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Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention
Cathy Newman

‘A litany of fresh heroes to make the embattled heart sing’ Caitlin Moran‘Newman is a brilliant writer’ ObserverA fresh, opinionated history of all the brilliant women you should have learned about in school but didn’t.For hundreds of years we have heard about the great men of history, but what about herstory?In this freewheeling history of modern Britain, Cathy Newman writes about the pioneering women who defied the odds to make careers for themselves and alter the course of modern history; women who achieved what they achieved while dismantling hostile, entrenched views about their place in society. Their role in transforming Britain is fundamental, far greater than has generally been acknowledged, and not just in the arts or education but in fields like medicine, politics, law, engineering and the military.While a few of the women in this book are now household names, many have faded into oblivion, their personal and collective achievements mere footnotes in history. We know of Emmeline Pankhurst, Vera Brittain, Marie Stopes and Beatrice Webb. But who remembers engineer and motorbike racer Beatrice Shilling, whose ingenious device for the Spitfires’ Rolls-Royce Merlin fixed an often-fatal flaw, allowing the RAF’s planes to beat the German in the Battle of Britain? Or Dorothy Lawrence, the journalist who achieved her ambition to become a WW1 correspondent by pretending to be a man? And developmental biologist Anne McLaren, whose work in genetics paved the way for in vitro fertilisation?Blending meticulous research with information gleaned from memoirs, diaries, letters, novels and other secondary sources, Bloody Brilliant Women uses the stories of some extraordinary lives to tell the tale of 20th and 21st century Britain. It is a history for women and men. A history for our times.


Copyright (#u176da319-42f5-5f91-a753-5b2063902d4e)

William Collins

An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers

1 London Bridge Street

London SE1 9GF

WilliamCollinsBooks.com (http://www.WilliamCollinsBooks.com)

This eBook first published in Great Britain by William Collins in 2018

Copyright © Cathy Newman 2018

Cover design by Anna Morrison

Cathy Newman asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

Source ISBN: 9780008241711

Ebook Edition © October 2018 ISBN: 9780008241698

Version: 2018-11-21

Dedication (#u176da319-42f5-5f91-a753-5b2063902d4e)

To John and our two bloody brilliant little women


Cover (#u7fd39267-655e-590c-a7b0-ff2cf470bd82)

Title Page (#u93c0869f-4fe7-5c1b-8c80-13662b89c6da)

Copyright (#ufdaef903-2220-59db-af41-1fbbb3ca2785)

Dedication (#u438e165a-3bc4-5c10-aead-dbeb77b91f74)

1 Introduction: Education, Education, Education (#u8e49a2e4-80b0-5070-a5ef-f0f6614d529e)

2 Old Battles, New Women: 1880–1914 (#ub723ced1-e015-5dc9-825b-0768fd89cb72)

3 Of Soldiers and Suffrage: 1914–18 (#u8731cd9c-8d5c-52af-85b7-dec7a88eceb0)

4 Between the Wars: 1918–39 (#litres_trial_promo)

5 Daughters of Britain: 1939–45 (#litres_trial_promo)

6 Remake, Remodel: 1945–61 (#litres_trial_promo)

7 It’s a Man’s World: 1961–81 (#litres_trial_promo)

8 What You Really, Really Want: 1981–2017 (#litres_trial_promo)

Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo)

Selected Bibliography (#litres_trial_promo)

Notes (#litres_trial_promo)

Picture Section (#litres_trial_promo)

Index (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)


Introduction (#u176da319-42f5-5f91-a753-5b2063902d4e)

Education, Education, Education

This is definitely one to file under You Wouldn’t Get Away with It Nowadays, but when I was at school studying for my History A Level, our teacher used to take select groups of pupils to visit the bomb shelter from the Second World War at the bottom of his garden. I think he’d just watched Dead Poets Society, which had recently come out, and decided to portray himself as an inspirational eccentric.

I was never invited; but I like to imagine the group sitting on the damp earth beneath the corrugated tin roof as Mr Dead Poet read to them in faltering torchlight, breaking off every so often to quote Churchill. Perhaps even my favourite Churchillism: ‘My education was interrupted only by my schooling.’

That’s how I feel about school too. The vagaries of the curriculum in the late 1980s meant I studied the Anglo-Saxons about three times. For years I knew all about the Venerable Bede but almost nothing about anything that happened after 1066.

To this day, I remain embarrassed by the holes in my knowledge. Throughout my adult life I’ve bought – though admittedly not read – every history book I can lay my hands on. ‘History of Britain’-type books promising a broad overview are my particular pleasure.

Recently, when I was fifty or so pages into one of these great tomes, I had a bit of a eureka moment. I noticed that, apart from Mrs Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II, who are in a category of their own, not a single woman had so far been mentioned.* (#ulink_34fed6d9-0373-5412-8ebb-c96d8d6919d9) I read on, increasingly incredulous, until finally one appeared: Agatha Christie, in the context of something about her influence on the ‘national imagination’.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. A book like the one I was reading, whose opening chapters dealt with war and its management by male politicians, was always going to be light on women. Still, many accounts of modern British history are patchy when it comes to gender, celebrating the achievements of, say, the suffragettes in a burst of fluorescent righteousness, only to pack women away again in a cupboard marked ‘Lowly, Ancillary Roles; Housewives, etc.’ until the 1960s. At which point they are allowed out to be totems of the sexual revolution, burn their bras and go on strike at Dagenham’s Ford plant.

The truth had to be more nuanced. And the deeper I delved into the history of twentieth-century Britain, the more it appeared that the shape and extent of female influence was far greater than generally acknowledged. I’m not just talking about the arts or education, where talented women have long been celebrated, but in traditionally ‘male’ fields like medicine, politics, law, engineering and the military. Were it not for women, those significant features of modern Britain such as council housing, hospices and the humane laws relating to property ownership, child custody and divorce might not exist in the same form.

The more I read about these women pioneers, the more frustrated I became that so many are so little known outside academic literature. Not only did these women achieve remarkable things, but they usually had to battle hostility and discrimination as they did so. This book is my attempt to bring these women and their accomplishments to a wider audience; to tell their story – and ours.

One of its working titles was The Class of 1918, because that is how I thought of these women while I was writing: 1918 being, if not exactly a feminist Year Zero, then the year when the ball started rolling in the direction of equality. It was the year when the Representation of the People Act allowed women to vote if they were over the age of 30 and met a ‘property qualification’. At the same time, the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act in 1918 gave women over twenty-one the right to stand for election as MPs. Which was momentous, although it did mean that between 1918 and 1928 some women were in the odd position of being able to stand for Parliament but unable to vote: Jennie Lee was twenty-three when she stood as the North Lanark Labour candidate in the 1929 by-election, just before the rules were changed.

The Class of 1918 are those women who either prepared the ground for or immediately benefited from the burst of empowerment which followed getting the vote. For Western women, 1918 is the start of the modern era. Just as historians use the term ‘the long twelfth century’ as shorthand for the period between 1050 and 1250 – a way of rationalising the massive changes that occurred in those two hundred years – so you can argue that, for women, the twentieth century started later than it did for everyone else and hasn’t yet ended. Not until 1928 was the voting franchise in Great Britain and Northern Ireland extended to all women over the age of twenty-one, finally giving them the vote on the same terms as men.

To make sense of the modern era, you need to understand the years which immediately preceded it. So my history includes women who predate even first-wave feminism – the activist Ada Nield Chew, for example, and Octavia Hill, whose National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty arose out of her campaigning for better quality housing for the poor.


That women have the same rights and opportunities as men is practically a given for my two young daughters. They watch Channel 4 News, see me interviewing what must seem like an endless procession of female politicians, bankers, lobbyists, CEOs, etc. The fact that a little over a hundred years ago most British women couldn’t even vote is scarcely credible to them. They have only the vaguest notion of what today’s modern, successful women have inherited from their forebears; of what they need to be thankful for; of how painfully slow the process of being taken seriously has been and, indeed, continues to be.

This is where the idea of ‘women’s history’ comes in. Do we still need such a thing? We certainly did – the first 1885 edition of the prestigious Dictionary of National Biography found room for only 3 per cent of women in its sixty-two volumes – and I would argue we still do.

Of course, the danger of gathering together the experiences of so many different women (black, white and Asian; straight or LGBTQ+) is that the specificity of those experiences to those particular women gets overlooked. They may have trodden similar paths and faced similar pitfalls. But oppression comes in many shapes and sizes.

Even primary-school children now learn that the kind of discrimination Florence Nightingale had to overcome as a wealthy, upper-middle-class, well-connected English woman was very different to that experienced by her fellow nurse Mary Seacole as a mixed-race woman (a ‘mulatto’, in the language of the day) who identified as both Scottish and Jamaican. I have done my best in what follows to bear this in mind.

This is not a textbook. I have tried to write about these remarkable women in an accessible and entertaining way. At its heart, though, are two basic questions: what were the sources of female power in the twentieth century? And what have women used this power to achieve?
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