Inspirational women from the North-West

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Here we look at five Inspirational women who have a connection with the North West. Some are well known while others are less so. Perhaps lesser known are two women of colour, one of whom was a Black Woman in the RAF during WW II and the other a secret agent of Indian descent.

Edith Rigby

Edith Rigby estate

Perhaps Preston’s most famous activist for women rights, Edith Rigby, Founded a school for girls in Preston. In fact, this was a night school aimed at continuing girls education beyond 11 years of age. Edith was born in Preston and lived at Winckley square with her Doctor husband.

As mentioned in previous articles servants at the time had very little freedom. Consequently, Edith was critical of neighbours treatment of servants and gave her employees the freedom to not wear a uniform and to eat in the dining room.

University of Liverpool

In 1907 she formed the Preston branch of the Suffragettes and took part in several marches and arson attacks. She was sentenced to prison seven times, where she took part in hunger strikes. As a result, she was force-fed, this was a brutal practice where a tube was forced up the nose and into the stomach. Next, liquid food was poured in, while guards held the victim down.

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Eventually, the struggle for equality was won. Women gained the vote in 1918 although it was not until 1928 that they had equal voting rights to men. At this time 15 million women could vote.

Edith died in 1950, a renowned local figure.

Barbara Castle

National archives of Malawi 1965

Another influential woman was Barbara Castle, she was born in Yorkshire and became a key figure in the Wilson Government, after 1964. Eventually, she became minister for transport at a time when many rail lines were being closed. However, she brought in key legislation such as speed limits and the wearing of seat belts.

Barbara became the MP for Blackburn in 1945, this was a time of rationing and the bad winter of 1947 brought the country to its knees. Importantly,1948 saw the beginnings of the National Health service.

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Barbara was originally a Eurosceptic, opposing membership of the EEC, in 1975.This caused a bitter feud with James Callaghan who later became leader of the labour party and Prime minister. She was sacked from the cabinet. Consequently, she retired from politics in 1979. However, she then changed her stance on Europe and became an MEP from 1979 – 89, representing Greater Manchester.

Barbara died in 2002 at the age of 91, after entering the house of Lords in 1990.

Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth (embroiderer and lace maker)

Rachael Kay-Shuttleworth estate

Rachael Kay Shuttleworth came from a long line of nobility. She lived at the Historic Elizabethan manor house of Gawthorpe Hall, near Padiham. Born in 1886, both her brothers were killed in WW I

Geoffrey Whittaker

The last of the line, she helped to start the Girl Guides movement, in the 1920’s and became renowned for her embroidery.

Importantly, her extensive textile collection is now on display at this National Trust owned property.

Rachael thought that Girls should have a similar organization to the Boy Scouts. Consequently, the Guide’s motto is “Guides can do anything”. She allowed camps to be set up in the Grounds which are open all year round. Finally, She lived a long life dying in 1967.

Inspirational women of colour, Lilian Bader (1918-2015) Leading aircraft woman

Lilian Bader Estate

Lillian Bader was born in Liverpool and became one of the first black women to join the British armed forces. She started as a canteen assistant and later became an instrument repairer.

Lilian achieved the rank of Corporal and leading aircraftwoman. This was the middle rank of women’s RAF ranks, below Senior Aircraftwoman. This rank did everything from working on aircraft to cooking and basic administration.

Women of WW II

Three generations of Lillian’s family served in the armed forces. Consequently, after the war, she became a teacher.

Noor Inayat Khan, secret agent

Royal Mail

Noor was raised in London and Paris, importantly, knowing Paris was a key reason for her recruitment into S.O.E. This was the Special Operations Executive formed in 1940 to train and manage agents in occupied Europe. They also carried out acts of sabotage.

In 1943 Noor was dropped behind enemy lines as a radio operator. At the time radio sets were cumbersome and the Germans had listening stations aimed at tracing agents. She assisted the Parisian resistance.

Dorinda Balchin

Radio operators were usually captured within six weeks. Noor evaded the Germans for three months. Passing intelligence messages between London and Paris. Indeed, she refused to leave even when her circuit collapsed.

In 1943, she displayed incredible bravery, after having been captured. Moreover, she resisted torture and never revealed any information or even her name.

After making two attempts to escape she was shot, at the Dachau concentration camp, in 1944.

Noor became the first Muslim woman to be awarded the George cross.

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