CAMPAIGN: Time to recognise the achievements of more of our women

Coun Jacquie Speight, Coun Maureen Cummings, Mary Creagh and Rachel Reeves at the unveiling of a blue plaque dedicated to Alice Bacon on International Women's Day.
Coun Jacquie Speight, Coun Maureen Cummings, Mary Creagh and Rachel Reeves at the unveiling of a blue plaque dedicated to Alice Bacon on International Women's Day.

It has been more than 20 years since Wakefield Civic Society awarded its first blue plaque.

And during the past two decades, 50 have been created in honour of people from our past who made a significant contribution to our city, as well as in recognition of important buildings and events.

Express campaign to highlight the achievements of inspirational women from Wakefield's past.

Express campaign to highlight the achievements of inspirational women from Wakefield's past.

But while 23 are dedicated solely to men, 23 to buildings, just four - eight per cent of them - are focused around women.

Sarah Cobham, who is leading the Forgotten Women of Wakefield (FWW) project, is determined to change that - and The Express is backing the campaign.

Working with the civic group and Wakefield Historical Society, Ms Cobham wants to redress the balance and make Wakefield the first place in the UK to have blue plaque equality by 2028.

She said: “We would be the only city in the UK that had parity. That would be amazing, bringing all their stories to people’s attention. I want to put our women on the map.”

Wakefield WW1 nurse Nellie Spindler.

Wakefield WW1 nurse Nellie Spindler.

Currently city centre blue plaques from the Civic Society honour war nurse Nellie Spindler, the birthplace of artist Barbara Hepworth, schoolmistress Richmal Magnall and children’s author Constance Heward.

A blue plaque, funded by Ms Cobham’s company Dream Time Creative and endorsed by the Civic Society, was also unveiled for Yorkshire’s first female MP Alice Bacon as part of the district’s International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations. And there are plans to display this in her hometown of Normanton.

The FWW project, which aims to share the stories of some of the city’s most inspirational females, spent weeks researching Baroness Bacon’s life and ran a series of spoken word performances telling her tale at the IWD event.

Now the group has received funding from Awards for All and the Women and Suffrage Fund to research the lives of more women.

The blue plaque dedicated to Nellie Spindler on the site of her former home on Stanley Road in Wakefield.

The blue plaque dedicated to Nellie Spindler on the site of her former home on Stanley Road in Wakefield.

But whilst the cash will fund the research, and the telling of the women’s stories through drama performance and written pamphlets, it will not cover the cost of securing blue plaques in their honour.

And Ms Cobham is appealing for the support of local businesses, funds and organisations to help make the vision a reality. She said: “We are appealing to a city that should be embarrassed that there are only four blue plaques for women as opposed to 46 for men or buildings.

“We are appealing for organisations to work with us to be part of redressing the balance within our city walls. Let’s flood the city with blue plaques for women.”

Kevin Trickett, president of the Civic Society, said: “It’s clear when you look at the number of blue plaques we have that there is an imbalance in those that recognise women and those that recognise men.

Alice Bacon.

Alice Bacon.

“That’s not necessarily due to the Civic Society, it’s due to the way that history is written and recorded. It’s often told by men and for men and men had more power than women did until recent times.”

He said they were looking at the story of women in 
Wakefield and their contribution to everyday life and urged people to come forward and nominate influential females from the past for a blue plaque honour. To be awarded a plaque, people usually have been dead for 20 years and must have a significant connection to the city.

Mr Trickett said: “We think that there must be women 
out there that have done 
something for society locally, nationally or internationally that have a strong Wakefield link.”

To help fund the scheme, email sarahcobham@hotmail.com

WOMEN WHO THE GROUP ARE WANTING TO GET BLUE PLAQUES for OVER THE NEXT TWO YEARS

Suffragist Florence Beaumont

Forgotten Women of Wakefield project - Sarah Cobham

Forgotten Women of Wakefield project - Sarah Cobham

Artist Louisa Fennell

Former Wakefield Girls High School headteacher Gertrude McCroben

The Lett Sisters - Contralto Phyliss, violinist Hilda - violinist, and the first female principal at Ripon College Eva

The Gissing Sisters Margaret and Ellen, who opened a Dame School

Edith Mackie who has superintendent of the St John’s Industrial School for girls

Other women they plan to research in the near future

Margeurile de Flemyhg Bolieau, who was influential in setting up health care for women and babies in Wakefield and was the first female health visitor appointed by Wakefield Sanitary Committee between 1902 and 1909

Fanny Hesling, who set up an industrial school

Gwendoline Beaumont, who stood for parliament in 1935

Lady Jean Denton, a politician and feminist

The FWW project is interested in researching the stories of women who would meet the blue plaque criteria as well as those who are still alive or who have passed away more recently.

Any residents who have female family members with remarkable achievements, who they believe have been forgotten, are asked to contact Ms Cobham.

Dame Barbara Hepworth.

Dame Barbara Hepworth.