Women of Achievement

by | Mar 7, 2018 | History, Manchester |

To mark International Women’s Day, We look back at Manchester women of achievement from suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst to World War II spy and opera singer Margery Booth.

In 1999, Time magazine named a merchant’s daughter from Moss Side as one of the most important people of the 20th century.

They said, quite simply, that she had ‘shaped an idea of women for our time.’

Not only that, she ‘shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back’.

Her name was Emmeline Goulden.

But history knows her better by her married name – Emmeline Pankhurst.

Her pioneering work as a suffragette in the early 1900s, though controversial at the time, was crucial to women getting the vote in Britain.

But Emmeline Pankhurst is just one of many women from the Manchester area to make their mark on history.

There’s reforming writer Elizabeth Gaskell, 18th century entrepreneur Elizabeth Raffald and the city’s first female councillor Margaret Ashton.

There’s Labour Cabinet Minister and Jarrow March organiser Ellen Wilkinson, opera singer and World War II spy Margery Booth and anti-racism campaigner Louise da-Cocodia.

From the world of performing arts are playwright Shelagh Delaney, actress Maxine Peake, opera singer Dame Eva Turner and the much missed Victoria Wood and Caroline Aherne.

And that’s just a fraction of the list. There’s also Gracie Fields, John Bakewell, Margaret Beckett, Sunny Lowry … it’s a tribute to Manchester that the names go on and on.

Today Nostalgia focuses on women of achievement through their photos in the M.E.N. archive. We start with Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragette movement that sprang to life in the city of Manchester.

Our first image shows her, centre, in a rare photograph from January 1913. She was aged 55 at the time and suffragette activity was at its height.

With her older sister Christabel, Emmeline organized rallies and marches in Manchester, many at Alexandra Park.

Emmeline Pankhurst, centre, with two suffragettes, January 1913.

Protests were not always peaceful. In 1913, the same year Emily Davison died after falling under the King’s horse at the Derby, the cactus house at Alexandra Park was damaged by a bomb.

Fortunately no-one was hurt. Local residents thought the 4.20am blast was a gas explosion.

After a lifetime of campaigning, Emmeline Pankhurst died on June 14th 1928 – weeks before the Conservative government extended the vote to all women aged over 21 in the Representation of the People Act.

Our second photo shows the National Union of Suffrage Societies in Manchester on their march from Carlisle to London in July 1913.

One of the organisers was Manchester’s first female councillor Margaret Ashton. She was elected to represent Manchester Withington in 1908.

In 1914 she founded the Manchester Babies Hospital with Dr Catherine Chisholm and started a Manchester branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Suffragettes march through Manchester on their way to London, July 1913.July 1913.

Labour Cabinet Minister Ellen Wilkinson, born in Coral Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock, in 1891, was renowned for being close to the people during her distinguished political career.

She needed every ounce of compassion and dignity when she comforted the serviceman in our poignant wartime image from January 1943.

His name was Corporal Biddle and his five-year-old twins had not been discovered in the debris of a school bombed in a daylight raid.

He had travelled all night from the north to help in the rescue.

Cabinet minister Ellen Wilkinson consoles a wartime soldier, January 1943.

Wigan-born opera singer Margery Booth became a spy in World War II and actually sang before Hitler moments after a British officer had hidden secret documents in her dress.

The German leader later sent her red roses wrapped in a Swastika flag.

Booth had married Dr Egon Strohm from a brewing family in the Black Forest before the war and was trusted by the Nazi elite.

She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944, but gave nothing away – even under torture. Her knowledge of the Nazi party led to the convictions of both Lord Haw Haw and John Amery for treason.

Unfortunately her opera work dried up after the war as producers wrongly thought she had been a Nazi. She emigrated to New York where she died in 1952.

Our photo of Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney shows her with her mother at the first night of her play A Taste of Honey at the Wyndham Theatre in London’s West End. The date is February 10th 1959.

Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney and her mother, February 1959.

Dame Margaret Beckett MP, from Ashton-under-Lyne, holds the distinction of being the first woman to become Foreign Secretary in 2006. She is pictured with fellow Labour front-benchers Gordon Brown, David Blunkett and Tony Blair in January 1990.

Margaret Beckett with Gordon Brown, David Blunkett and Tony Blair, January 1990.

Finally in our picture round-up are Prestwich-born comedian and actress Victoria Wood, journalist and broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell from Stockport and writer and actress Caroline Aherne, who was brought up in Wythenshawe.

Prestwich-born comedienne, writer and actress Victoria Wood, December 2004.

Stockport-born journalist and broadcaster Joan Bakewell, January 1998.

Comedian and actress Caroline Aherne, who grew up in Wythenshawe, June 2014.

Many more memorable images of the past can be found in Clive Hardy’s brilliant book Around Manchester in the 1970s.