Discovery Museum Newcastle Gateshead

International Women's Day is celebrated in March each year and a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on women from Newcastle who come from a range of backgrounds and have had a major influence in their field or, perhaps need their story to be retold to ensure their history is not forgotten. From international sports stars to innovators and change-makers to historical figures - we have collated a list of women from Newcastle and the North East who deserve to be recognised any day of the year! Some women will be familiar to you, while others are relatively unknown names who should be celebrated!

Discovery Museum in Newcastle recently compiled a list of 25 fascinating women from the North East which highlights the untold stories of influential and inspirational women in the region. When visitors are able to explore the Newcastle-based museum in person once again, make sure to follow the self-led trail dedicated to the women of the North East. The Her Story trail by Discovery Museum was directly inspired by the book Angels of the North by Baroness Joyce Quin and Moira Kilkenny. While we wait for museums to reopen - discover Her Story on Discovery Museum's website.  

Mary Astell and Margaret Cavendish: Authors

Mary Astell is an author who was born in Newcastle over 300 years ago in 1666. Mary Astell is credited as not only an author but also a philosopher and considered 'the first English feminist.' She was a passionate advocate for equal educational opportunities for women and was a prolific writer although her published works were anonymous. 

Another fascinating woman from the 17th century, was English aristocrat Margaret Cavendish - Duchess of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (1623–1673). The Duchess was a poet, essayist, writer and philosopher who contributed to the literary history of the region. She has also gained fame as one of the first female science fiction writers, with her novel The Blazing World which was published in 1666.

Visitors to Newcastle who are interested in the region's literary history and cultural contribution should explore the wealth of resources at Newcastle University's Robinson Library or browse the inspiring shelves at The Lit and Phil which ooze history. Laing Art Gallery had planned to launch its latest exhibition, Challenging Convention, on 27 March 2021 but you will have to wait a little while longer as they wait for the go ahead from government for reopening. The exhibition will explore the work of four female artists who used their creative work to challenge tradition and convention.

Anna Richardson: Abolitionist and campaigner

Anna Richardson was born in 1806 and lived for much of her life in Newcastle where she became an integral part of the 'free produce movement' which campaigned for people to boycott products that were created using slave labour. Anna was also a committed Quaker, activist, writer and peace campaigner but most notably, Anna, alongside her sister-in-law, was instrumental in raising the funds to buy the freedom of escaped African American slave, Fredrick Douglass

Anna features in Discovery Museum's Discover Her Story trail where you can find out more about her life.

Dr Ruth Nicholson: Medical professional and pioneer

Born in Newcastle in 1884, Ruth Nicholson went to school at Newcastle High School and is another inspiring example of a pioneering woman from the North East. Ruth - the only woman in her class - graduated from Durham University with a medical degree in 1909 and went on to serve during the First World War as the principal surgeon at a military hospital in France. It was after the war when Ruth decided to specialise in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology. Amongst many other accolades and influential positions held by Dr Ruth Nicholson, she became the first female President of the North of England Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society in the late 1930s. Dr Nicholson's history is another of the fascinating stories to be told along the self-led Discover Her Story trail at the Discovery Museum.

Further reading about Dr Ruth Nicholson on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists heritage blog here

Rachel Parsons: Engineer

Rachel Parsons was the daughter of eminent North East engineer and inventor, Charles Parsons. Rachel was born in 1885 and would go on to be one of the first women to study Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge University. A pioneering woman of 'firsts', Rachel Parson was also one of the founders of the Women's Engineering Society, becoming their first president from 1919-1921. Rachel was passionate about ensuring women could keep working in engineering roles despite the end of the First World War and the subsequent return of male workers. It was during the First World War that she had become director at her father's Heaton-based engineering works and was central to the employment and training of women in engineering roles.

Discover more about Rachel Parsons by listening to episode 3 of The Common Room's Pioneering Minds podcast. Visitors can explore more about the world of engineering and innovation at The Common Room in Newcastle when it reopens later in 2021. The heritage venue which has recently been carefully renovated and was formerly known as The Mining Institute, is dedicated to exploring Newcastle's industrial past as well as inspiring both men and women into a career of engineering and innovation. 

Further reading about Rachel Parsons: 'A forgotten feminist pioneer', Electrifying Women and a great Facebook post from Newcastle City Guides below.

Kathleen Brown and Emily Wilding Davison: Suffragettes

Kathleen Brown was a key figure in the suffragette movement much like her North East counterpart, Emily Wilding Davison. Kathleen endured solitary confinement in Holloway Prison and went on hunger strike after being imprisoned for her part in protests to bring about the vote for women. On her release in 1909, Kathleen continued to rally her fellow suffragettes and delivered a speech to a large crowd at Haymarket in Newcastle.

The next time you are strolling along Grey Street in the heart of Newcastle city centre, admire the spectacular architecture and keep your eyes open for a heritage plaque on display at the point where suffragettes congregated to celebrate Kathleen's release from prison.

Tenacious Emily Wilding Davison was a suffragette who devoted her adult life to campaigning for women’s right to vote. In 1906, Davison joined the women’s suffrage movement having been denied a degree at Oxford University despite the fact she achieved first class honours in her final exams. Davison was tragically killed during the Epsom Derby in 1913, when an attempt to dress the king’s horse in suffragette ribbons saw her fatally injured. Davison is buried in her family plot in Morpeth, about 30-minute drive north of Newcastle city centre. Visitors will find a statue of Emily Davison in Morpeth's Carlisle Park which was unveiled in 2018. 

Susan Auld: Naval architect

Susan Auld was born in 1915 in North Tyneside. Her grandfather was the founder of a company that became the Swan Hunter Shipyards on the River Tyne which meant that Susan was part of long-standing naval and engineering family. In 1936, Susan was the first woman to graduate with a degree in naval architecture from Durham University and set out on an impressive career which included being architect for the Royal Navy and playing an instrumental part in the war effort by designing battleships during the Second World War. Another pioneering North East woman, Susan is purported to have been the only female ship designer in the country during the 1940s when her career was taking off, firmly cementing her position as a pioneering contributor to the ship building industry. 

Visitors interested in the region's shipping and naval history should head along to Discovery Museum in Newcastle where they will find out more about Susan Auld on the Discover Her Story trail. Get a sense of the bustle of Newcastle's ship building heritage with a view from the tower at Wallsend museum Segedunum which has views over Swan Hunter Shipyard and along the River Tyne. 

Susan Auld is also included in Newcastle University's list of inspiring female scientists here

Dame Margaret Barbour: Entrepreneur

Exceptionally successful businesswoman and philanthropist Dame Margaret Barbour inherited the infamous clothing brand J. Barbour & Sons in 1968. Together with her daughter Helen Barbour, Dame Margaret established the Women’s Fund in 1999. The Women’s Fund encourages women in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland to achieve their full potential, particularly those who have faced adversity. Dame Margaret continued her commitment to women in the area by setting up The Nancy Barbour Award in 2000, in memory of her late mother-in-law. This award recognises organisations that give women the opportunity to have active roles in the community. Barbour Outlet in South Shields is a popular place to bag a bargain! 

Alison Kay: Founder of The People's Kitchen

Local hero Alison Kay left a lasting mark on the Newcastle community when an article on the death of a homeless man inspired her to set up The People’s Kitchen. Next to the railway arches by Dean Street, The People’s Kitchen has offered food, clothes, warmth and friendship to homeless and vulnerable people in Newcastle since 1985. For her commitment to helping those in need, Alison received an Honorary Degree from Newcastle University in 1997 and has also been honoured with a bronze plaque in the pavement of NewcastleGateshead Quayside as part of the Newcastle Local Heroes trail. Take a stroll along the Quayside to discover more than 30 bronze plaques celebrating North East men and women from the past 60 years. 

Katy Daley-McLean: Sports star

Sport is a big part of Geordie culture with not just football but rugby, cricket and athletics providing regular events and reasons to keep active in the region. Katy Daley-McLean is from South Shields and is an international sports star with a long list of achievements and accolades. Best known for her career as a full-time professional rugby player, Katy was the captain of the World Cup-winning England women’s rugby union team and received an MBE in 2014, the same year she won the title of BBC North East Sports Personality of the Year. 

Do you think there is anyone we missed out? Tweet us your favourite inspiring women from NewcastleGateshead and the North East today at @altweet_pet.

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Kynren 2021
Kynren 2021

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