This Women’s History Month, let’s celebrate the achievements and contributions of five brilliant Teesside lasses.
1. Pat Barker
Hailing from Thornaby, Pat Barker is a novelist whose works focus on the lives of working-class women in Yorkshire. Her own experience of growing up ‘on the pancrack’ influenced her earliest novels, including her renowned debut Union Street, now studied by A-Level students.
The novel was praised by critics for its raw depictions of the experiences of 7 women of varying ages as they respond to poverty and the changes brought about by the deindustrialisation of the 70s.
Her coverage of ‘women’s issues’ such as menstruation and childbirth in Union Street isn’t everyone’s cup of char with one critic describing the book as “far too gynaecological”.
However, her self-professed ‘earthiness and bawdiness’ makes Union Street and her following novels Blow Your House Down and Liza’s England masterpieces which inspire feelings for working-class Northern women and the lives they lead.
2. Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)
Born in Washington, Co. Durham, Gertrude Bell has been described as the ‘female Lawrence of Arabia’, although this vastly understates her achievements.
She was one of two women in her class to graduate from Oxford it’s a first-class honours degree in Modern History, although she and her classmate Alice Greenwood were not awarded their certificates due to their sex.
After her studies, she spent the next decade or so travelling around Europe and the Middle East, becoming fluent in French, German, Arabic and German. A bit of a 19th-century Lara Croft, Bell founded new paths while mountaineering in the Swiss Alps, journeyed through the desert while visiting Syria’s cities and took part in archaeological excavations around Turkey and Mesopotamia.
During the first World War, she was commissioned by British Intelligence to assist in getting troops around the deserts of the Middle East with ease. She became the only female political officer in the forces and used her knowledge of local language and culture as well as her close relationships with locals and the influential wives of tribe leaders to help the war effort.
She drew maps to help troops reach Baghdad safely, worked closely with T. E. Lawrence at the Army Intelligence HQ in Cairo and used her influence in the local area to get local tribes to fight with the British against the Ottoman Empire.
Bell was far from perfect. Her attitudes towards the Kurdish people were concerning, and she is responsible for drawing the border of Iraq, which critics argue is the root cause of many of the area’s issues today.
She was a product of her class, so her adventurous lifestyle, although admirable, was not accessible to the vast majority of women in her time. She and many of her colleagues (including Lawrence) are heavily criticised by modern standards.
However, her intellect and understanding made her a crucial tool for Britain’s victory in the war and the things she achieved despite her sex in this era makes her worthy of the list.
3. Maud Chadburn (1868-1957)
Born in Middlesbrough, Chadburn was one of the first women in the UK to pursue a career as a surgeon. This was an impressive feat in a time where most hospitals refused to employ women.
Qualifying as a Doctor of Medicine when she was 30, Chadburn worked at the New Hospital for Women, where she met Eleanor Davies-Colley.
The New Hospital was struggling with demand, having to turn many patients away, so in 1911 fundraising began by Chadburn and Davies-Colley for a new general women’s and children’s hospital that would employ an all-female staff.
The South London Hospital for Women and Children opened in 1912 after massive fundraising from vocal feminists and female medical practitioners.
This got rid of the demand issues, making healthcare more accessible to women, as well as aimed to enhance career prospects for women in the medical field.
The hospital had charity wards, where women could pay what they could afford, as well as private rooms for higher-paying patients, meaning the hospital could treat women from all walks of life with the utmost quality.
Chadburn also served as chairman for the Cancer Research Committee at a time where radium was increasingly being used as a cure.
She never married but adopted three children, and her daughter’s touching obituary reflects how brilliant her mother was.
4. Marion Coates Hansen (1870-1947)
Born in York but spending most of her life in Middlesbrough, Marion Coates Hansen was a suffragette and political activist.
When she was a young woman, Coates spent time in America, where she was introduced to political philosophy and gained an interest in socialism and women’s rights.
Back in England, she married socialist Frederick Hansen and shortly afterwards became a member of the newly-founded Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
She joined the likes of the Pankhursts and Annie Kenney as an active campaigner for women’s suffrage, gaining the support of many male politicians and MPs.
She took part in protests and petitions and focused her energy on getting pro-suffrage politicians into parliament.
After the First World War, she became the second-ever female local councillor back in Middlesbrough. She focused on slum clearance and housing reform, helping hundreds of people in poverty and preventing many houses from being demolished.
She was by no means the most high profile suffragette, but her contribution to the movement should not be overlooked.
She lived the rest of her life in Middlesbrough and was known by her fellow suffragettes for her kindness and instrumental support in giving women the right to vote.
Hansen was described by a local history society in Nunthorpe as “an extraordinary feminist whom historians have forgotten”.
5. Jade Jones-Hall
25-year-old Paralympian Jade Jones-Hall hails from Middlesbrough, and while she may be a little young to be considered part of ‘Women’s History’, she’s no less extraordinary.
Born with a missing femur, Jones-Hall met wheelchair athlete Tanni Grey-Thompson during a school sports day, who encouraged her to try wheelchair racing.
Within a few weeks, the pair were training together, and Jones-Hall was soon racing competitively.
Jones-Hall first represented Great Britain internationally in 2014 at the IPC European Championships, where she won two bronze medals.
Her career has blossomed in recent years, with her gaining many more international medals, including a bronze and a gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Jones-Hall also works as a motivational speaker, where she talks about positive mental attitudes, facing obstacles, team building and setting goals.
She was shortlisted for BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year, and her successful career is likely to inspire many women, not least members of the disabled community.