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64 thank yous: inspiring women pay tribute to their heroines

It’s been 100 years since the first women in the UK got the vote. To mark the centenary, 64 women who are changing perceptions in 2018 pay tribute to the heroines who blazed a trail before them

Isabelle Aron
Written by
Isabelle Aron

On February 6 1918, women in the UK got the vote. It took suffragettes chaining themselves to railings, setting fire to buildings and going on hunger strikes to force that change. And even then, the Representation of the People Act 1918 enfranchised only a small proportion of the female population.

To mark this momentous anniversary, we’ve invited 64 London change-makers of today, and a couple of out-of-town guests to pay tribute to the women who inspired them. Some thanked their mums, others championed unsung heroines and there were names that popped up multiple times, including Diane Abbott (the UK’s first black female MP), Angela Davis (the US countercultural activist) and Amy Johnson (the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia).

Women have come a long way since 1918, but those we spoke to are all carrying on the fight for equality in their own style. Let’s celebrate them and the groundbreaking women who paved the way. 

64 inspiring women thank their heroines

Lily Cole thanks Emily Davison

1. Lily Cole thanks Emily Davison

English model, actress and entrepreneur. @lilycole

‘I would like to thank Emily Davison for giving the ultimate sacrifice of her life to achieve the right for women to vote. Like many other suffragettes, Emily was imprisoned, assaulted and force-fed for campaigning for a simple, moral right. Who knows what our country would look like today for women if the suffragettes had not made that great effort. Saying of an earlier attempt at suicide as protest, Emily said “the idea in my mind was, one big tragedy may save many others... I felt that by nothing but the sacrifice of human life would the nation be brought to realise the horrible torture our women face!”.’

Photo credit: Twocoms

Munroe Bergdorf thanks Liv Little and Missy Elliott
Chris Williamson

2. Munroe Bergdorf thanks Liv Little and Missy Elliott

Model, DJ and social activist. @MunroeBergdorf

‘I think it’s amazing what Liv Little [founder of gal-dem magazine] has done to elevate the voices of women of colour and offer a safe haven on the internet. Often with women of colour, it’s like, you can have a seat at the table but as long as you behave. Liv has encouraged the women who are affected by these issues to speak up without so much of a filter. I sincerely think that she’s the British future Oprah.’

‘I first heard Missy Elliott when I was just starting high school. She was a tomboy, plus-size and rapping about sex. It was the first time I’d really seen a black woman be that candid about social issues and sex in the same breath. Her album “Da Real World” was all about reclaiming the word “bitch”. It was my first introduction into feminist thought on misogyny. Missy Elliott encompasses that a woman isn’t just one thing, you can be anything that you want to be.’

Photo credit: Chris Williamson

Jamz Supernova thanks Shonda Rhimes and Annie Nightingale
Sarah Koury (EntiretyLab)

3. Jamz Supernova thanks Shonda Rhimes and Annie Nightingale

BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ. @jamzsupernova

‘I want to thank TV producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes [“Grey’s Anatomy”, “Scandal”] for creating leading female roles and narratives with women who look like me. I’m sure so many people told her no one would buy into a black female political fixer or a high-flying lawyer but she proved them wrong.

‘I want to thank Annie Nightingale for being the first woman ever on Radio 1. If she’d taken no for an answer, who knows what the radio landscape would have looked like. Not only did she forge a path for women in radio, she set the bar for broadcasting overall, being the longest standing DJ on the network.’ 

Photo credit: Sarah Koury (EntiretyLab)

Charlie Craggs thanks Nadia Almada, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera
Andy Parsons

4. Charlie Craggs thanks Nadia Almada, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

Trans activist, founder of Nail Transphobia and author of ‘To My Trans Sisters’. @Charlie_Craggs

‘Nadia Almada from “Big Brother” was the first trans person I saw. I was around 13 and being bullied at my all-boys school for being effeminate. Nadia refused to be a victim, she was badass and reshaped how I saw myself. I’m the strong woman I am today because of Nadia.’

‘Best friends, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera started the Stonewall riots together in 1969, which sparked the LGBT+ liberation movement. These two incredible trans women of colour changed history, but are often left out of it.’

Photo credit: Andy Parsons

Gemma Arterton thanks Barbara Broccoli and  Laura Bates
Andy Parsons

5. Gemma Arterton thanks Barbara Broccoli and Laura Bates

Actor and co-founder of all-female film production company Rebel Park. @GemmaArterton

‘I’d like to thank Barbara Broccoli for being such an inspiration to me as an actor. She proves that you can be powerful and caring in equal measures.’

‘I’d like to thank Laura Bates for her eloquence and passion in supporting women’s rights in the UK and starting the Everyday Sexism Project. Laura inspires me on a daily basis.’

Photo credit: Andy Parsons

Liv Little thanks Clara Amfo and Paula Akpan
Lenon Gregory

6. Liv Little thanks Clara Amfo and Paula Akpan

Founder and editor-in-chief of gal-dem. @livlittle

‘I’d like to thank Clara Amfo, presenter, DJ and all-round wonder woman. She was the first new presenter on “Top of the Pops” in more than a decade and uses her position to constantly call people out, including a braid bar last year for cultural appropriation. Most recently, she was the only person to drop out of the L’Oréal campaign that Munroe Bergdorf was dropped from for addressing racism and white privilege.’

‘I’d like to thank Paula Akpan, co-founder of Black Girl Fest and the I’m Tired project. She works tirelessly to support the work of black women. I don’t know how she finds time to fit it all in; she is also social media editor at gal-dem.’

Photo credit: Lenon Gregory

Chidera Eggerue thanks Michaela Coel and Meggan Roxanne
Andy Parsons

7. Chidera Eggerue thanks Michaela Coel and Meggan Roxanne

Body-positive blogger aka The Slumflower. @theslumflower

‘The actress Michaela Coel has shown that being yourself is a choice that will never lead you astray. As a black woman, this is important, especially in an industry built on the foundations of judgement, glamour and validation. Through her approach, we can all learn to trust our identities a bit more.’

Meggan Roxanne is the founder of Instagram page @thegoodquote. As a young black woman with depression, Meggan used her pain and solitude to create an online community of people who felt like her. She is living proof that pain can become the opus upon which we build alternative realities for ourselves, and that the internet can still be a healthy environment.’

Photo credit: Andy Parsons

Emily Thornberry thanks her mother Sallie Thornberry and Barbara Castle
Andy Parsons

8. Emily Thornberry thanks her mother Sallie Thornberry and Barbara Castle

MP for Islington South & Finsbury and Shadow Foreign Secretary. @EmilyThornberry

‘I will forever be inspired by two women: my mother Sallie, a formidable woman who raised us on her own, and didn’t just shape me as an individual, but ignited my passion for social justice.’

‘The second is Barbara Castle, one of the greatest reforming ministers and campaigning politicians. It’s hard to boil down my love for these two women into just a few words, but I can say what they had in common: they were authentic, big-hearted, honest, principled, hard-working, and ground-breaking women, utterly relentless with the issues they cared about. And in their own ways, they each left an indelible mark on the world and my life.’

Photo credit: Andy Parsons

Zing Tsjeng thanks Jayaben Desai and Edith Margaret Garrud
Andy Parsons

9. Zing Tsjeng thanks Jayaben Desai and Edith Margaret Garrud

UK editor of feminist website Broadly and author of the ‘Forgotten Women’ book series. @misszing

‘I’d like to thank Jayaben Desai, the fearless trade unionist and leader of the “strikers in saris”. When Jayaben and her colleagues left Grunwick film processing plant in north London, she told their boss: “We are the lions, Mr Manager.” After a two-year strike, Jayaben didn’t win union recognition, but the factory caved on pension rights and pay. Jayaben changed the way Asian women were viewed in Britain – we aren’t docile or timid. We’re lions!’

Edith Margaret Garrud was a trained martial arts instructor – already a remarkable achievement for a woman born in the Victorian age – and she developed her own version of ju-jitsu to teach self-defence to suffragettes. (It was called “suffra-jitsu”, obviously.) Thanks, Edie, for literally kicking ass in the name of women’s voting rights.’

Photo credit: Andy Parsons

Nadine Davis and Tia Simon-Campbell thank Phyll Opoku-Gyimah and Olive Elaine Morris
Amelia Karlsen

10. Nadine Davis and Tia Simon-Campbell thank Phyll Opoku-Gyimah and Olive Elaine Morris

Founders of BBZ. @bbz_london 

‘We’d like to thank Phyll Opoku-Gyimah (Lady Phyll). Not only is she the founder of black gay pride but she’s a mother, a spokeswoman and Stonewall trustee. With all of that on her shoulders she still manages to find time to champion the new generation and embraces every aspect of herself and her community.’

‘We’d also like to thank Olive Elaine Morris for holding it down for women of colour in the UK and beyond, and for doing it with such grace. May she rest in power.’ 

Photo credit: Amelia Karlsen

Pragna Patel thanks Rosa Parks and Indiraben Patel

11. Pragna Patel thanks Rosa Parks and Indiraben Patel

Founding member and director of Southall Black Sisters. @SBSisters

‘I salute Rosa Parks’s courage and spirit of resistance in the face of racist brutality and inhumanity. Her small act of disobedience sparked the beginnings of mass disobedience that ultimately led to civil rights for blacks in the US.’

‘My mother, Indiraben Patel, came to this country as a penniless migrant. She embodies all that is good about being a mother: she is fearless, selfless and compassionate. She made me the person that I am today. She is now in the terminal stages of cancer. Her loss will be immeasurable.’

Photo credit: M4WALimited

Amy Lamé thanks Annie Besant and Olive Morris
Andy Parsons

12. Amy Lamé thanks Annie Besant and Olive Morris

London’s Night Czar. @amylame

‘Londoner Annie Besant was a woman way ahead of her time as she fought, against the odds, for freedom of thought and women’s and workers’ rights. Annie ensured women’s voices were heard through the Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888. Women today are still fighting for the ideals that Annie pursued throughout her life – and we owe it to women like her to finish what they started: the fight for equality.’

‘In the late 1960s and ’70s, Olive Morris was a grass-roots activist for gender and race equality and left a lasting impact on black and minority ethnic communities across our great city. Olive died far too young, at the age of 27, and I am inspired by the leadership, passion and drive for justice she showed in her short but admirable life. Thank you.’

Photo credit: Andy Parsons

Asma Khan thanks Razia Sultana and Madhur Jaffrey
Andy Parsons

13. Asma Khan thanks Razia Sultana and Madhur Jaffrey

Founder of Darjeeling Express. @Darjeelingldn

Razia Sultana, who in 1236 became the first female Sultan of Delhi, is my all-time heroine. Razia faced hostility from the all-male nobility in the court, who accused her of illicit love affairs. She was eventually removed from the throne and the status quo returned as her incompetent brother was made ruler.’

Madhur Jaffrey demystified Indian food, bringing it into British homes with her television show “Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery”. She was so at ease with herself, balancing her Indian heritage and the western world which was now her home. I feel the time has come for more Indian women to be seen on TV talking about their food.’

Photo credit: Andy Parsons

Ruby Tandoh thanks Jessica Huntley and Jacqueline Wilson

14. Ruby Tandoh thanks Jessica Huntley and Jacqueline Wilson

‘The Great British Bake-Off’ baker, columnist and Author of ‘Eat Up’. @rubytandoh

Jessica Huntley, co-founder of Bogle-L’Ouverture, was one of the most important faces of radical black British publishing. She amplified the voices of so many marginalised people through her publishing, her activism and her bookshop (in spite of attacks from the National Front). I’m so grateful to her for forging that path.’

Jacqueline Wilson’s scrappy, defiant, creative characters set out a vision for me – and every girl I knew – of a kind of girlhood that was messy and free. She makes heroes of the stragglers, showing us girls that no matter where we come from, our stories are worth telling. That seems pretty radical to me.’

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu thanks Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Maya Angelou

15. Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu thanks Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Maya Angelou

Lawyer and founder of Women in Leadership, and one of the organisers of Women’s March London. @SholaMos1

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a suffragist and one of the prominent leaders of her generation in Nigeria. As well as being a political campaigner, women’s rights activist and aristocrat, she was the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria and advocated for Nigerian women’s voting rights. Her activism saw her become the leader of women’s rights in Nigeria. She was also the mother of Afrobeat king Fela Kuti.’

‘African-American poet and author Maya Angelou was an activist who worked closely with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Her use of poetry to stir up and empower a call for action is still powerful today.’

Amy Zing thanks Sue Sanders and Maisie Hill

16. Amy Zing thanks Sue Sanders and Maisie Hill

Co-founder of Sink the Pink. @AmyZingSTP

‘LGBT+ history month founder Sue Sanders worked as a teacher at a time when she wasn’t allowed to even wear trousers to work. She wrote lesson plans to introduce important historical moments and people from the gay rights timeline into education. Thank you, Sue, for paving the way for the many freedoms we take for granted and for reminding us that education is key.’

Maisie Hill, womb and menstrual cycle expert, does brilliant workshops that help normalise understanding of periods. Her knowledge about menstruation brought me to a place of understanding and balance with my monthly cycle. Talking about periods is so important: it’s not a taboo, it’s the reason we’re all here.’

Pavan Amara thanks Qandeel Baloch and Rupan Deol Bajaj

17. Pavan Amara thanks Qandeel Baloch and Rupan Deol Bajaj

Founder of My Body Back. @MyBodyBackProj

‘In leaving an abusive husband, challenging Pakistan’s religious elite, and shattering strict codes on how a woman should behave Pakistani model, Qandeel Baloch had the courage to be everything the powerful men in her country did not want her to be. [Baloch was murdered by her brother in an ‘honour’ killing in 2016]

‘In 1988, Indian civil service officer Rupan Deol Bajaj took the Director General of the Punjab Police to court on sexual molestation charges. In 2005, the charges against him were upheld – setting standards that hadn’t been addressed before.

Josie Rourke thanks Nora Ephron and Michelle Terry

18. Josie Rourke thanks Nora Ephron and Michelle Terry

Artistic director at Donmar Warehouse. @josierourke

‘The writer and director Nora Ephron broke one of the eternally male preserves – film. Her first screenplay credit was “Silkwood”. With “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally”, she wrote two of the greatest romantic comedies of all time. And all three scripts were Oscar-nominated. I long to be one tenth as funny as her.’

‘Olivier Award-winner Michelle Terry, actress and new artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, is our first great female actor to become a manager in Britain for 100 years. I can’t remember when – in the history of British theatre – it has been done with such unshakable determination for change, utter respect for every other member of the profession, and a baby in one arm.’

Helen Pankhurst thanks Sylvia Pankhurst and Jayaben Desai
Virginie Naudillon

19. Helen Pankhurst thanks Sylvia Pankhurst and Jayaben Desai

Great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, CARE International UK’s campaign ambassador. @HelenPankhurst

‘My grandmother, Sylvia Pankhurst, for her strategic work on the suffragette campaign and because her feminism intersected with class, anti-fascism and other issues.’ She started a crèche in a converted pub called the Mother’s Arms, a cost-price restaurant, and created other forms of direct self-help. 

‘Trade unionist Jayaben Desai for her fight for improved conditions in London for immigrant female workers and recognition from trade unions. She went on hunger strike in 1977 for their cause and showed tremendous perseverance in fighting against the status quo.’

Photo credit: Virginie Naudillon

 Chelsea Power thanks Marie Stopes and Deborah Frances-White

20.  Chelsea Power thanks Marie Stopes and Deborah Frances-White

Co-founder of Women To Look Up To. @Womentolookup2

‘The same year that women were first permitted to vote, Marie Stopes campaigned for birth control in her 1918 book, “Married Love”. Three years later she would open the country’s first family planning clinic, one of the largest in the world today. She showed women they could have a choice over something that had previously defined their lives.’

Deborah Frances-White’s creation of “The Guilty Feminist”, a weekly podcast panel which has brought feminism into the twenty-first century. She admits we can’t be perfect feminists all of the time, with a quip at the beginning of each show about her guilty pleasure – not letting her leg hair grow out, reading a gossip column or liking some good lippy. But as women, what we can all do is stand up for one another.’

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