Four Cambridge Heroes that shaped our city: For International Women’s Day 2017


For International Women’s Day, praising and commemorating the wonderful women who took on the institutions to give us the city we have today.

The theme of the United Nations IWD2017 is this:

“Women in the Changing World of Work:

Planet 50-50 by 2030”

For me at a local level this means:

  • Gender equality on our local councils
  • Gender equality on our decision-making boards of our city’s big institutions
  • A change of culture that allows all of us to reach our potential and to support all of us according to our needs

“But what about teh menz!?!?!”

It’s on 19 November – see and get organising for it!

On all things history, my grandparents came over from Australia in the very late 1970s to live their retirement in the UK having found out my mum was pregnant with me and with my aunt about to get married. They spoke lots about Australia in my childhood, so with that in mind, click here to read about 20 inspiring Black women that changed Australia.

The women that shaped modern Cambridge

Back to the original subject area of this blogpost.

Florence Ada Keynes – “The Mother of Modern Cambridge”

Florence Ada Brown – later Keynes, just before she moved to Cambridge to commence studies at Newnham College

I hope it’s a positive label that will stick, because until I find evidence of someone else having done more, she did more than pretty much anyone I can find to shape the city that we have today. Read The Mother of Modern Cambridge. Also, read the transcript of the speech she delivered when she was elected only the second woman mayor of Cambridge. That was after being elected the first woman councillor in Cambridge in 1914 and one of our first women magistrates in 1920 – alongside two other titans of Cambridge local democracy, Cllr Clara Rackham and Leah Manning – later Dame Leah Manning MP.

Eglantyne Jebb – the best Member of Parliament Cambridge never had

Cambridge’s loss was the world’s gain, for Eglantyne later went onto found Save the Children after finally leaving Cambridge for good following the marriage of her lover Margaret Keynes (daughter of Florence Ada Keynes & sister of the economist John Maynard Keynes) to AV Hill in 1913.


Eglantyne Jebb – the best MP Cambridge never had – women were barred from standing for election and voting during the time she lived in Cambridge.

Eglantyne, like her mentor Florence Ada Keynes, was a workaholic and transformed Cambridge through the Cambridge Organisation of Charitable Societies. She wrote the first guide to all of the social and community groups taking action against poverty and multiple deprivation in the city.


The only copy of this book I can find is in the Cambridgeshire Collection in Cambridge Central Library. It is a gem of a book. 

Eglantyne also wrote the first social scientific study of poverty in Cambridge – at a time the religious clerics and university authorities were blaming many of the ills on ‘fallen women with loose morals’. Eglantyne shot those myths out of the water, clearly demonstrating a complete lack of town planning was a huge cause. Her book: Cambridge – a brief study in social issues is still relevant today. Read it. (Please).

Mary Paley Marshall


Mary was one of the first women to study at Cambridge, and like Florence, formed an incredible partnership with her husband – in her case Alfred Marshall. A published economist in her own right, as far back as 1882 there were newspapers quoting her works making the case for paying low paid workers more.

820128 Mary Paley Marshall Pay Rise Workers.jpg

Mary Paley Marshall in the County Express via the British Newspaper Archive

The article above quotes her in The Economics of Industry:

“When a rise in wages results in an improvement in the homes, food the education and therefore the working efficiency of the people, it may elevate them permanently, and so if wages are already low, a further fall may case the degradation of labour”

…which makes me wonder why we still have to fight the battle against poverty pay when Mary won that argument over 130 years ago.

Dame Leah Manning MP

I’m currently reading her autobiography that shows her as a real pioneer as a teacher – getting support for after-school clubs in one of the most run down and economically deprived wards in Cambridge in what is now Petersfield.


Dame Leah Manning in her later years

…and a modern day dramatisation of Leah, written by Kay Blayney.

As a student at Homerton, she became active in the Fabian Society and became a good friend of a student by the name of Hugh Dalton. Mr Dalton would shortly contest the Cambridge constituency for the Labour Party – becoming a familiar face in my neighbourhood as this notice for a public meeting down the road from Homerton College shows.

200601 Hugh Dalton Morley

It was Leah Manning who was the driving force behind his campaign, organising this and a number of meetings across the city. Mr Dalton is significant because in 1945 he would become the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Clement Attlee’s post-war government. Leah Manning was friend, confidante and adviser.

The story of how she became a teacher is also striking


From her autobiography now over 50 years old

Mary Allen, the first principal of Homerton College, sounded very disappointed that Leah turned down the chance to teach in London, and so sent her to deal with one of the most difficult schools in Cambridge – one at the sharp end of poverty and multiple deprivation. This was at the time Eglantyne Jebb was carrying out her survey of poverty in Cambridge. Eglantyne tells us that the infant mortality rate in Cambridge was one in eight. Chances are in this part of town it would have been even higher, statistically compensating for the more affluent parts of town.

Such was the challenge that she went to a certain Mrs Keynes – Florence Ada, for help and advice…


She might have been taken aback by Leah Mannings extrovert nature and energy, but Florence Ada delivered for her.

Many more women heroes

There are many, many more women who have been ignored and forgotten about over the years. I’ll be featuring even more as and when I find out about them in the archives. One of the next ones on my list is Lady Alice Bragg.


Lady Bragg – our third woman Mayor of Cambridge in 1946

Unfortunately her highly-regarded biography doesn’t come cheap – hence having to pace myself with the research.

We also have on record our first woman police officer – Annie Carnegie Brown


Via Cambridge Constabulary, Sgt Carniegie Brown.

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