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!
#HERSTORY – COUNCILLOR LYNN PRATT
#HERSTORY – LUCINDA WING
#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!
#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.’
#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.