International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements and potential of all women, with one eye also firmly on making the world a better and fairer place for all. Both past and present, there are so many women from Birmingham who have made their mark in society. So we’re taking this moment to celebrate the work of Brummie women whose achievements still resonate loudly today. Inventors, adventurers, record-breakers – these nine women made history and positive changes to the world we now live in.
1. Mary Lee Berners-Lee
Mary Lee from Hall Green made history as the first female programmer. She completed a compressed, two-year degree in mathematics at the University of Birmingham, before going on to develop computer programs. Some of her well-known programs included a simulation for bus routes to prevent buses on the same route showing up at the same stop and time.
While working at the computer programming group Ferranti, she discovered women in the department were being paid less than men. She managed, however, to convince the personnel department to grant equal pay and rights to women. Plus, it seems programming runs in the family as her son, Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the founder of the World Wide Web.
2. Lisa Clayton
Lisa Clayton was the first woman to sail single-handedly and non-stop around the world. In September 1994, Lisa set sail to achieve two world records on her yacht known as Spirit of Birmingham which saw her sail around the world in 285 days. The Birmingham-born world record-holder managed to survive the 50,000km journey despite capsizing twice.
3. Marie Bethell Beauclerc
Marie Bethell Beauclerc is considered to be one of the first female reporters in England. She began teaching herself shorthand (verbatim note-taking using symbols) from the age of 12 and went on to apply it later on during her journalistic career, as well as become a teacher of shorthand too (she also became the first female teacher in an English boys’ public school).
With her impressive and speedy note-taking skills, Marie was offered a job at the Birmingham Morning News as a shorthand reporter. Her work at the newspaper ensured that public meetings, conferences and lectures at the time were reported on accurately. In 1887, Marie even established a Shorthand Writers Association.
4. Jessie Eden
You might recognise that name from the infamous television programme set in Brum, Peaky Blinders, but Jessie Eden was an influential woman in real life too. She was a trade union leader and communist activist. Her most famous achievement has to be the Birmingham rent strike in 1939, however, where she lead 500,000 households in the area to protest against poor living conditions.
Earlier, she also convinced women at Birmingham’s Joseph Lucas motor factory to join the 1926 UK General Strike. While in 1931, she also lead a women’s strike in Birmingham which involved a mass walk-out of 10,000 factory worker women. The success of this event also lead many women in the Midlands to join trade unions afterwards.
5. Dame Elizabeth Cadbury
The Cadbury family not only blessed us with chocolate but they were also known for their activism. Dame Elizabeth Cadbury was known for public service contribution such as supporting the welfare and education of women and children in Bournville – the Birmingham village created by her husband, George Cadbury, next to his chocolate factory. Elizabeth also opened the Woodland Hospital which later became the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, as well as being part of the building of The Beeches, which provided holidays for children living in poverty.
6. Shabana Mahmood
In the 2010 General Election, Shabana Mahmood was the first Muslim female elected as an MP in Birmingham. The Labour Party politician won a seat in Parliament to represent Birmingham Ladywood. During her campaigning in 2010, Mahmood stressed that Muslim women were interested in politics and her candidacy showed that a role in the Commons was open to all ethnic minorities. According to The Guardian, she said: “The image of the voiceless Muslim woman who cannot leave the house is just not true: they are interested in politics. Parliament is for the people – all of the people – and the ethnic minority population should claim it.”
7. Ellie Simmonds
British Paralympian swimmer Ellie Simmonds has got quite the accolades. She has achieved 10 world records and has nabbed an amazing number of medals, including numerous gold World Championship titles and five Paralympic gold medals, during her sporting career. She was also one of the youngest athletes to ever represent Great Britain, when she competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics at the age of 13. After her performance in the Beijing Paralympic Games she won the BBC’s Young Sport Personality of the Year award. The swimmer from Walsall is also a big advocate in encouraging young people to get involved in sport.
8. PC Andrea Reynolds
After experiencing prejudice towards her like many other black officers and staff during the 90s, PC Andrea Reynolds of the West Midlands Police helped to develop policing for black colleagues across the country. She spoke to black officers from other forces and heard how some felt they’d been subject to isolation, had been overlooked for improvement courses, were unsuccessful applying for secondments, and were generally afforded less autonomy and opportunity than other colleagues.
Andrea and other black police officers started meeting regularly and as result set up the Black Police Association (BPA) of which she is a founding member of. PC Andrea Reynolds also achieved a number of awards during her time at the West Midlands Police, including the International Association of Women: Police Officer of the Year.
9. Laura Howell
Laura Howell is a comic strip artist and pioneer in the world of comics. She was the first female artist to write and draw a regular strip in comic magazine, Beano, as well as the first woman to draw for magazine, Viz. The Birmingham artist has been working for the world’s longest-running comic since 2007 and continues to have her illustrations, including ones of Minnie the Minx, featured. Her work has featured in many different strips over the years, including Beano Manga, an Angry Birds comic and Cartoon Network comics and graphic novels.