History's Forgotten Women

History's Forgotten Women


Celia Rees on women war artists of WW2

I would like to recognise the women war artists of the Second World War and their subjects. With less reward than their male counterparts, and far less subsequent recognition, women artists like Dame Laura Knight, Stella Schmolle, Ethel Léontine Gabain, Eleanor Erlund Hudson and Evelyn Dunbar painted the women of Britain as they saw them: serving in the armed forces, driving ambulances, nursing in hospitals, working on the land and in factories, demonstrating jam making in village halls, engaged in the multifarious activities which added to the war effort and made victory possible. After the war, Mary Kessell and Doris Zinkeisen travelled to Europe to record the devastation of Germany, the plight of refugees, women and children displaced by war. Both artists visited Belsen, recording the horrors that they saw there in stark charcoal and a muted palette, rendering the unspeakable with delicacy and compassion.

Sue Purkiss on astronomer, Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel was the first woman to be awarded a gold medal by the Royal Astronomical Society. After this, in 1828, no other woman received one till 1996. She began her career as an astronomer by assisting her brother, William, who from their observations developed a radical new perception of the universe. But later, Caroline became an astronomer in her own right, discovering several comets and many other phenomena, and was much admired in the intellectual circles of the time. She has an asteroid and a crater on the moon named after her – and she certainly deserves to be remembered!

Mary Hoffman on soldier, Maria la Bailadora

Maria la Bailadora ("the dancer") was an unlikely hero of the sea battle of Lepanto in 1571. She went disguised as a soldier with a gun, because her Spanish lover was also fighting in the battle between the Holy Alliance of Christians against the Ottomans. Maria didn't want him to go into battle without her. She was on the flagship, the "Real," of young Don John of Austria and was one of the first to swarm aboard the Ottoman flagship, the "Sultana." She killed at least one opponent with a swordthrust. When the battle had been won and the fleet was back in Venice, Maria was paid a salary as a full member of the fighting force.


Leslie Wilson on anti-slavery campaigner, Elizabeth Heyrick

Elizabeth Heyrick was a Quaker, a campaigner against slavery and cruelty to animals - and was much more radical than many male anti-slavery campaigners liked; though a member of a pacifist religious group, she sympathised with uprisings of black slaves. She organised boycotts of slave-produced sugar in various towns, set up women's anti-slavery groups and called on voters to only support candidates who supported freeing slaves immediately. She once stopped a bull-baiting by buying the bull and then hiding him from the crowd. She enthused other women to campaign with her and even the men had to admit their contribution.


Dianne Hofmeyer on suffragette, Emily Hobhouse

On an arid piece of land stands a Women’s Monument with a pieta of a woman staring out across the ‘veldt’ while a dead child lies slumped in her lap. It marks the thousands of Afrikaans Boer ‘farmer’ women (4000) and children (22 000) who died from starvation, typhoid and measles in concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War as a result of Kitchener’s scorched earth policy. The British suffragette, Emily Hobhouse, worked tirelessly in the camps and in her speech when she unveiled the Monument, she effectively destroyed the argument that citizenship can be bestowed only on men because only men are involved in fighting for the fatherland.


Daughters of Time, edited by Mary Hoffman and written by The History Girls, will be published by Templar Publishing on 6th March 2014.