I kind of hated Women’s Day when I was growing up, because it seemed like just one more day when women would receive stereotypically feminine gifts and nothing would change. Nowadays though, I know that International Women’s Day is much more than that, and the intentions behind it are to educate and celebrate the achievements of the women’s rights movement. If done properly, it can be a pretty amazing day!
And it turns out Manchester has a rich feminist history. It was probably more of a surprise to me, an international student, than it was to those who were brought up in the UK but after hearing about Emmeline Pankhurst, I spent some time catching up – and I’m glad that I did. Local history is important, I think, and helps with understanding the place you live in, and the people you live with. In other words, the working title for this blog entry was “Women who make me happy about living in Manchester”.
There were a lot of amazing women who lived and worked here. So, these are the ones I felt were particularly notable to celebrate this IWD (though the list is endless!):
1. Lydia Becker (1827-1890)
Lydia Becker was part of the early suffrage movement, and used a clerk error to help a woman cast the first vote in Britain’s elections. She was also an amateur scientist, focusing on botany and astronomy, and she often corresponded with Charles Darwin and regularly contributed to the research into the evolution theory with samples from around Manchester. She, unlike many feminists in her time, argued for the lack of intellectual differences between genders (many feminists back then believed that there were intrinsic differences between genders, but that women’s work was just as important and deserving of respect). She also campaigned for gender-neutral education and as a person who wants to become a researcher, I am very grateful!
2. Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)
Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the most important figures of the suffragette movement – obviously. I even saw her in a book about my home country’s fight for voting rights! She was born in Moss Side, and she lived and worked in both Manchester and London. She was fundamental in organising the suffragette movement, having founded the Women’s Franchise League and the Women’s Social and Political Union, which she later helped transform into the Women’s Party. Her life ended with a few controversies as a result of her response to WWI and joining the Conservative Party, but that doesn’t diminish her achievements, in my opinion, and only shows that real life people can be very complex.
3. Maisie Mosco (1924-2011)
An incredibly prominent writer, Maisie Mosco was born in Oldham and lived in Manchester. She wanted to study medicine, but her mother’s illness and WWII interrupted her plans – instead, she ended up teaching illiterate soldiers how to write. Writing stayed with her, because over the course of her life, she published 16 novels, and wrote multiple stage and radio plays. She was also the editor of the Jewish Gazette, making her essentially a chronicler of the Manchester Jewish community. My mum was a journalist, and instilled in me the respect for the profession and the values of good journalism – there was no way I could just gloss over the achievements of Maisie Mosco.
4. Lusie Da-Cocodia (1934-2008)
Luise Da-Cocodia is a British-Jamaican community leader and an anti-racism campaigner. She moved to Britain to train as a nurse, and was more than successful in her pursuit – in 1966, she became the first Black senior nursing officer in Manchester. She worked tirelessly in several organisations and committees, including the Commission for Race Equality, to tackle race equality issues in both the NHS and the wider community. She became Manchester’s Deputy Lord Lieutenant (a term I had to look up – it’s basically a recognition of her service to the community, the position has nothing to do with the military anymore. British administration is confusing…), and received an MBE. Her work is continued by many organisations in Manchester today.
5. Julia Grant (1954-2019)
As a transgender activist, Julia Grant took part in one of the first documentaries about transgender issues; the BBC’s A Change of Sex, 1979. The 5 hour long documentary followed her transition (the process of changing one’s gender presentation to fit with one’s internal sense of gender identity) over the course of several years. The doctor she worked with was incredibly unhelpful and bigoted, and she had to personally organise many of the medical aspects of her transition. She showed incredible resilience and honesty, and the documentary was one-of-a-kind. Later, she stayed an active member of the local queer community and in the Gay Village. She passed away in 2019, and I am really sad that I am only just learning about her incredible work now.
This was a part of the International Women’s Day series, focusing on the accomplishments of women in Manchester. This entry focuses on Manchester’s history – there are two other parts, focusing on the UoM alumni, and UoM academics so be sure to check them out!