To celebrate this years International Women's Day we thought we would have a look back at some of the amazing women who helped make Manchester what it is today.
Lydia was part of the early suffrage movement, and she used a clerk error to help a woman cast the first vote in Britain’s elections. She was an amateur scientist, focusing on botany and astronomy, and regularly contributed to the research into the evolution theory with samples from around Manchester. She also campaigned for gender-neutral education.
Emmeline was one of the most important figures of the suffragette movement. Born in Moss Side, she lived and worked in both Manchester and London. She was fundamental in organising the suffragette movement, having founded the Women’s Franchise League and the Women’s Social and Political Union, which she later helped transform into the Women’s Party. You can still she her statue today at St Peters Square.
Despite its name, and our understanding that it is not unusual for the men in history to name a building after themselves, The John Rylands Library on Deansgate, was not built by Mr Rylands. Born in Havana, Cuba Enriqueta Rylands lived all over the globe until settling in rainy old Manchester with her husband at Langford Hall, Stretford. Seventy-something-year old John Rylands, a wealthy merchant, died soon after, and Enriqueta inherited the majority of his estate. She built the famous neo-gothic library in his memory, inspired by Mansfield College, Oxford. She became the first woman to be honoured with the Key to the City in 1899.
Maisie was born in Oldham and lived in Manchester. She wanted to study medicine, but her mother’s illness and WWII interrupted her plans – instead, she ended up teaching illiterate soldiers how to write. Writing stayed with her, because over the course of her life, she published 16 novels, and wrote multiple stage and radio plays. She was also the editor of the Jewish Gazette, making her essentially a chronicler of the Manchester Jewish community.
Luise is a British-Jamaican community leader and an anti-racism campaigner. She moved to Britain to train as a nurse, and in 1966, she became the first Black senior nursing officer in Manchester. She worked in several organisations and committees, including the Commission for Race Equality, to tackle race equality issues in both the NHS and the wider community. She became Manchester’s Deputy Lord Lieutenant, and received an MBE. Her work is continued by many organisations in Manchester today.
As a transgender activist, Julia took part in one of the first documentaries about transgender issues; the BBC’s A Change of Sex, 1979. The 5 hour long documentary followed her transition over the course of several years. She showed incredible resilience and honesty, and the documentary was one-of-a-kind. Later, she stayed an active member of the local queer community and in the Gay Village.
Among a rather impressive list of people who fought for rights and equalities based here in Manchester is Luchia Fitzgerald & Angela Cooper.
Together, they co-founded the Manchester branch of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), opened the city’s first women’s refuge, launched a radical queer printing press and even had time to start a rock band. Their friendship was a chance encounter at an nderground gay bar that sparked a relationship, romantic to start but one that ultimately endured almost 60 years of political activism.
Angela and Luchia were trailblazers in Manchester’s history who are rarely mentioned. Together, they ran the Manchester Women’s Liberation Centre for 5 years in the 1970s, providing pregnancy testing and helplines, and then proceeded to open Manchester’s first women’s refuge, ‘Women’s Aid’. In the 1980s they gathered 20,000 to march through Manchester in protest of Margaret Thatcher’s legislation against schools teaching about same sex relationships, known as Section 28.
Olive Morris was a community activist in the 1970s. Despite dying aged only 27, she made a great impact on the rights of black women. While at the University of Manchester she co-founded the Manchester Black Women’s Co-operative and the Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group.
Raised in Bury, multi-BAFTA award winning actress, writer, director and comedienne had Manchester at her very core. It was a tragedy to lose her to cancer aged just 62 because it is safe to say Wood was one of the jewels in Manchester’s crown. Her humour lay in the everyday and refers to quintessentially British, mainly Northern British, activities and attitudes which showed the rest of the country a little bit of sunny resolve from gloomy old Manchester.
Bell is a Moss Side-based peace activist and the co-founder of charity CARISMA which provides alternatives to street and gun crime here in Manchester. At its worst, gun crime in Greater Manchester reached 156 in 2007/8. After witnessing a shooting of a friend, Bell vowed to make a difference. She has an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford, an MBE, oh yeah, and she is the mother of eight. Seriously, try and beat that.