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Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Politics

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professions, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington women to gain the vote and many other political advancements has been immense. From Ethel Bentham to Valda James, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 5 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women]


Ethel Bentham (1861-1931)

Physician and Islington’s first female Member of Parliament

Ethel BenthamEthel Bentham was born in the City of London in 1861. She was raised in Dublin where her father, William, was a Justice of the Peace. As a young girl Ethel visited the Dublin slums with her mother, which inspired her to become a doctor. For three years, she trained at the London School of Medicine for Women gaining a certificate in medicine in 1893 and, the following year, Ethel became a qualified midwife in Dublin.  She received an M.D. in 1895, after training in hospitals in Paris and Brussels.

She initially worked in London hospitals before entering general practice in Newcastle, with Dr Ethel Williams, the first female doctor in the city, and a suffragist. Ethel Bentham became a member of the executive committee of the Newcastle branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1900, and joined the Labour Party in 1902, the Fabian Society in 1907, and the Fabian Women’s Group in 1908.

In 1907, she unsuccessfully stood as the Labour Party candidate in a by-election in the Westgate South ward of Newcastle. Back in London in 1909, Ethel established a practice in North Kensington and, two years later, was behind the establishment of a mother and baby clinic in the area. The clinic was the first in Britain to provide medical treatment alongside advice. She served as its chief medical officer, and benefactor, and underwrote the clinic’s expenses.

Ethel’s political career ran parallel to her medical work. She stood unsuccessfully as the Labour candidate for Kensington Borough Council in 1909, and the London County Council in 1910, but was eventually elected a member of Kensington Borough Council in 1912, a position she held for 13 years. Following the First World War, Ethel was appointed as one of the first women magistrates, working in the children’s courts and on the Metropolitan Asylums Board. From 1918 to 1931, she sat on the Labour Party National Executive Committee, while also serving on the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations.

Ethel stood unsuccessfully as the Labour Party candidate for Islington East in the General Elections of 1922 and 1923. However, she finally succeeded and became Member of Parliament for Islington East in 1929 – Islington’s first female MP. She was also the first ever woman Quaker and doctor, as well as he oldest woman at 68 years of age, to be elected to Parliament. Ethel served in only the second ever Labour Government, headed by Ramsay MacDonald. She spoke infrequently in the House of Commons in her two years in Parliament. One of her most memorable speeches was during debate on the Mental Treatment Bill.

Ethel died on 19 January 1931, at her flat in Chelsea, just after her 70th birthday, due to heart failure following influenza. Her death triggered a by-election, held on 19 February in which the Labour candidate, Leah Manning, was elected to succeed her as MP for Islington East.


Edith Garrud (1872-1971)

Suffragette and martial-arts specialist 

Edith GarrudEdith Garrud (née Williams) was born in Bath in 1872. As a child she moved to London to live with her uncle, Henry Williams, at 60 Thornhill Square, Islington. In 1893 she married William Garrud at Holy Trinity Church in nearby Cloudesley Square.

In 1899 Edith and William attended a show of ‘wrestling’ by Edward Barton-Wright at the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square. This ‘wrestling’ turned out to be a martial art Barton-Wright had learnt in Japan called ‘jiu-jitsu’. So impressed was Garrud with the art, which allowed someone as diminutive as herself (she was four foot nine) to overpower larger opponents, that she joined Barton-Wright’s school.

Garrud was soon running two dojos (training schools), one in Argyll Street, off Oxford Circus, and one on Seven Sisters Road. Originally Edith would put on jiu-jitsu shows whilst her husband explained the art, but suffragette leader Emily Pankhurst encouraged her to speak for herself. In these exhibitions Garrud would welcome a burly policeman to the stage and encourage him to attack her so she could show the advantages of jiu-jitsu by defeating him. The bobby was, of course, a fellow martial artist sympathetic to the suffrage movement, but the demonstration still got wholehearted cheers!

In 1907 Garrud starred in a film directed by one of Britain’s first film directors Alf Collins, who specialised in chase scenes. Jiu-jitsu Downs the Footpads depicts Garrud being attacked by two muggers and successfully fighting them off.

Suffragette PunchIn 1908 Garrud joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She offered self-defence courses for fellow suffragettes and wrote articles explaining basic jiu-jitsu positions in the suffragette newspaper Votes for Women. Her notoriety was such that the popular magazine Health and Strength published an article entitled ‘Jui-jutsuffragettes: A New Terror for the London Police’. The nickname was no doubt meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but Garrud approved of it! Punch magazine also published a cartoon of Garrud standing alone against a group of policemen with the strapline The suffragette that knew jiu-jitsu (see above right image).

The Cat and Mouse Act, where suffragette hunger-strikers would be released from prison in order to recoup their strength and then rearrested, came into effect in 1913. To protect these women Garrud formed ‘The Bodyguard’, a 30 strong all-female suffragette defence force. They were trained in jiu-jitsu and would hide clubs and stones up their dresses. However, Garrud rarely fought at the front line as the suffragettes were careful not to lose their self-defence guru to imprisonment.

After the War Garrud, who had lost one of her sons in the trenches, continued as a jiu-jitsu teacher eventually selling her dojos in 1925. She died in Bromley, Kent, in 1971 aged 99.


Catherine Griffiths (1885-1988)

Local politician, nurse and suffragette

Catherine GriffifthsCatherine Griffiths was born in Glamorgan, South Wales, and was one of a family of five children. She left home when she was 17 years old and went to Cardiff to train as a State Registered Nurse at City Hospital. Soon after qualifying as a SRN she met her future husband, James, a Civil and Mining Engineer.

In the 1900s, Catherine joined the suffragette movement and the Votes for Women campaign. In protest against inequality, she smashed windows and was arrested for placing tacks on the seat of Chancellor of the Exchequer , David Lloyd George, in the House of Commons at Westminster. Found guilty, she served a short prison sentence, possibly at Holloway Prison.

At the outbreak of the First World War, as a trained nurse, Catherine went to serve in France. Afterwards, Catherine, her husband and two children settled in Finsbury (now Islington), where she became involved in local politics. By 1922 Catherine was one of the original members of the Women’s Committee of the Labour Party in Finsbury, based at the Peel Institute. From 1937 until 1965, Catherine was a labour councillor, becoming Mayor of Finsbury in 1960-61. She was particularly active in the areas of health, maternity and child welfare, housing, cleansing, libraries, and civil defence. During the whole of her service on Finsbury Council, Catherine continued to carry out her full-time duties as a State Registered Nurse. During the Second World War she served as Commandant at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in City Road, London.

In addition, Catherine served as a governor of Compton, Hugh Myddelton and Prior Weston Primary Schools and as an estate governor of Alleyn’s College at Dulwich. She also found time to take part in local Welsh affairs, and was a lifelong member of the King’s Cross Welsh Chapel, as well as being an active participant of the Glamorgan Society. In 1983, she was awarded the Freedom of the Borough (of Islington) as a mark of esteem and in recognition of over 46 years of public service.

In 1988, Catherine was guest of honour at the House of Commons for the 70th anniversary commemorations for women gaining the parliamentary vote, or universal suffrage, in 1918. Newspaper headlines dubbed her ‘the last of the suffragettes’.  A few months after her visit to Westminster, Catherine passed away, aged 102 years. Catherine Griffiths Court, residential housing in Pine Street, Clerkenwell, is named in her memory.


Valda James (1928 – )

First black woman elected to Islington Council and the borough’s first black mayor

Valda JamesValda James was born in Saint Thomas Parish, Jamaica, in 1928. She came to England in 1961, as part of the Windrush generation. After her marriage ended, Valda raised her children as a single parent, working in catering and dressmaking before becoming a British Red Cross nurse for eight years.

In 1986 she became the first black woman to be elected to Islington Council and bringing up a family as a lone parent informed her work as a councillor on the borough’s Social Services committee. She became deputy mayor of the borough and, in 1988, Valda was appointed  Islington’s first black mayor

To fulfill her role as mayor, Valda took early retirement from her regular job but this affected her pension. She was also unable to claim councillors’ attendance allowances, as mayoral duties did not give sufficient time for her to carry out the duties required of a councillor. As a result, and due to a lack of income, Valda worked as a cleaning supervisor, with a start time of 5.30am, before beginning her working day as Mayor.

In 1989, while still undertaking mayoral duties, she founded a Sickle Cell Support Group in Camden. This was set up as a forum for people with sickle cell and thalassaemia diseases to meet, discuss and support each other.

In 2018, a photograph of Valda by her granddaughter, artist Phoebe Collings-James, was exhibited on an external wall of  The Peel Institute, Clerkenwell. The photograph commemorates the cultural impact left by Valda on Islington, and was part of the LDN WMN initiative celebrating 100 years since the first women gained the parliamentary vote in Britain. It also displayed close to  where she has lived all her life.


Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women 

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Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Arts and Entertainment

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington Women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professions, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington women in  Arts and Entertainment has been immense. From Kate Greenaway to Andrea Levy, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 1 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]


Kate Greenaway (1846-1901)

Book illustrator

Kate GreenawayHoxton-born children’s illustrator Kate (Catherine) Greenaway and her family moved to 147 Upper Street in 1852, Islington where her mother opened a hat shop.  Kate lived here for 21 years. She later resided at Pemberton Gardens, Holloway. As a child, she attended her first art class at Finsbury School of Art in William Street, Clerkenwell. Kate was soon promoted from this evening class to the day class at the art school at Canonbury House. 

Kate Greenaway had a prolific career as an illustrator for children’s books, designer and verse writer. Her earliest work appeared in Little Folks (1873), a widely known and very popular children’s weekly magazine. The same year saw the first of her Christmas cards produced for Marcus Ward. Her best-known books include Under the Window (1879) and Kate Greenaway’s Birthday Book (1880). Kate’s last work, The April Baby’s Book of Tunes appeared in 1901.

In 1890 she became a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and exhibited several times. She is still celebrated through the annual Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration of children’s literature.

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Kate Greenaway can be seen outside her former Upper Street home.

Marie Lloyd (1870-1922)

Music-hall artist

Marie LloydMary Lloyd was known as the ‘Queen of the Music Hall’. Born Matilda Wood in Hoxton, London, her career spanned 40 years. As Bella Delamare, she made her debut at 15-years-old at the Eagle Tavern, off City Road. By 1885 she had become Marie Lloyd, with her hit song ‘The boy up in the gallery’; this was originally written for Islington music-hall star Nellie Power. Marie became a huge success and topped the bill at all the West End and major music halls.

Marie had many associations with Islington, both as resident and performer. As a girl she lived in Bath Place, Finsbury, and attended school in nearby Bath Street. She became a regular performer at Collins’ Music Hall on Islington Green (now Waterstones bookshop), the Grand Theatre at Angel (demolished) and the Finsbury Park Empire (now Vaudeville Court).

Marie was actively involved in the 1907 London and suburban music-hall strike organised by the Variety Artistes’ Federation. It campaigned against management contracts which stopped performers from working in any other local hall within a year of their current contract, irrespective of contract length. Well-paid stars such as Marie and ‘Little Tich’ stood alongside lesser names and refused to perform, often picketing outside theatres. Eventually the various managements were forced to give in and agreed to change the contracts.

Marie Lloyd continued performing until a few days before her death at the age of 52. More than 50,000 people turned out to pay their respects at her funeral at Hampstead Cemetery in 1922.


Lilian Baylis (1874-1937)

Theatrical producer and manager

Lilian BaylisThe eldest of six children, Lilian Baylis was born in Marylebone, London, and grew up surrounded by music and performance. Her mother was a successful singer and pianist, and Lilian’s education was grounded in the arts.

Lilian was the manager of The Old Vic theatre when she began a national campaign to save Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, Islington in 1925..

The Sadler’s Wells site had been the home to theatre and entertainment since 1683 but, by 1925, and several buildings later, the playhouse was derelict. Lilian launched a public appeal for funds to rebuild the theatre for the nation. Building work finally began in 1930 and the fifth Sadler’s Wells Theatre opened in 6 January 1931 with a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

After a long illness, Lilian died of a heart attack in November 1937, aged 63 in Lambeth, South London, the night before The Old Vic was to open a production of Macbeth starring Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson.

A new Sadler’s Wells Theatre opened in 1998 and Lilian is commemorated in a performance space named the Lilian Baylis Studio.


Dame Gracie Fields (1898-1979)

Singer and actor

Gracie FieldsDame Gracie Fields (née Stansfield) was born in Rochdale, Lancashire. She was a highly successful singer, comedian and actress, becoming a towering star of both music hall and cinema. 

Gracie made her London stage debut at Collins’ Music Hall, Islington Green, on 25 June 1915 as a singer in a revue. She later made Islington her home. From 1926 until 1929 Gracie lived close to Collins’ at 72A Upper Street. She was most famous for her song Sally (1931) and the film Sally in our Alley (1931). She was the highest paid film star in the world in 1937.

Gracie played the Finsbury Park Empire on a number of occasions in the 1920s and early 1930s. In the 1930s, when her popularity was at its peak, she was given many honours: she became an Officer of the Venerable Order of St John (OStJ) for her charity work, and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to entertainment in the 1938 New Year Honours. 

Gracie had to wait another 40 years until she was invested as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, just seven months before her death in Capri in 1979, aged 81 years.

  • An English Heritage blue plaque to Gracie Fields can be seen outside her former Upper Street home.

Nina Bawden (1925-2012)

Author and railway safety campaigner

Nina BawdenNina Bawden CBE was born and raised in Ilford, Essex. She lived at 22 Noel Road, Islington, from 1976 until her death in 2012.

She was the author of many books for adults and children, including Carrie’s War (1973) and The Peppermint Pig (1975). For the latter she won the 1976 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime book award judged by a panel of British children’s writers. Some of her writing drew on her life in Islington.

Nina was seriously injured in the Potters Bar train crash in 2002 in which her husband, Austen Kark, and six other people were killed. With others she successfully campaigned to make the railways safer and to hold those responsible for the accident to account.

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Nina Bawden can be seen outside her former Noel Road home.

Andrea Levy (1956-2019)

Novelist and chronicler of the British Caribbean experience

Andrea LevyNovelist and chronicler of the British Caribbean experience, Andrea Levy was born at the Whittington Hospital, Islington, on 7 March 1956. Her father Winston travelled to England on the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948, with his wife Amy following some months later. Both her parents were Jamaican-born of mixed descent, becoming part of the boom in immigration that shaped post-war Britain.

The family home was a council flat at 105 Twyford House, Elwood Street, close to Arsenal FC’s Highbury Stadium. Andrea was youngest of four children, growing up at a time when the idea of living in multi-cultural society had yet to be accepted. She passed the 11-plus examination and, in 1968, attended the prestigious Highbury Hill Grammar School (now Highbury Fields School). 

Andrea began writing novels and her first three works drew on her own experiences of growing up black in a majority white society. These were set largely in the north London of her early years and, although sales were modest, the books were critically well received. In 2004 she had her breakthrough with her fourth novel Small Island, which dealt with the post-Second World War immigration experience of her parents’ generation. That year the book won the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread Book of the Year and, in 2005, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Andrea’s final novel The Long Song took the British Caribbean experience back to its uncomfortable origins in the plantation slavery of the early-19th Century. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2010 and won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2011.

Andrea died on 14 February 2019, aged 62, after living with breast cancer for 15 years.

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Andrea Levy can be seen outside her former childhood home in Elwood Street
  • Learn more about Andrea in our special Islington Histories Andrea Levy Learning Pack

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Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Health Care

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professionals, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington Women in Health Care has been immense. From Florence Keen to marie Stopes, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 3 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]


Florence Keen (1868 – 1942)

Founder of the North Islington Welfare Centre

Florence KeenMrs Florence Keen founded the North Islington Welfare Centre and School for Mothers in Holloway, Islington in 1913.

Florence Keen (née Hield) was born in Leeds, Yorkshire and, later, was a resident of Highgate, London. She married William Brock Keen, an Islington-born accountant, in the borough in 1887. The North Islington Infant Welfare Centre and School for Mothers was founded in 1913 by Florence and other local women at a time when the infant mortality rate in the borough was 110 per 1000 births. It was intended to be a ‘school for mothers’, offering help and advice on the correct methods of childcare to less privileged mothers.

With Florence acting as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, the Centre first opened at the Presbyterian mission hall in Elthorne Road, Holloway in 1913, with a voluntary doctor and a nurse weighing and examining 12-15 babies one afternoon a week.

In 1915 the Welfare Centre moved to more suitable premises at 9 Manor Gardens. The following year the adjoining house at number 8 was also leased. The Centre offered dental and eye clinics, massage, ‘artificial sunlight’ treatment for rickets, training for infant welfare students and the provision of home helps.

Florence Keen said in 1917 that “the school [Centre] in so far as it was concerned with the wives and children of soldiers was definitely involved in war work.” During the conflict the Centre began to receive letters from husbands at the front expressing their appreciation for the care offered by the Centre for their families. Sadly, Florence Keen’s two elder sons, both captains in the 1/7 Middlesex Regiment, were killed in the war: Arthur in 1917 and William in 1918. They had both been subscribers to the Centre.

Florence died in Oxted, Surrey in 1942 aged 73 years.

The organisation, now known as the Manor Gardens Welfare Trust, continues to provide community healthcare in Islington.

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Florence Keen can be seen outside the former North Islington Welfare Centre at 6-9 Manor Gardens, Holloway.

Lilian Lindsay (1871-1960)

The first qualified female dentist in Britain and the first female president of the British Dental Association

Lilian Lindsay
    (Image: British Dental Association)

Lilian Lindsay was born Lilian Murray in Hungerford Road, Holloway, London  in 1871. She was the daughter of a musician, and the third of eleven children. She was educated at Camden School for Girls, and won a scholarship to the North London Collegiate School.

Against advice, Lilian decided upon a career in dentistry. However, the Royal College of Surgeons refused to admit women to its medical courses, and when she applied to study at the National Dental Hospital in London, she was interviewed unsuccessfully on the pavement outside; women were not allowed in the building!

She left England in 1892 to study at Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School, where she qualified with honours in 1895 and where she met her future husband and fellow student. Robert Lindsay. She returned to Islington to set up a successful dental practice at 69 Hornsey Rise, Upper Holloway. After she and Robert were married in 1905 at St Luke’s Church in Hillmarton Road, the couple relocated to Edinburgh to set up a practice with her husband. In 1920 the Lindsays retired from dental practice and moved back to London. They moved into a flat above the headquarters of British Dental Association (BDA) at 23 Russell Square for the next 15 years. Lilian took a new role as Honorary Librarian at the BDA and curated the country’s first dental library. It became a resource for students and practitioners, containing over 10,000 volumes.

Lilian also took a serious interest in the history of dentistry, writing A Short History of Dentistry (1933) and over 50 journal articles. She remained in London during the Blitz, stating that she could not work away from the library.

Lindsay became the first female President of the BDA in 1946, and in the same year was awarded an OBE. She spent her final years in Oxford, Suffolk, and died in 1960 at the age of 88.

  • An English Heritage plaque to Lilian Lindsay can be seen outside the former Russell Square home. The plaque was originally installed at her Islington birthplace (now demolished) in Hungerford Road.

Marie Stopes (1880-1958)

Pioneer of sex education and birth control

Marie StopesMarie Charlotte Carmichael Stopes was born in Edinburgh in 1880. When she was six weeks old her family moved from Scotland to London.

Marie trained as a scientist at University College London but the failure of her first marriage led her to study sex education and contraception.

In 1918 she published a controversial but popular book, ‘Married Love’, and in 1921, she opened the first birth control clinic in Britain in Marlborough Road, Holloway. The clinic, which remained there until 1925, offered free services and advice to married women. Marie Stopes International now operates in more than 30 countries.


Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021) 

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Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Education

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professions, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington women in education has been immense. From Dame Alice Owen to Yvonne Conolly, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 2 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]


Dame Alice Owen (1547-1613)

Philanthropist

British (English) School; Dame Alice Owen (1547-1613)
(Image: Dame Alice Owen School)

Dame Alice Owen was the daughter of a rich Islington landowner, who inherited further wealth through the deaths of three husbands.

As a child, Dame Alice narrowly escaped death from an archer’s arrow and vowed to show her gratitude for her survival.

Her most lasting work was setting up a foundation in 1613 to provide almshouses for 10 poor women and a free school for 30 boys in Islington and Clerkenwell. The Dame Alice Owen Foundation continued after her death, establishing a girls’ school in 1886.

The Dame Alice Owen School is now a co-educational school in Hertfordshire and the foundation still supports educational projects in Islington.


Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797)

Writer, teacher and advocate of women’s rights

Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797) NPG
(Image: National Portrait Gallery)

Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the earliest advocates of women’s rights, lived for several years at Newington Green, Islington.

Although she had little formal education, Mary needed to earn a living and she established a school for girls at Newington Green in 1784. She wrote her first book, Thoughts on the education of Daughters (1786) based on this experience. She became known across Europe for her radical and controversial views on gender equality. Her best known work is A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Mary Wollstonecraft can be seen outside Newington Green Primary School, and a  controversial sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft, by artist Maggi Hambling, went on display in Newington Green Open Space in November 2020.

Matilda Sharpe (1830 – 1916)

Teacher, philanthropist and painter

Matilda SharpeMatilda Sharpe was born at 38 Canonbury Place, Islington, the second of six children of Samuel Sharpe, a successful banker, Egyptologist and biblical scholar, and Sarah Sharpe, an artist of considerable talent. In 1840 the family moved to nearby 32 Highbury Place, where she was to reside until her death 56 years later.

Matilda devoted much of her life to education, starting at Newington Green Chapel Sunday School, where she taught painting and languages to working-class students. In 1885, with support from Robert Spears, a Unitarian minister, Matilda and her sister Emily established Channing School in Highgate. A school for the daughters of Unitarian ministers, their key aim was to educate girls. They wished Channing to provide the best education possible at the lowest possible cost, enabling its pupils to go on to university or any of the professions open to women. Today, Matilda and Emily Sharpe’s motto, ‘Never forget: life is expecting much of you and me’, is still very much advocated by the school.

Matilda was also a talented painter and she exhibited at the Royal Academy. One of her oil paintings, a portrait of her father dated 1868, is held at the National Portrait Gallery.  Matilda painted views from her house and her back garden, as well as Highbury Fields.  As a writer, she wrote four books of moral maxims and poetical comments on modern times, emphasizing her love of learning and travel, her dislike of smoking, alcohol, and fripperies, and her support for education for all.

Matilda died aged 86, her sister Emily having predeceased her.

  • View Matilda Sharpe’s paintings at ART UK

[This biography is an abridged version of  Matilda Sharpe (1830-1916) written by Evelyn Thomas  / Islington U3A Local History Group, 2018]


Yvonne Conolly (1939-2021)

Teacher and first Black female headteacher in the United Kingdom

Yvonne Conolly (Evening Standard)
(Image: Evening Standard)

Cecile Yvonne Conolly CBE was a Jamaican teacher, who became the United Kingdom’s first female black headteacher in 1969, aged just 29-years-old.

Yvonne arrived in the UK from Jamaica in August 1963, as part of the Windrush generation.  She had trained for three years as a primary school teacher in Jamaica before taking the decision to come to Britain on one of the many ships that brought over thousands of workers from the Caribbean. As a relief teacher, Yvonne was very aware that there were racial tensions in a number of schools where she taught. This was to become even more evident to her as her teaching career progressed. Yvonne was appointed teacher at the George Eliot School in Swiss Cottage, north London. In January 1969, and much to her surprise, she was offered a promotion to become headteacher at Ring Cross Primary School on Eden Grove in Holloway, Islington. At just 29-years of age, Yvonne was the country’s first black female headteacher.

After being appointed to this position, Yvonne received racist abuse and required a bodyguard to accompany her to work. Her appointment to the post attracted much attention from the British media, and she was subjected to repeated attacks in some national newspapers. Yvonne did not let the reaction to her headship prevent her from delivering an effective education service to the children of her school, and much of her experience at Ring Cross was to inform her later career. Carrying the responsibility of being the first-ever female black headteacher in the country, it was the reason she gave for setting up the Caribbean Teachers Association. Yvonne spent nine years as headteacher at Ring Cross and, in 1978, she left to take up a position as a member of the multi-ethnic inspectorate created by the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority). Yvonne formally retired in 2001, after 40-years-of service in education, but remained chair of the Caribbean Teachers’ Association.

Yvonne Conolly (Islington Tribute)
(Image: Islington Tribune)

In October 2020 she was honoured for her services to education with the Honorary Fellow of Education award from the Naz Legacy Foundation. HRH Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who announced her award, said that she had “character and determination” which helped her break barriers for black educators.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours the same year, Yvonne was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for services to education. In receiving the award, she said: “I am delighted, and feel profoundly honoured to be receiving a CBE for the recognition of my work in education over many years. I am most grateful to my nominees and to the Honours Committee for this prestigious award which I am proud to share with my community.“

Yvonne died of  an incurable blood cancer she had been fighting for more than 10 years, on Wednesday, 27 January 2021, at the Whittington Hospital, Islington, aged 81 years.

[This biography is an abridged version of  Yvonne Conolly’s entry on Wikipedia, written and submitted by Islington Heritage Service in February 2021]


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Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and International Influence

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professions, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington women in international affairs and influence been immense. From Caroline Chisholm to Zaha Hadid, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 4 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]


Mary Tealby (1801-1865)

Founder of the Home for Lost and Starving Dogs (later Battersea Dogs and Cats Home)

Mary TealbyMary Tealby (née Bates) was born in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire and moved to Hull with her husband Robert after their marriage in 1829. She moved to London to nurse her ill mother in the early 1850s, leaving her husband Robert in Hull, and remained with her father and her brother at 20 Victoria Road (now Chillingworth Street), Holloway, after her mother’s death.
Mary founded the Home for Lost and Starving Dogs after becoming distressed at the number of stray and abandoned dogs in London. The home was located in stables behind 15 and 16 Hollingsworth Street (now occupied by Freightliners Farm and Paradise Park) and was opened on 2 October 1860.

Mary died 3 October 1865 leaving the management of the home to her younger brother Edward, who relocated the home to Battersea, south London in 1871. The home still operates today under the name of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

An Islington Heritage plaque to Mary Tealby can be seen at Freightliners Farm in Holloway, the former site of the Home for Lost and Starving Dogs.


Caroline Chisholm (1808-1877)

The ’emigrants’ friend’

Caroline Chisholm (State Library of New South Wales)
(Image: State Library of New South Wales)

Caroline Chisholm (née Jones) was born in 1808 at Wooton, Northamptonshire. Caroline married Captain Archibald Chisholm in 1828 and accompanied him to Madras in India, where she set up a school of industry for the daughters of soldiers.

In 1838, Caroline went to Australia where her concern for the welfare of emigrants was such that she promoted a variety of projects to assist them. These included providing housing for single women who travelled to Australia under the bounty system, as well as lending money to assist in setting up businesses.

Through dedication and persistence she established a hostel in a derelict building provided by the governor of New South Wales. This served as an employment agency as well as being her headquarters. By the time she left Australia in 1846 she is said to have assisted 11,000 emigrants.

Upon her return from Australia, Caroline settled in Islington. Her house at 3 Charlton Crescent, now 32 Charlton Place, became her headquarters in England. She set up the Family Colonisation Loan Society to provide assistance to settlers. The Society’s aim was to support emigration by lending half the cost of the fare (the emigrant to provide the other half). After living two years in Australia, an emigrant would be expected to repay the loan. She also held regular meetings at Charlton Crescent to give practical advice to emigrants. In 1847, she gave evidence to the House of Lords Committee investigating the reform of the emigration systems.

A mother of six children, Caroline was a determined, generous and altruistic woman with insight into the the problems of those around her, and skilled in devising practical solutions. She died in Fulham, London in 1877.

Amelia Edwards (1831-1892)

Egyptologist and writer

Amelia Edwards (NPG)
(Image: National Portrait Gallery)

Amelia Edwards was born in Colebrook Row, Islington, in 1831. She was the only child of Thomas Edwards , an army officer who later worked for the Provincial Bank of Ireland in London, and Alicia Walpole, eldest daughter of Robert Walpole, an Irish barrister.

Amelia was a quiet child who, until eight years old, was educated at home by her mother and then by private tutors. From an early age, she was an avid reader, while writing stories and poems and developing into a proficient artist. By the age of 14 her stories were being published in periodicals. By this time she lived with her family at 19 Wharton Street, Clerkenwell (now Islington). It was here that she wrote Hand and Glove, reckoned the best of her early novels, alongside a concise history of France and short travelogues based on her later visits to the continent.

During the 1850s and 1860s Amelia travelled extensively throughout Europe, published many accounts of her journeys, as well as several novels and journal articles. She was fluent in French and Italian and described herself as ‘an insatiable traveller’. In 1873,  disappointed with the weather in central France, Amelia set off for Egypt. It was a journey that changed the course of her life. She became fascinated with Egypt and this was to dominate her work for the next two decades.

Travelling up the Nile from Cairo to Abu Simbel, she was appalled by the increasing threat directed towards the ancient monuments and artifacts by tourism and modern development. So much so that Amelia became a tireless campaigner for both the preservation and research of ancient Egypt.

She was co-founder of the influential Egypt Exploration Fund (later Egypt Exploration Society). She worked tirelessly for the society, raising funds, lecturing throughout England, and writing about the progress of the fund’s work. She raised sponsorship for the Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith to join Archaeologist Flinders Petrie in Egypt. The American branch of the Egypt Exploration Society gained momentum and, in 1886, Smith College in Massachusetts awarded Amelia an honorary LLD, ‘the first distinction of the kind ever bestowed on a woman. Amelia was also active in other areas of both classical and biblical study, and was vice-president of the Society for the Promotion of Women’s Suffrage.

In 1891, while overseeing antiquities arriving at London docks, she developed a lung infection which led to her death.  Amelia died six-months later in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, aged 60, and was buried at Henbury, near Bristol. Her grave is marked by an obelisk.

Mary Kingsley (1862-1900)

Ethnologist and writer

Mary Kinsgley
(Image: Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine)

Mary Kingsley was born in Tavistock Terrace, Upper Holloway, Islington in 1862. She was the eldest child of George Kingsley, a physician and traveller, and his wife Mary Bailey. The novelists Charles Kingsley and Henry Kingsley were her uncles.

As a young woman she supported her mother in household duties and assisted in her father’s anthropological work, for which she learned German. She did not attend school and read voraciously, creating her own world among the travel, natural history, and science books from her father’s library.

Despite managing to occasionally travel to Europe, Mary spend much of her early adult years nursing her sick parents. Mary was 30-years-old when both parents died and this gave her the release to see the world. Following a trip to the Canary Islands, she decided upon exploration of West Africa to further enhance her own anthropological studies. Mary reached Freetown, Sierra Leone in August 1893.

After fours months of exploration and collecting specimens, she returned to England. The following year, she sailed again to West Africa. In order to pay her way and make contact with African people, Mary learned to trade in rubber, ivory, tobacco, and other goods. She brought home a collection of insects, shells, and plants, including 18 species of reptiles and 65 species of fish, of which three were entirely new and named after her. Mary’s experiences were to inform her lectures, articles and books;  Mary’s first book, Travels in West Africa, Congo Français, Corisco and Cameroons was published in 1897.

For the next two years Mary and her work were in much demand until, in 1899, the South African War (Second |Boer War) thoughts turned again to the Continent. On one last voyage, she arrived in Cape Town in 1900 where she offered her services as a nurse. She was sent to a hospital to look after Boer prisoners of war. Sadly, she contracted the typhoid that was killing her patients and, on 3 June, she died. Mary was buried at sea, in keeping with her wishes. Her coffin was conveyed from Simon’s Town harbour on a torpedo boat with full military honours.


Dorothy Lawrence (1896-1964)

English journalist (and ‘male’ soldier)

Dorothy LawrenceDorothy Lawrence was born in Hendon, London and was of unknown parentage. A budding journalist in her late teens, and with a few published articles in The Times, at the outbreak of the First World War she had hoped to be able to report for the Front Line. Dorothy was unsuccessful in obtaining an assignment but, undeterred, she travelled to France as a freelance war correspondent but was arrested by French Police near the Front Line and left for Paris.

Dorothy concluded that only in disguise could she get the story that she wanted to write, and persuaded two British Army soldiers that she met in a Parisian café to help her acquire a uniform and equipment, after which she began to transform herself into a male soldier. She changed her physical appearance by cutting her long hair, wearing a corset and darkening her face. Dorothy then learnt how to drill and march. Lastly, she obtained false identity papers and, becoming Private Denis Smith of the 1st Bn, Leicestershire Regiment, headed for the front lines.

She was befriended by coalminer-turned-soldier Tom Dunn who, with army colleagues, took her under his wing for protection and rations. In her book, she writes that Dunn found her work as a sapper with the 179 Tunnelling Company, 51st Division, Royal Engineers, specialist mine-layers involved in the digging of tunnels. However, evidence suggests that she did not undertake digging work but was free to work within the trenches.

Unfortunately, the rigours of the job and the Front Line caused Dorothy’s health to suffer. She worried that if she needed medical attention her true identity would be discovered and her colleagues would be in danger. So, after 10 days of service, she presented herself to the commanding sergeant, who placed her under military arrest. Initially, Dorothy was interrogated as a spy and declared a prisoner of war. The Army was embarrassed that a woman had breached security and, if her story was revealed, was fearful of more women taking on male roles during the war. Swearing not to write about her experiences or risk imprisonment, Dorothy sailed from Calais back to England. She took the same ferry as Emmeline Pankhurst, who asked her to speak at a suffragette meeting. Dorothy attempted to write articles about her experience but fell foul of the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act (1914), which could be used against her for treason.

In 1919, Dorothy moved to Canonbury, Islington, and finally published her story, Sapper Dorothy Lawrence: The Only English Woman Soldier. Although, heavily censored by the War Office, it was generally well received but, sadly, not the commercial success she had hoped. Her writing career was effectively over and, by 1925, her increasingly erratic behaviour was brought to the attention of the authorities. Upon examination, and with no family to look after her, she was taken into care and later deemed insane.

Dorothy was institutionalised at the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum (later Friern Hospital) in north London, where she died nearly forty years later. She was buried in a pauper’s grave in New Southgate Cemetery.

Many years later her story was featured in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum on women at war, and famous for being the only known English woman soldier on the Front Line during the First World War.


Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)

Architect

Zaha Hadid was born in 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq. Her father, Muhammad al-Hajj Husayn Hadid, was a wealthy industrialist and liberal politician from Mosul, and her mother was an artist also from Mosul. In the 1960s Zaha attended boarding schools in England and Switzerland. She later gained a maths degree at the American University of Beirut and, then in 1972, more importantly, studied at the Architectural Association school in London, going on to become recognised as a major figure in architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Zaha first opened her own office in a small room in a former Victorian school at 10 Bowling Green Lane in Clerkenwell, Islington. With her architectural partner Patrik Schumacher, she eventually built a practice of 400 staff, taking over the entire school building, as well as spreading into a second building. It was to become one of the world’s most important architectural practices. Zaha also made Clerkenwell her home, living in a penthouse apartment in Dallington Street.

From her Clerkenwell base, Zaha built an extraordinary range and scope of buildings. These included the Olympic Aquatics Centre in London, the Maxxi art museum in Rome (the RIBA Stirling prize winner in 2010), a car factory for BMW in Leipzig, Germany, a skyscraper complex in Beijing, an opera house in Guangzhou, and an exhibition centre in the middle of Seoul.

In 2004 Zaha became the first woman to win the Pritzker prize for architecture and this year the first to be awarded the RIBA royal gold medal in her own right. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2002 and, in 2012, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).  At the time of her death, several of Zaha’s buildings were still under construction, such as the Daxing International Airport in Beijing, and the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, a venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. She was also was working in China, the Middle East, America and Russia.

An extraordinary architect, Zaha was described by the Guardian newspaper (26 November 2016) as the ‘Queen of the curve’, who “liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity.”


Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021) 

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Compiled by the Friends of Islington Museum / Islington Heritage Service (March 2021)