The life and adventures of Ann (also spelled ‘Anne’) Jane Thornton, a woman who defied the prescribed gender roles of the nineteenth century, are commemorated in the popular broadside ballad The Female Sailor.
Ann Jane Thornton resisted society’s gender restrictions by dressing in male clothing and going to sea as a sailor. She was born in 1817 in Gloucestershire and was the daughter of a shopkeeper. When Ann was just 6 years old her mother died, and her father moved the family to Donegal, Ireland.
TheFemale Sailor ballad captures Ann’s meeting and falling in love with an American Captain named Alexander Burke when she was just 15 years old. The two got engaged, but shortly afterwards, the Captain returned to New York to visit his father. Not wanting to be left behind, Ann needed a way to finance her travels to follow her beloved, and so she took the unconventional decision to become a female sailor, leaving her life in Ireland behind.
In the nineteenth century, sailing was a male-dominated activity and women were banned from seafaring professions as many believed that having women onboard was bad luck. Women were also thought to be at risk of sexual harassment and violence from the male crew if permitted on board. As a result, the only way for Ann to pursue her goal of following her fiancé was to disguise herself as a man.
Ann proceeded to obtain male clothing and journeyed to England, where she then boarded a ship to New York as a cabin boy. Once in New York, Ann sought out her beloved fiancé but received the devastating news that he had died.
Whilst abroad, Ann needed an income to support herself, and so she took a job as a cook and steward onboard the Adelaide, earning nine dollars a month. TheFemale Sailor ballad stresses how Ann took part in every task the same as her male colleagues, doing her duty ‘like a man’, and convincingly taking on her new identity. As well as working on the Adelaide, Ann also worked aboard the Rover and the Belfast, before eventually heading back to London as a ship’s cook onboard the Sarah.
Ann Jane Thornton was far from the only woman to don male clothing and become a sailor. Another broadside ballad within Special Collections and Archives, called the Female Rambling Sailor, tells the story of Rebekah Young, who went by the name Billy Bridle. Whilst at sea, she died by falling from the top of the mast. This ballad perhaps served as a warning to any other women considering disguising their sex to become a sailor.
Ann lived in her new identity as a man for the whole three years she was away from home, going by the name Jim Thornton from Donegal. Conflicting accounts exist of whether it was upon her return to London, or whilst docked in Lisbon, Portugal, that Ann’s sex was revealed, but either way her identity was outed and her life as a sailor came to an end. The revelation happened as a result of a male colleague on board the Sarah catching sight of Ann’s breasts while she was washing. He threatened to disclose her identity to the ship’s Captain unless she had sex with him. Refusing to submit to the sexual harassment, Ann’s identity was revealed to the Captain. Describing the event later, the Captain claimed he was the last to know and could barely believe it.
It is difficult to determine how much of these accounts are true, with many contrasting versions of the ballad existing. However, the very fact of so many iterations surviving demonstrates the extent to which Ann’s story captured the imagination of the British public. Her story was widely reported in newspapers as well as being popularised in The Female Sailor ballad. After reading the newspaper reports, the Lord Mayor of London allegedly sent a city police inspector to investigate her story. The mayor scolded Ann for leaving her father, but also praised her courage, offering to support her financially until she could return home to Ireland.
Ann’s story was told many times by other people. However, the autobiographical chapbook – Interesting Life and Wonderful Adventures of that Extraordinary Woman, Anne Jane Thornton, the Female Sailor, disclosing important secrets, unknown to the public, written by herself – offers a rare insight into the personal experiences of Ann’s life as a female sailor. The publication of this book ultimately provided Ann with the opportunity to reclaim her adventures and recall them in her own voice.
This Treasure of the Month feature was researched and written by Special for Everyone placement student Daisy Alys-Vaughan of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. our Special for Everyone project.
As part of the Special for Everyone project to address equality, diversity and inclusion in Special Collections & Archives, Finding their Voicesis an exhibition celebrating the many diverse voices present within our collections.
Many of the voices within Special Collection & Archives have long been visible and heard, yet those from marginalised groups in society have often been obscured. Our Special for Everyone project is actively working to diversify the voices included in our collections and to illuminate the hidden or lesser-heard voices they contain. We are doing this by taking a fresh look at the sources and, where necessary, reading between the lines to uncover those which are harder to find.
Finding their Voices is a celebration of some of the people we have encountered through this work. It features people who found and made their own voices heard despite their often-marginalised position, and those whose voices have been more difficult to hear. We are amplifying them here to enable a new generation of researchers to discover them.
The exhibition contains items from across Special Collections & Archives. Below are some of the exhibition highlights:
Working-Class Mining Communities
The lives of people from working-class communities in the past can often be difficult to discern within the official record. However, closer examination and interrogation of sources can help to uncover their history and voices.
Thomas Hair (c.1810-1875) was a local artist whose illustrations depict the North East’s coal mining industry in the 19th century. His work captures the everyday workings of the industry, with many of the illustrations focussing on collieries, machinery, and river trade. Hair’s work provides visual evidence of the coal mining landscape and reveals the industry’s impact on the built environment. These images can tell us much about the lived experience of miners in this period, giving a ‘voice’ to their lives and the hard-working conditions they faced.
David Bateman and Shtum: the stutter poems
Poet David Bateman had a severe stutter as a child and teenager. He had successful speech therapy in 1980, aged 23. Since then, he still has a slight stutter in ordinary life but performs his poetry widely and has won many poetry slams and competitions. He writes poems, stories, scripts and articles. His book Shtum is a frank and personal account of what it is to have a stutter, the process of seeking the right help, and of finding your voice.
The poems in Shtum were mostly written between 2009 and 2015, but some have their origins in work from as early as 1980. David Bateman had never really considered writing about his stutter until he was prompted to think about how it was woven into his work when asked to participate in a radio documentary about stuttering in 2009. The project led him to return to some previously unpublished work made up of incomplete poems, unrealised ideas and prose diary entries. He felt ready to rework these early pieces and develop many new poems. The result is Shtum: the stutter poems.
The Pride Movement
The UK’s first Pride march took place in London on 1st July 1972 with around 2,000 participants. Over 50 years later, London Pride now sees over 1.5 million people marching together to celebrate LGBTQ+ rights. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) was established in Lancashire in 1964. Special Collections & Archives holds the archive for CHE’s Tyneside branch, including documents which illuminate the story of the Pride movement since that first march over five decades ago.
Within the Tyneside CHE Archive, it is possible to look back at Pride marches from across the past five decades. The first Pride march in 1972 took place 5 years after the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed, which decriminalised sex between gay men over the age of 21 in England and Wales. However, at the time of the first Pride march, the LGBTQ+ community still faced much discrimination. For example, gay marriage was not legal, and gay and bisexual people were banned from joining the armed forces. As well as campaigning, CHE also provided a social and support network for gay men and lesbians, providing a space for members of the LGBTQ+ community to make their voices heard.
The everyday lives and voices of women are often not well-documented. Through personal belongings such as books and correspondence, however, it is possible to gain glimpses into the ordinary day-to-day lives of women. We can see the importance of friendship amongst women, and the bonds and relationships they made through their social networks. In historical periods women found themselves in charge of running the household whilst their husbands were away at work. The exhibition highlights items which are testimony to the importance of companionship and mutual support between women and reflect how we can uncover their voices through what they left behind.
Jane Loraine’s recipe book from the 17th century contains a recipe ‘good for conception’, one ‘to prevent miscaring [miscarrying]’ and one ‘to make teeth white’. These recipes highlight the shared experiences of women and their attempts to help one another, not only with culinary recipes but also with fertility and more general health concerns. Different handwriting styles and recipes are attributed to different women. This indicates that the manuscript had multiple female contributors. Recipes were also often passed between class boundaries, highlighting the communal and collaborative nature of domestic knowledge in the early modern period.
The classic image of women from the past is one of confinement, lack of agency, and a life of drudgery, domestic boredom or excess. In reality, whilst this might have been true for some, there have always been women who defied the expectations of their gender and exploited their talents to support themselves financially. Many gained a degree of respect in their chosen field and enjoyed popular success. Finding their Voices showcase items written and illustrated by women with talents and expertise in areas as diverse as science, art, storytelling, philosophy and pedagogy. Through their writings and illustrations their voices have a lasting impact.
Elizabeth Blackwell (1707-1758) is one of the women highlighted within the Finding their Voices exhibition. She was the first woman known to have produced a book of botanical work in Britain. Despite having a wealthy background, she was forced to use her skill of botanical drawing to raise money to support herself and release her husband from debtor’s prison. Even more unusually, Elizabeth Blackwell undertook all stages of the illustrative process herself rather than employing specialist engravers and painters. She completed two volumes consisting of about 500 illustrations with accompanying commentary in under two years. The book was intended as a reference work for doctors who needed a thorough knowledge of medicinal plants.
Kamau Brathwaite and the Caribbean Voice
Barbadian poet, literary critic and historian Kamau Brathwaite (1930–2020) is a significant figure in the Caribbean literary canon, and one of its major voices. His work is noted for its rich and complex examination of the African and indigenous roots of Caribbean culture. He sought to create a distinctively Caribbean form of poetry which would celebrate Caribbean voices and language.
Kamau Brathwaite was born in Bridgetown, Barbados. Originally named Edward Lawson Brathwaite, he received the name Kamau from the grandmother of the Kenyan writer and academic Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, when on a fellowship at the University of Nairobi in 1971.
Kamau Brathwaite co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement, a collaboration of artists which celebrated a new sense of shared Caribbean ‘nationhood’, in 1966. Caribbean identity and culture are central to Kamau Brathwaite’s academic writing as well as his poetry. Brathwaite felt that the traditional meter of the English iambic pentameter (where every line is composed of ten syllables and has five stresses) could not express the breadth and depth of that experience. He instead used African and Caribbean folk and jazz rhythms in his poetry. He combined that with the use of Caribbean dialect and patterns of speech to create a distinctively Caribbean form of poetry, which was written to be performed out loud and heard.
These items can be found alongside many others within the Finding their Voices exhibition on Level 2 of the Philip Robinson Library from Monday 10th April – June 2023.
Written by Daisy-Alys Vaughan, student working on the Special for Everyone project.
Jane Marcet was an unusual woman. She believed that girls as well as boys should be educated in science and economics and that scientific knowledge should not be hidden behind a requirement for proficiency in Latin and Greek. She loved to learn and was keen to share her enjoyment of learning with others. When she was unable to find books that satisfied her own curiosity, she wrote them herself.
Jane Marcet the hostess
Born in 1769, Jane was educated alongside her brothers under the guidance of her father Francis Haldimand, a rich Swiss merchant established in London. The household was a lively one, often gathering groups of friends and intellectuals. After her mother’s death, Jane took on the role of hostess and relished the stimulating and intelligent company of her father’s friends. In 1799 Jane married medical doctor and chemist Alexander Marcet. Jane’s father lived with the couple and their growing family, and the culture of gathering for conversation and learning continued.
Jane Marcet the student
It is clear that Jane was a sponge for knowledge. At around this time in London one of the entertainments available to the fashionable elite was attending lectures and demonstrations on scientific subjects. Some of the best, which Jane and Alexander attended together, were given by Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution. Jane was somewhat frustrated not to understand everything she heard and saw, but after each lecture she discussed the topic with her husband and their guests, seeking clarification and deepening her understanding. She described her experiences, writing about herself in the third person, in the preface to her first published work.
“On attending for the first time experimental lectures, the author found it almost impossible to derive any clear or satisfactory information from the rapid demonstrations which are usually, and perhaps necessarily, crowded into popular courses of this kind. But frequent opportunities having afterwards occurred of conversing with a friend on the subject of chemistry, and of repeating a variety of experiments, she became better acquainted with the principles of that science, and began to feel highly interested in its pursuit.” 1
She invited Humphrey Davy and wife to dine and so drew them into her social circle.
Jane Marcet the educator
In response to her own increased enjoyment of scientific lectures, once she had acquired some background knowledge, Jane was motivated to share her joy of learning. Her first book Conversations on Natural Philosophy, written in 1805, was not initially published, but her second, Conversations on Chemistry was published anonymously in 1806. Although anonymous, she made it clear in her preface that she was a woman. Her books were aimed at young women in their teens. In Conversations on Chemistry, she dismissed concerns that science was not suitable for girls simply by stating that public opinion was changing and therefore she considered it suitable.
Jane wrote textbooks intended for the non-expert at a time when this sort of simplified text was largely unknown. Simplification did not lead to stagnation, however. Her work was based on the latest ideas and she worked hard in subsequent editions to keep her books up to date, substantially revising them by adding the latest thinking and new discoveries and removing anything out of date.
After chemistry she tackled economics, publishing Conversations on Political Economy in 1816. Conversations on Natural Philosophy was eventually published in 1819. She followed these with Conversations onVegetable Physiology in 1829 as well as stories for younger readers. She put her name to her work in the 12th edition of Conversations on Chemistry in 1832.
Since “conversing with a friend” – probably primarily her husband – had been such an important means of her own learning, she emulated this, adopting a conversational style within her writing. Each of her textbooks is a conversation between a teacher, Mrs Bryan and two pupils, Caroline and Emily. These were not confined to the stilted question and answer style of many contemporary schoolbooks but instead were an approximation of normal lively conversation between a dedicated teacher and curious pupils. That this was a well-considered pedagogical technique was acknowledged by her contemporaries: “For Marcet, the dialogue is a teaching method, a means of conveying established knowledge as well as of helping young people to reorganize their own thoughts and experiences.” 2
The conversations frequently centre around experiments. The reader is able to experience and witness these vicariously through the questions, reactions and increased understanding of Caroline and Emily. This use of experimentation as a teaching method was innovative and, like the use of conversation, reflected her own learning experience.
To say that her books were a success is something of an understatement. Conversations on Chemistry ran to 16 English editions, Conversations on Natural Philosophy 14, Conversations on Political Economy 14 and Conversations on Vegetable Physiology 3. They were translated into Dutch, German, Spanish and French and there were many American editions where her work was widely plagiarised due to lack of international copyright laws.
Throughout her works she makes no claims to original thought but presents the ideas of others in innovative and clear ways. She is not afraid of tackling controversial subjects or the latest theories. The books had a mixed reception with critics, being praised by some and dismissed as unsophisticated by others, however they were widely read and provided a useful introduction to each subject for adult readers as well as the schoolgirl audience for whom they were intended.
After the death of her husband, Jane continued to be influenced by the diverse intellectual circle of friends that she nurtured around her. Conversations on Political Economy was based on what she had learned in conversation with thinkers in her social circle such as Thomas Malthus and, most significantly, David Ricardo. Her publication predates Ricardo’s own work Principles of Political Economy. A friendship with naturalist Augustin Pyramus de Candolle inspired Conversations on Vegetable Physiology.
Jane also published books on grammar and stories for young children including, in 1835, Mary’s Grammar which became a classic text and was still widely used until the early 1900s.
Jane Marcet the influencer
One of the early readers of Conversations on Chemistry was an apprentice book binder called Michael Faraday. He was inspired to attend Humphry Davy’s lectures himself. His insight and understanding made a favourable impression on Davy who later employed him as his assistant. He then rose to prominence in his own right. Jane befriended him and from 1833 incorporated his new discoveries into later editions.
Another member of Jane’s intellectual circle was Harriet Martineau. Martineau was inspired by reading Conversations on Political Economy to include the ideas in her own work. The two became friends although they did not always see eye to eye politically.
Jane Marcet the polymath
In her youth, Jane had travelled to Italy with her father and became interested in painting. She studied with Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Lawrence, nurturing a talent that resulted in her illustrating her own work with simple clear and stylish diagrams. She read both English and French fluently.
Despite having become proficient enough in science and economics to have written successful textbooks, she remained modest. Her friends wrote of her propensity for listening rather than talking. Having listened, it is her ability to communicate in a direct and engaging manner in her writing that is her legacy.
Her originality lay in both considering science and economics suitable subjects for girls, and in her pedagogical style, using dialogue and experimentation to help learners to organise and re-evaluate their thinking based on her own learning experiences. Emphasis is placed on understanding rather than rote learning or memorisation. The pupils in her conversations are expected to be active participants in their own learning, to think for themselves and to ask and answer questions. Marcet, through the voice of Mrs Bryant, guides the students and uses examples with which they will already be familiar from other disciplines as well as from everyday life. Commentators have suggested that Marcet was influenced by writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria Edgeworth and Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and while this is certainly possible, it is likely that her style drew its most significant influence from her own desire for knowledge and understanding, experience of wanting to learn, and achieving success through “conversing with a friend”. 3
Jane Marcet in Special Collections
There are many of Jane Marcet’s publications, in numerous editions, held across our collections, including in the Wallis (Peter) Collection; the Alderson (Brian) Collection; the Butler (Joan) Collection; the Bell (Maurice) Collection; the Medical Collection; 19th Century Collection; and the Blavatnik Honresfield Library.
This Treasure of the Month is brought to you through our Special for Everyone project to celebrate and highlight diversity across our collections.
1. Marcet, J. (1813) Conversations on Chemistry: in which the elements of that science are familiarly explained and illustrated by experiments. 4th / rev., cor. and considerably enl.. edn. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown.
2. Letter from Michael Faraday to Auguste de la Rive quoted in Henderson, W. (1994) ‘Jane Marcet’s Conversations on Political Economy: a new interpretation’, History of Education, 23(4)
3. Letter from Michael Faraday to Auguste de la Rive quoted in Henderson, W. (1994) ‘Jane Marcet’s Conversations on Political Economy: a new interpretation’, History of Education, 23(4)
Cheque found in ‘Mr Mill’s Subjections of Women’, from Joseph Cowen to the London Society for Women’s Suffrage (Cowen Tracts, V.40 n.2)
As students of the Museum and Heritage Studies Masters course at Newcastle University, we recently undertook a 30-day work placement with the Special Collections team at Newcastle University Library. The main focus of this placement was to research and develop a temporary exhibition showcasing some of the archival material held in Special Collections.
This year marks the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which granted some women the right to vote in this country for the very first time, and we decided to take this as our inspiration for the exhibition. Entitled, ‘The North’s Forgotten Female Reformers’, the exhibition celebrates the involvement of Northern women in movements which fought for various causes, including female suffrage, education, homosexual equality and foreign policy.
Researching the exhibition has allowed us to explore a range of archives held in Special Collections but to begin our research, we read some of the printed pamphlets contained in the Cowen (Joseph) Tracts to provide some context and understanding of the attitudes the British public had regarding women’s suffrage and their place in society. Whilst looking for one particular pamphlet entitled, ‘Mr Mill’s Subjection of Women’, we made an interesting and unexpected discovery. Nestled in the first page of this pamphlet – perhaps to mark the page – was a receipt for a cheque for one guinea made out to the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage (LNSWS) from Joseph Cowen himself.
‘Mr Mill’s Subjection of Women’ (Cowen Tracts, V.40 n.2)
The LNSWS was formed in 1867 and was one of the earliest Suffrage societies. Cowen is remembered as a well-known politician and MP for Newcastle upon Tyne who was interested in the social, educational, economic and political issues of his day. The discovery of his cheque is tangible evidence that he was an active supporter of women’s suffrage. The discovery of this item in a volume of Tracts adds further significance, as this collection of tracts was Cowen’s own collection of pamphlets and articles which reflected his personal interest in the social, educational, political and economic issues of the day, including foreign policy, women’s rights, religion, education and public health.
Cowen’s cheque can be seen in the exhibition, ‘The North’s Forgotten Female Reformers’, curated by the two Museum and Gallery Studies students, alongside many other treasures from Newcastle University’s Special Collections and Archives. The exhibition is on show on Level 2 of the Robinson Library from Monday 6th of August.
Written by two Art Gallery, Museum and Heritage Studies Masters students, Katie Cumming and Mariance Spence, whilst undertaking a 6 week placement to create ‘The Norths Forgotten Female Reformers’ exhibition.
Letter from Charles Algernon Parsons to George Johnstone Stoney concerning mathematical work undertaken by on the the Stoney’s daughters (GB186/MSA/2/22)
Thank you to the Heaton History Group, whose research into the Stoney family of Heaton solved one of the mysteries in our archive! A fascinating letter in our Manuscript Album (Letter from Charles Algernon Parsons to George Johnstone Stoney concerning mathematical work undertaken by one of Stoney’s daughters’, GB186/MSA/2/22) was obviously about one of the Stoney sisters, but we didn’t know which one. Whilst we still can’t be 100% sure, the Heaton History Group have found evidence that one sister, Edith, worked for the Parsons firm whilst living in Heaton in Newcastle, and all evidence points to Edith as our mystery mathematical genius!
The following is an extract from the Heaton History Group’s research piece. A full version, which includes their research about all of the Stoney family, including Edith’s brother George who was also connected to the Turbina story, can be seen here.
Most people in Newcastle have heard of Sir Charles Parsons, the eminent engineer whose invention of a multi-stage steam turbine revolutionised marine propulsion and electrical power generation, making him world famous in his lifetime and greatly respected still. Parsons’ Heaton factory was a huge local employer for many decades. It survives today as part of the global firm, Siemens.
But, of course, Charles Parsons did not make his huge strides in engineering alone. He was ably supported by a highly skilled workforce, including brilliant engineers and mathematicians, some of whom were much better known in their life times than they are today.
One that certainly deserves to be remembered is Edith Anne Stoney. Edith worked for Parsons only briefly but her contribution was crucial. This is her story.
Dr George Johnstone Stoney (1826-1911), Edith’s father, was a prominent Irish physicist, who was born near Birr in County Offaly. He worked as an astronomy assistant to Charles Parsons’ father, William, at nearby Birr Castle and he later taught Charles Parsons at Trinity College, Dublin. Stoney is best known for introducing the term ‘electron’ as the fundamental unit quantity of electricity. He and his wife, Margaret Sophia, had five children whom they home educated. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Stoney children went on to have illustrious careers. Robert Bindon became a doctor in Australia; Gertrude Rose was an artist; George Gerald was an Engineer (who also worked on Turbina in his career); and Florence Ada (awarded the OBE in 1919), was the first female radiologist in the UK. But it is Edith Anne whose mathematical genius is shown in the fascinating letter we have here at Newcastle University Special Collections.
Edith Anne Stoney
Edith was born on 6 January 1869 and soon showed herself to be a talented mathematician. She won a scholarship to Newham College Cambridge where, in 1893, she achieved a first in the Part 1 Tripos examination. At that time, and for another 50 years afterwards, women were not awarded degrees at Cambridge so she did not officially graduate but she was later awarded both a BA and MA by Trinity College Dublin.
After graduation, Edith came to Newcastle to work for Charles Parsons. In a letter sent by Charles Parson to Edith’s father, George Johnstone Stoney, in 1903. Parsons pays tribute to:
your daughter’s great and original ability for applied mathematics… The problems she has attacked and solved have been in relation to the special curvature of our mirrors for obtaining beams of light of particular shapes. These investigations involved difficult and intricate original calculations, so much so that I must confess they were quite beyond my powers now and probably would have been also when I was at Cambridge… Your daughter also made calculations in regard to the gyrostatic forces brought onto the bearings of marine steam turbines…
It looks like the sort of reference someone might write for a perspective employer except that, a sign of the times, it doesn’t mention Edith by name and is addressed to her father.
Edith, Florence and George Johnstone Stoney. Image courtesy of Heaton History Group
After working in Heaton, Edith went on to teach mathematics at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and then lecture in physics at the London School of Medicine for Women in London. There she set up a laboratory and designed the physics course.
In 1901, she and her sister, Florence, opened a new x-ray service at London’s Royal Free Hospital and she became actively involved in the women’s suffrage movement as well becoming the first treasurer of the British Federation of University Women, a post she held from 1909-1915.
During WW1, both sisters offered their service to the French Red Cross to provide a state of the art radiological service to the troops in Europe. In the x-ray facilities at a new 250 bed hospital near Troyes in France, planned and operated by her, she used stereoscopy to localise bullets and shrapnel and pioneered the use of x-rays in the diagnosis of gas gangrene, saving many lives.
She was posted to Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and France again, serving in dangerous war zones for the duration of the war. The hospitals in which she worked were repeatedly shelled and evacuated but she continued to do what she considered to be her duty. Her war service was recognised by several countries. Among her awards were the French Croix de Guerre and Serbia’s Order of St Sava, as well as British Victory Medals.
After the war, Edith returned to England, where she lectured at King’s College for Women. In her retirement, she resumed work with the British Federation for University Women and in 1936, in memory of her father and sister, she established the Johnstone and Florence Stoney Studentship, which is still administered by the British Federation of Women Graduates to support women to carry out research overseas in biological, geological, meteorological or radiological science.
Edith Anne Stoney died on 25 June 1938, aged 69. Her importance is shown by the obituaries which appeared in ‘The Times’, ‘The Lancet’ and ‘Nature’. She will be remembered for her pioneering work in medical physics, her wartime bravery and her support for women’s causes. Although her time in Newcastle was brief, she deserves also to be remembered for her contribution to the work in Heaton for which Charles Parsons is rightly lauded.
To mark the centenary this month of the 1918 Representation of the People Act which gave some womens the right to vote for the first time, our Treasure of the Month takes a closer look at Ethel Williams, Newcastle’s own radical suffragist.
Portrait photograph of Ethel Williams (Ethel Williams Archive, EWL/2/4)
Dr Ethel Mary Nucella Williams (1869 – 1948) was Newcastle’s first female doctor, and became the first woman to found a general medical practice in the city as well as co-founding the Northern Women’s Hospital.
Ethel was also a radical suffragist and pacifist. As a suffragist, she served as Secretary of the Newcastle Women’s Liberal Association and became president of the Newcastle and District Women’s Suffrage Society. As a pacifist, she was a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Being a radical suffragist meant that Ethel believed in more peaceful means of campaigning and demonstration but took a broader view than many other suffragists, who tended to be drawn from the middle classes, recognising as she did that the movement needed the support of working class women, and that the issue of the franchise should draw women from all sections of society together with a common identity.
Ethel was one of the first women in the North East of England to own and drive a motor car. We see her here photographed with her car, which was crucial to enable her work in mobilising the women’s suffrage movement in the region.
Photograph of Ethel Williams in her car (Ethel Williams Archive)
Ethel took part in the ‘Mud March’ of 1907 in London, the first large procession organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies Sand so-called due to the terrible weather conditions on the day. Despite the hardship, over 3,000 women from all walks of life took part.
This Ethel Williams Archive in Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections includes letters from her contemporaries, a number of photographs of her throughout her life, and objects connected to her involvement with the campaign for women’s suffrage, including a suffragist banner and a ‘Winged Victory’ statuette bestowed on her in 1918 to commemorate the Representation of the People Act which momentously gave women householders and wives of male householders over thirty the right to vote for the very first time.
Ethel’s suffragist banner is currently undergoing conservation work at The People’s History Museum in Manchester; when it returns to Newcastle later this year, it will be fit to be enjoyed by all as we celebrate this significant centenary year of women achieving the vote.
Ethel Williams’ suffragist marching banner (Ethel Williams Archive, EWL/3/5)
Learn more about the Ethel Williams Archive in Special Collections here.
And read more about Ethel’s suffragist banner here.
We recently came across a piece of historic film on the British Film Institute website, showing a Suffragette march through Newcastle in 1909. Clearly on view near the beginning of the film is the banner of the Newcastle Women’s Suffrage Society. A second banner can be seen later in the film.
View the video from the British Film Institute here.
One of these banners may be the one made by Newcastle’s first female GP and suffragist Dr. Ethel Williams in about 1905. These banners were carried on national demonstrations, not only in Newcastle, but also in London.
Ethel William’s suffragette banner (Item reference: GB 186 EWL/3/5) is part of our Ethel Williams Archive, which you can find more information on here.
This website was created by Jess Kadow and Shelby Derbyshire as part of the Making the Archives Public: Digital Skills, Research and Public Engagement project at Newcastle University.
The Women’s Work project is a collaboration organised between Newcastle University, the Northumberland Federation of Women’s Institutes and The Northumberland Archives. The project consisted of recording and archiving the oral histories of the North-Eastern WI community, particularly its oldest members, as a means of preserving the tradition and heritage of the Women’s Institute.
The diversity of each woman’s experience with the WI, the changes they have witnessed, the friendships they have made and the activities they have participated in have given this project a great level of depth. This exhibition hopes to showcase its best elements.
The 8th June 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of the suffragette Emily Davison. A militant suffragette, whose family originated from Longhorsley in Northumberland, Emily infamously ran in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby on 4th June 1913. She was seriously injured and died of her injuries in hospital four days later. It has long been speculated whether Emily was actually trying to kill herself in order to draw attention to the suffragette cause. Analysis of newsreel from the day now suggests that she may have been simply trying to attach a suffragette banner to the horse.
This is Ethel Williams’ suffragist banner. Ethel was the first woman to found a general medical practice in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1906. She was also reportedly the first woman to drive a car in the North of England that same year. She attended the London School of Medicine for Women and graduated in 1891, but had to gain her hospital experience abroad in Paris and Vienna due to male prejudice against women training in British hospitals. Such obstacles and her belief in the need to supplement medical care with social reform led to her active involvement in the suffrage movement.
Ethel was an active member of the National Union of Woman’s Suffrage Societies (also known as the NUWSS or the Suffragists). Unlike the Suffragettes, the Suffragists aimed to achieve women’s suffrage using lawful and peaceful methods. Ethel took part in the ‘Mud March’ of 1907 in London, the first large procession organised by the NUWSS, so-called due to the terrible weather conditions on the day. Despite this, over 3,000 women from all walks of life took part. There is a good chance that she may have used this banner during the march as women from across the country brought banners to show which area they represented. Red and white were the official colours of the NUWSS and both colours can been seen in the banner. She was also often seen in suffrage processions along Northumberland Street in Newcastle. During World War One she formed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
She co-founded the Northern Women’s Hospital in 1917 and, when she retired in 1924, she left her practice to another female doctor, Dr Mona MacNaughton. By this time there were 14 female doctors practicing in Newcastle. Ethel died in 1948 and Ethel Williams’ Halls of Residence were opened in her memory in 1950 at Newcastle University.