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‘Forgotten heroines’ to have their stories told at University event – University of Reading

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‘Forgotten heroines’ to have their stories told at University event

Release Date 07 February 2018

Women who fought for equal voting rights are among the 'forgotten heroines' celebrated at the event

The woman who brought great Russian literature to an English audience for the first time and another who fought against institutionalised racism in UK workplaces are among several unrecognised heroines to be celebrated at a University of Reading event.

A student-led evening public lecture, titled ‘Inspired by Vote100: Celebrating Forgotten Women’, will feature students and staff presenting on a chosen inspirational, yet relatively unknown, woman from history.

The event marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act granted some women the right to vote, and also features some of the fearless campaigners who fought for equal voting rights. It will be held in the Van Emden lecture theatre on Whiteknights campus from 6pm-9pm on Thursday 8 February.

"I couldn’t understand how a woman of this significance had been erased from our cultural history" - Imi Snell, University of Reading student

Imi Snell, a second-year English Literature student at the University of Reading, decided to organise the event after studying the 16th century poetry of Isabella Whitney. Supported by academics, Special Collections and the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Fund, she aims through the event to highlight women like Whitney who she believes deserve more recognition for their achievements.

She said: “As I researched Isabella Whitney’s story, I was amazed to find that she was the first credited published female poet and yet I had never heard her name before. I couldn’t understand how a woman of this significance had been erased from our cultural history.

“When women insisted on the right to vote in in 1918, they were also insisting on their right to have their voices heard. Similarly, what we are trying to do with this event is to listen to the magnificent, overlooked heroines of the past. We want people to learn about these extraordinary writers and activists because each demonstrates what women can do, even in the face of daunting barriers and adversity.

“For me, it has been an absolute privilege to even explore the stories of these amazing, forgotten women. The reawakening of the University’s Feminist Society this year suggests that women’s voices are no longer so easily silenced and I hope that the sentiment informing this event will echo into the future.”

Women being discussed at the event

  • Eleanor Rathbone: Took over the NUWSS after Millicent Fawcett retired, campaigned for family allowances, MP for 'the Combined Universities', including the University of Reading
  • Isabella Whitney: Thought to be the first credited published female poet in Britain
  • Ellen Wilkinson: Labour politician and Minister of Education from 1945-47, led unemployed people on the Jarrow March in 1936 to protest for their right to work
  • Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Helped cure smallpox in Britain by introducing and advocating vaccination
  • Ching Shih: Considered the most successful pirate in history after commanding hundreds of ships in the China Sea in the early 19th century and becoming one of the few pirates to retire
  • Constance Garnett: Translated 71 works of Russian literature into English
  • Libby Lane: Became first Church of England female bishop in 2015
  • Cloelia: Swam the river Tiber in Ancient Rome to rescue hostages at around the age of 13, had a statue built in her honour by Romans
  • Mary Anning: Paleontologist who made important finds from Jurassic period along Dorset coastline
  • Jayaben Desai: Stood up for the lowest paid and fought against institutionalised racism against the Asian and female workforce in Britain
  • Stella Browne: Women's rights activist who championed birth control and the rights of women over their own bodies
  • Emma Gifford: Noted poet and women’s rights activist
  • Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist in America, who escaped slavery and then returned to save thousands


The event is free to attend. For more information, and to register your interest, visit the event page on Facebook here:


Image source:  Le Petit Journal, Supplément du dimanche 06 September 1908, via / BnF

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