#HERstory

On 5 February 1918 the Representation of the People Act received Royal Assent, ushering in a new era for women who had long been excluded from democracy. In the lead up to the centenary (5 February 2018) of some women getting the vote, Victoria is sharing the stories of several women who have sought elected office and made a real impact on our local area.

 

#HERSTORY – ANITA HIGHAM OBE

Born near Wolverhampton, I was three as World War II began. I remember hearing bomber planes and the noise of heavy guns and seeing the red night skies, reflecting the burning cities of Coventry and Birmingham, going into our neighbour’s air-raid shelter, and carrying a gas-mask to my Convent school. My mother was 21 in 1928 and had the vote. In 1918, she had been selected for the newly established mixed grammar school in Wolverhampton. My father had left school in London when he was 14. They were both strongly committed to their children’s education.   

With a degree in French from Nottingham University, a degree in French from a French university and a teacher’s Diploma from London University, I was appointed to my first teaching post in 1961 – only to discover that I was earning considerably less than a less well-qualified man, because I was a woman. Parity for teachers’ pay took a graduated 7 years to arrive; the NUT (National Union of Teachers) lost many men who left in disgust to form the NAS (National Association of Schoolmasters). In 1966 I was promoted; having carefully saved my full deposit for a mortgage with a building society, I planned to purchase my first home. I applied to the building society, to be informed that they did not give mortgages to single women. I discovered that this was true of almost all building societies. Eventually I found one which, in view of my ‘secure job’, was prepared to take the risk!

In my subsequent promotions in mixed secondary schools, for the Deputy Headship of a mixed school of 700, then for the Deputy Headship of a mixed school of 2200, and for both my subsequent Headships, I was always, between 1968 and 1984, the only shortlisted female.

I was the first Head of a mixed non-selective school in Wiltshire, where the Senior Master was astonished that I was not prepared to cane the students! I was subsequently the first woman Chair of the Wiltshire Association of Head Teachers. I was the first female Head of a mixed non-selective school in Oxfordshire, when appointed in June 1984.

How often have I corrected the many writers of  letters beginning: “Dear Sir..”, with – “you must not assume that this ‘Head’ is a man; I am certainly a woman”; and how often have I interjected in meetings and public gatherings when the “Headmasters” were referred to, with: “and the Headmistresses…”!!

When the CBI constituted its Business-Education leadership programmes, I was the only female board member and was invited to address the CBI annual conference of 1997. In 1991 I was invited to be the Education Trustee of the National Museum of Science and Industry, albeit a woman.

As we move further into the 21st century, at last I find that in the various aspects of my post-professional community commitments, I am never the only woman!

anita 1

#HERSTORY – COUNCILLOR LYNN PRATT

My political story began in the then constituency of Bury and Radcliffe in Greater Manchester when I joined the Conservative Party in 1974 between the two General Elections held that year.
 
I was born in the Lancashire mill town of Accrington where both my grandmothers were members of the Conservative & Unionist Party – Women’s section.
 
Having lived in various parts of the country and being involved with the Conservative Party more on a back room capacity, I came to live in Bicester where in 1999 I was first elected to Bicester Town Council and subsequently elected to Cherwell District Council and I am still of member of both Councils today.
 
I am very proud to have been Mayor of Bicester on two occasions and as an elected member  endeavour to serve the community I represent on both councils.
 
Lynn Pratt
 

#HERSTORY – LUCINDA WING

I first got involved in politics whilst studying at the University of St. Andrews. A friend encouraged me to accompany her to the Scottish Conservative Conference in 2009 where I first saw David Cameron speak – the atmosphere was electric and it made me feel optimistic for the future. After that, I knew I wanted to be involved in politics in some way but never imagined that I would be elected as a local councillor. Fast forward to 2015, and after running a number of local campaigns, I was lucky enough to be elected onto a borough council at only 25 years of age, making me one of the youngest councillors in the country.
 
Women are still under-represented at every level of governance, but we are moving in the right direction. Truly representative democracies need a variety of people with different backgrounds and strengths, and from all walks of life. I hope that other women look at me and see that age and gender are no barrier to representing your community.
 
In May of this year, I’ll be asking residents in Bicester South and Ambrosden to for a chance to represent them on Cherwell District Council.
 
Lucinda with D Cameron
 

#HERSTORY – COUNCILLOR MELANIE MAGEE

As someone who has a passion for my local community, I wanted to get more involved, but thought I wasn’t the ‘right sort of person’ to do it, having not followed the typical academic route, and having been a young single mum. However, as a qualified full time HR professional, I realised my skills were valuable to the community, so I started volunteering with my local job club providing practical advice to job seekers, specifically the young unemployed and was inspired to stand as a local Councillor, subsequently being elected as a Town and District Councillor in 2011. In my Councillor roles I’ve led a number of apprenticeship initiatives to support employment and skills opportunities.

In 2013, I was elected Mayor of Bicester, and was then honoured to be elected Chairman of Cherwell District Council for 2015, being the youngest female to hold either of these offices in the locality.

As my political career developed, I was selected as the parliamentary candidate for the Oxford East constituency seat in December 2014, for the 2015 general election. In a male dominated political environment, I’d like to think that I am proof that by having a passion, determination and getting involved, you really can make a difference!

Melanie-Magee-rs

 

#HERSTORY – ZOE MCLERNON

‘From a young age, I was interested in politics and my parents were always astounded by my opinions of politicians at the age of 8.

Having grown up and attended school in Bicester, I wanted to give something back to the Town so sought public office in 2015.

At 20 years old, my main concern was how I would be perceived by the electorate, given my age. Being female never really crossed my mind but it certainly made a difference on the doorstep.

I was not elected but was grateful for the opportunity to stand as a young female and put myself forward to represent a younger generation in the town.

Now working for Victoria Prentis MP, I have learnt from her that women in politics can be strong and resilient. The generation of women above me have overcome many barriers and it is great to see the respect for Victoria and other female MPs in the House.

Women have come so far over the years and I am sure that my own generation will be able to build upon this. I only hope that other countries follow in our footsteps.’

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#HERSTORY – COUNCILLOR LUCY DONALDSON

I was elected a Banbury Town Councillor in May 2016 at the age of 19. When I found out that I was successful I was a mixture of emotions. Elated, proud and shocked to name a few. In a male dominated council, I had more votes than some of my highly experienced colleagues.

I was not expecting to be the youngest town councillor Banbury had ever had, but I am utterly honoured to represent women inside and outside of politics.

Lucy Donaldson