Women of Cambridge

I’ve blogged about a number of women in this blog. Many of these are the women who, in my view made significant contributions to, or were significant people in the history of modern Cambridge. Here are quick links to them.

Helen Cam

480508 HelenMaudCam to Harvard

Professor of History at Girton and later Harvard, she is the only woman who has attempted to write a comprehensive history of Cambridge the town. An early member of the Cambridge Labour Party, she was a benefactor of the Romsey Labour Club.

Ida Darwin

Ida Darwin

Mental health campaigner who was so successful that we named a hospital after her – the Ida Darwin between Cherry Hinton and Fulbourn. She married Sir Horace Darwin, Mayor of Cambridge in 1896-97 and founder of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Co. Daughter-in-law of the botanist Charles Darwin.

Maud Darwin

Maud Darwin via Wiki Cecilia Beaux

Moved to Cambridge from the UK and married George Darwin – another son of Charles Darwin. Mother of Gwen Raverat the engraver and Margaret, who would later marry Geoffrey Keynes, younger son of Florence Ada Keynes. Maud was a successful social reformer who ensured Cambridge got some of the first women police officers – and kept them despite the economic downturns and funding squeezes in the interwar era.

Jane Elsden

Her court case brought to national attention the anomaly of the significant powers that Cambridge University authorities had over townsfolk, following her arrest by University authorities on suspicion that she was a sex worker. See also Daisy Hopkins.

Eva Hartree

NPG x17439; Eva Hartree (nÈe Rayner) by (Mary) Olive Edis (Mrs Galsworthy)
by (Mary) Olive Edis (Mrs Galsworthy), platinotype, 1924-1925

The first woman to be elected Mayor of Cambridge in the mid-1920s. Eva sorted out the furore over where to locate a new bus station in Cambridge (we got Drummer Street), and set up with three other women the first organised civic reception for those fleeing fascism in continental Europe while other UK politicians and newspaper proprietors were hobnobbing with the dictators. Featured here; and also on her work in the Spanish Civil War here.

Daisy Hopkins

920227 Daisy Hopkins Etching

17 year old Daisy was the young woman who metaphorically castrated the University of Cambridge and authorities, who had previously (and unlawfully) been throwing women they had suspected of being sex workers into their own private prison. Featured here.

Eglantyne Jebb

Better known for founding the charity Save the Children, but achieved so much more than just founding a charity. She transformed charity work – in Cambridge producing the first register of charities in 1905, researching and writing the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge in 1906, joining and campaigning for the Liberal Party until the outbreak of the First World War before founding Save The Children. Featured here, on liberal campaigning here, and during the 1910 December general election here; a public speech to the Constitutional Association here; and a chapter on Cambridge in the 1800s part 1, and part 2. She arrived in Cambridge as a soft Conservative, but switched to the Liberals pre-war, and by the time the First World War broke out, wrote this article in December 1914 making the case for a co-operative economy.

Julia Kennedy

She was the first woman (along with Rosamund Philpott) to stand for election to what is now Cambridge City Council following the removal of the ban on unmarried women standing for election. Featured here. Unfortunately because you had to own property in order to vote and stand for election, as soon as a woman was married she lost that right. Florence Ada Keynes put that right by persuading a friendly parliamentarian to table an amendment to a piece of legislation going through Parliament just before the outbreak of the First World War.

Florence Ada Keynes

The Mother of Modern Cambridge. She was elected our second woman mayor in 1932. Over the period of just over half a century, Florence, who arrived in Cambridge in the late 1870s to study at Newnham College, got involved in social issues and local democracy in the late 1890s once her children – including the economist John Maynard Keynes, were at school. She was part of a formidable network of women who between them achieved so much locally in the face of massive institutional, legal and cultural barriers. Elected unopposed to what is now Cambridge City Council in 1914 shortly after the outbreak of war, she was also in the first cohort of women magistrates in Cambridge, appointed in 1920. She also sorted out our guildhall problem – but got it in the neck from locals over the designs in 1935. She had a passion for music too.

Leah Manning

Born in the USA but brought up in the UK, Leah rocked up to Cambridge as a student at Homerton College – then a women’s teacher training college. She was introduced to a young chap called Hugh Dalton – then the president of the University Fabian Society, and who would later become the Labour Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Cambridge in the 1923 general election and later, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Clement Attlee’s radical Labour government of 1945. Leah Manning became the first woman president of the Cambridge Labour Party and was also in the first cohort of women magistrates in Cambridge, appointed in 192. She became one of the first women to become an MP in 1931 in Islington East, having served as president of the National Union of Teachers – the fourth woman to have done so. After fighting the fascists in Spain, she was elected MP for Harlow 1945-50, she was made a Dame in 1966 and lived locally in Cambridge for much of her adult life.

Mary Paley Marshall


One of the most prominent British economists not just of her time, but beyond, she was already being quoted and praised shortly after completing her studies in economics at Newnham in the early 1870s – where she was one of the first five pupils. She married one of her tutors, the economist Alfred Marshall, who was also a tutor of Maynard Keynes and a close friend of Florence Ada Keynes’ husband John Neville, a onetime Cambridge University Registra and founder member of the Cambridge Philatelic Society. Featured here.

Enid Porter

Local author, historian and curator of the the Cambridge and County Folk Museum – now the Museum of Cambridge for much of the latter part of the 20th Century. A civic legend featured here.

Clara Rackham

300404 Clara Rackham Photo

A sometime Liberal activist, then suffragist, then Labour Party councillor for many decades in Cambridge, she represented what some people call ‘The People’s Republic of Romsey’, a solid working class constituency where many families of railway workers lived. She was also in the first cohort of women magistrates in Cambridge, appointed in 1920. Clara stood for Parliament in the 1930s unsuccessfully. Featured here.

Frida Stewart/Knight

Frida Stewart in RosiesWar

Born in Cambridge and a pupil at the Perse Girls, a musician and fascist-smashing lifelong communist who drove an ambulance full of medical supplies from London to Spain on behalf of a community of Scottish miners. Fled to France at the end of that war only to be captured by the nazis in Paris following the fall of France in 1940. Busted out of a nazi jail she evaded her captors along with Rosemary Say, later an activist for the Labour Party, the pair made their way to Marseilles and escaped to Spain, crossing into Portugal and the Republic of Ireland before making it back to the UK. She retired to Cambridge with her husband, the physicist Bert Knight in 1970 and was active in the Cambridge Peace Council as well as being an active and published author. She died in 1996.