Manchester’s most inspirational women

Here in Manchester, we can boast some pretty impressive alumni: Oasis, L.S Lowry, film director Danny Boyle, Alan Turing and even the bloke that played him in the movie went to university here.

But what about the girls? I don’t want to come across as too conceited, but I am proud to call myself a feminist, and I think the fact that the inspirational women that hail from our city have slipped unnoticed from the pages of the history books is criminal.

So here we are, let’s hear it for the girls Manchester.

Marie Stopes
Not only was this paleobotanist from Edinburgh the first woman on the facility of the University of Manchester in the early 20th century, but Stopes was also an advocate for women’s rights and a crusader for birth control. With her husband Humphrey Verdon Roe, a philanthropist and aircraft manufacture from Manchester, Stopes opened the first birth control clinic in the country, which was met with as much criticism as you can imagine. She was the writer of an influential sex advice manual ‘Married Love’, published in 1918 and was the editor of the newsletter ‘Birth Control Times’. She was one of the first women to bring the discourse of sex and birth control into the public arena.

Eleanor Sykes
Dr Eleanor Schill dedicated her life to helping others. After meeting her husband at the University of Manchester, Elenor went on to become one of the first women to be qualified in medicine and worked endlessly in the deprived areas of the city. She was vice-chair of the Marriage Guidance Council until 1970 and had roles such as GP, School Doctor at Manchester High School for Girls and a psychiatrist at Withington Hospital. She was a philanthropist and had a focus on social work and helping the less fortunate, and in 1995 this was recognised with an MBE. She died in 2013 aged 101.

Enriqueta Rylands
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.

Victoria Wood
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 last year 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.

Emmeline Pankhurst
No list of this kind would be complete without mention of the woman who changed the lives of females in the UK forever. If you do not know about Emmeline Pankhurst, then it is your duty as a woman to read more than just this paragraph. She was a political activist and leader of the Suffragette movement who fought tirelessly to allow women the right to vote. Pankhurst, born in Moss Side, is often criticised for her militant tactics, but it is safe to say after hundreds of years of subordination these were the only tactics left. She shaped what it is to be a woman in our time, and we should be forever grateful to her and the movement she represented.  A statue honouring her will be erected in St. Peter’s Square in 2019.

Carol Ann Duffy
Originally from Glasgow, Duffy was appointed Poet Laureate in 2009. She was the first woman, the first Scot and the first openly LGBT person to be selected for the position, so she set the world on fire in more ways than one. She is now Professor of Contemporary poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University and has been since 1996. Her work explores issues of gender, sexuality, oppression and violence. Her style is extremely accessible, juxtaposing real-life experience with fantasy. I remember studying her work when I was at school. I loved her ability to bring often overlooked real or fictional women to life, like Shakespeare’s wife, Miss Havisham and Mrs Midas.

Kathleen Ollerenshaw
Born in my neck of the woods down in Withington, Kathleen was a prominent mathematician, politician and later Mayor of Manchester 1975-76. Deaf since the age of eight, Ollrenshaw became academic at school and developed a keen interest in mathematics. After completing a range of qualifications longer than my arm, she returned to Manchester to simultaneously lecture at the University and raise her children. If that is not a superpower, I don’t know what is. Alongside all of this she was heavily involved in Mancunian politics and was one of the leading motivators for the creation of The Royal College of Music.

Shelagh Delany
A dramatist and screenwriter who is best known for her debut play ‘A Taste of Honey’, Delany was born in Salford and came from humble beginnings. Gritty true expression of life in the North of England runs through her work. ‘A Taste of Honey’ was written in just ten days and was extremely well received for its ability to address social issues head-on. Delany knew what she was angry about, and what she wanted to show the world. She is an icon of our good friend Morrissey, and not only was she the cover art for ‘Louder than Bombs’ many of her words are embedded in the lyrics of The Smiths.

Erinma Bell
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.

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