Inspiring women in Yorkshire? There are so many I could pick from. Here in Holmfirth there are great names in the present and no doubt women from the past. My PhD looked at women who were elected as councillors in the 20’s and 30’s throughout England and Wales. I could find role models galore, including some I would disagree with politically.
A few middle class women who owned property were elected to some councils at an early stage – 1907 (before women had the Parliamentary vote) allowed women on to all types of council. Patricia Hollis, Ladies Elect sets out how they fared on school boards and as Poor Law Guardians. 1919 was a bit of a breakthrough, with far more women able to stand and, if they were over 30, now able to vote and stand for Parliament.
So what happened in Yorkshire? A couple of heroines stand out on the old West Riding. Lady Mabel Smith, related to the powerful Fitzwilliams upset her family by campaigning for better health and childcare for the families who worked the pits her brother owned. The lovely irony of the Wentworth family home being acquired to set up Lady Mabel college is tribute to her work for education. One day I will write that book about her.
It was some years later when another Smith – our own Jessie, followed in her footsteps. Many Colne Valley folk remember her as chair of school governors, but she was first elected to the West Riding in 1937 and campaigned to make sure the first West Riding comprehensive was on her patch. She was also a great contributor to arts and helped develop the Open University – many women to be thankful for that.
I could go on – Mary Sykes in Huddersfield, Miriam Lightowler, Mayor in Halifax, but want to stop there to ponder one thought. What the early women pioneers had in common as they battled to bring birth control to their communities, or set up refuges, was a strong pattern of women’s organisations helping shape their new democracy. So great to see the WI still going strong. Communities still need women leaders years after those role models. International Women’s day rooted in the local community. Great stuff – keep up the work.