by Kath Locke, a new autonomous and self-defining co-operative was formed, taking the Zulu word Abasindi, meaning survivor, as it’s fitting name. This new co-operative was volunteer led, raising funds through affordable services such as hair braiding and selling traditional African clothing. Both Elouise and Kath were instrumental in celebrating Black culture, battling racism and developing vital community resources in Moss Side.
Campaigners for LGBTQ+ rights
Manchester Parents Group – Joyce Layland, Kath Hall, Bernadette Cookson and Joan Cotterill were four mums of young people who attended a youth group at the Gay Centre on Sidney Street (later named the Joyce Layland LGBT Centre). These mums set up a support group in 1986 called the Manchester Parents Group, supporting countless parents over the years and campaigning for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community. The group eventually metamorphasized into Family Pride and then FFLAG, a national organisation dedicated to supporting Friends and Families of lesbians and Gays.
2021 Inspiring Women Today
During the last 12 months, Manchester Libraries and Archives+ have had the pleasure to work with some fantastic female role models to help us plan and deliver virtual sessions for young people in Manchester, such as career conversations and the upcoming Young Disabled People’s project with Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP). Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day by highlighting and celebrating these inspirational women, taking the lead and providing opportunities for young people in Manchester.
Gemma Roberts – Project worker/Manager at Greater Manchester Coalition for Disabled People (GMDCP)
Gemma Roberts is a project worker/ manager at GMCDP and is responsible for running and facilitating both the Manchester Disabled People’s Project (MDPP) and the Young Disabled People’s Project (YDPP) from 2019 – 2022. The projects aim to develop and promote disabled people’s full participation and inclusion in mainstream society through a variety of different works. This could be creating information in different accessible formats, hosting workshops to develop disabled people’s confidence, providing different volunteering opportunities, creating performance pieces that celebrate the work of disabled activists or work with external organisations to improve their access for disabled people. The mantra of “Nothing About Us, Without Us” is a key phrase adopted into the continued fight to promote the social model of disability and help disabled people become more actively engaged in shaping their communities and the services that affect them most.
Jade Calder – Author
Jade Calder, Mancunian mum of 3 and a self-published children’s author. Whilst juggling family life during lockdown 2020, welcoming a new baby and home schooling her children, Jade wrote and self published her first book, “Mummy…What is Black Lives Matter”. Inspired by shared real life experiences of the Black Lives Matter protests with her young daughter, Jade’s new children’s book addresses the subject of racism and protest for families to read together in a positive light.
Jamila Thomas – Social Worker
Jamila started her journey into social work when she was 18, and studied at the University of Nottingham, graduating when she was 21. Jamila began her first job in Social work when she was 21 and has been working ever since. Jamila says that she has always enjoyed helping and supporting people and has taken part in volunteer/community work from a young age, so it has always come natural to her. Jamila thinks Social work is a challenging career but also very rewarding. In Jamila’s own words “You meet so many different people from various backgrounds, races and experiences so I’m constantly learning something new! It’s such a great feeling making a difference in someone’s life, this motivates me to keep working hard”.
Modupe Akinola – Engineer
Modupe’s job is to ensure that the information and data used in the Education System, for example students’ data are protected and secure with the right level of technology. A lot of students, teachers and schools data are on the internet. This data should only be accessible by people that are given the permission to do so. If these data are not protected, the data might be stolen which can lead to internet bullying, identity theft and sometimes physical harm to the owners of the data.
Sally Penni MBE – A Practising Barrister and Social Entrepreneur
Sally is the founder and CEO of WOMENINTHELAWUK.CO.UK an organisation aiming to inspire, support, encourage and connect the next generation of lawyers. A campaign trying to bridge the gender gap in the Legal Profession. Sally is also a keen Charity fundraiser. Raising money for Prevent Breast Cancer, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital oncology unit, Reign part of Reclaim Claim, kidscan and now supporting the Princess Trust women supporting women campaign. Widely recognised for her work within and improving diversity, equality and inclusion. Sally is a multiple award winner and a Northern PowerHouse in-her own right, named as one of the 50 most influential women in the North of England. Sally is a Mentor for one million mentors, mentoring women and young people in the legal profession and speaking in schools. In her spare time, she is concerned by loneliness and isolation in the community and she decided to tackle this problem by setting up Didsbury FM Fabulous Mums and Dads. This is a community network for mums and dads aiming to connect women in the community, elderly and all. Sally showcases ordinary people from the community and repeats this on the radio show at 96.9fm.
We hope you have enjoyed looking back at this collection of photographs. There are many more Manchester women who have influenced and inspired us, we couldn’t fit everyone in to this memory box! Who is your inspiration? Perhaps it’s a family member or friend?
We will return next month with part 2 of the Theatre memory box. If you would like to see more images, don’t forget to check out the photograph albums on Flickr and the Manchester Local Image Collection .