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International Women's Day 2016

In this week's blog post, I mark International Women's Day 2016 by highlighting some of the most transformational and celebrated women in the Deceased Online database.

Today, Tuesday 8th March, is International Women's Day 2016. This year's theme is gender parity in the spheres of society, the economy, culture and politics. While work is still needed to help today's women advance equal to their numbers in these areas, there remains much to celebrate in the achievements of women in the past.

Mary (Morris) Knowles (1733-1807) is buried in Bunhill Fields, London. Although she was a significant social reformer and radical thinker of the late 18th century, she has been overlooked in recent times. 

Self-portrait done in needlwork of Mary Morris Knowles, c.1776 (Royal Collection)
Born into a prosperous Quaker family in Staffordshire in 1733, the young Mary Morris grew up a strong-minded girl and was well-educated in the Classics, poetry, science, French, theology and the arts. She maintained throughout her life that girls should receive a scientific education. She married Thomas Knowles, a physician, at the relatively late age of 34, after insisting that she should choose her own spouse. She is celebrated for her skill in needlework, but was also active outside the home as a strong supporter of abolition for the slave trade and slavery.

Well-connected with notable literary and political figures of the Enlightenment, Mary used one social occasion in 1778 to confront the notorious Samuel Johnson in defence of women's liberty. After the death of her husband, who had begun to be involved in the abolition movement, Mary subscribed to the London Abolition Committee, then focused on ending the slave trade. Before the abolition movement in the UK was well-established, Mary was already campaigning against the widely-used tobacco produced by slaves. She wrote the following lines to be printed on a tobacco box in protest of slavery:

Tho various tints the human face adorn
To glorious Liberty Mankind are born;
O, May the hands which rais'd this fav'rite weed
Be loos'd in mercy and the slave be freed!

Joan Violet Robinson (1903-1983)
Professor Joan Violet Robinson FBA (31 October 1903- 5 August 1983) was cremated in Cambridge City Crematorium.
Professor Joan Robinson was identified by the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics as " . . the only woman among the great economists." A post-Keynesian economist, Robinson studied economics at Girton College, Cambridge. She married the economist, Austin Robinson, in 1925, and became a lecturer in economics at Cambridge in 1937. In 1933, she coined the term "monopsony" in her book, The Economics of Imperfect Condition. Its a sad reflection on the lack of progress in gender parity, that in the 1930s, Robinson was using "monopsony" to describe the wage gap between male and female workers of equal productivity. This issue is very much at the heart of 2016's International Women's Day. 
Recognition of Robinson's achievements came relatively late in life. During the Second World War, she worked on various committees for the coalition government. In 1958, she joined the Royal Academy and in 1962 was elected fellow of Newnham. She became full professor and fellow of Girton in 1965 and the first female honorary fellow of King's College in 1979. During this later period she also wrote economic books aimed at the general reader.

The cremation entry for Joan Violet Robinson in Cambridge City Council's records. Her occupation is given simply as "Retired".

Lady Elizabeth Eastlake (1809-1893) was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in west London, not far from the grave of another writer, Maria Callcott nee Graham, (1785-1842).
Elizabeth Rigby, the future Lady Eastlake, photographed about 1847 by Hill & Adamson
Celebrated as an author, cultural historian and art critic, Lady Eastlake was born Elizabeth Rigby in Norwich in 1809. Mixing in intellectual circles from an early age, Elizabeth studied art and languages. She travelled extensively in Europe in her youth and published a travel book in 1841, A Residence on the Shores of the Baltic. After reading this, the editor of the Quarterly Review invited Elizabeth to contribute. Her early career is regarded as pioneering in the history of women's journalism.
At the age of 40, she married Sir Charles Eastlake, who shared her love of art, high cultural society, and continental travel. Throughout this period, Elizabeth continued to write art criticism and in 1883 published Five Great Painters on Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael and Durer.
One of the most famous political women to feature in the Deceased Online records is suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, who was buried in Brompton Cemetery in west London. Emmeline and her daughter, Christabel, are also remembered by a plaque in the House of Lords. However, Emmeline's other daughter, socialist and anti-racism campaigner, Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960), has long been denied a memorial as a result of her opposition to the Great War. However, it was announced this week that the TUC and the City of London Corporation launch a campaign to erect a statue of her on Clerkenwell Green in Islington in 2018 - the centenary of the Representation of the People Act. Megan Dobney, TUC official and a founder member of the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee says that this statue will act, "as a symbol of the unsung heroism of thousands of working-class women who fought for the franchise".
Burial place of Emmeline Pankhurst in London's magnificent Brompton Cemetery
 Perhaps less celebrated for her politics, is the revolutionary Irish poet, Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde, née Elgee (1821-1896) who lies buried in Kensal Green. Raised in County Wexford, Lady Wilde used her poetry to endorse Irish independence and to criticize the British government. Like Emmeline Pankhurst, she campaigned for women's rights, and like Mary Knowles, she argued for better education for women. Despite her anti-Bitish feelings, the death of her husband, Sir William Wilde, and the discovery of his near bankruptcy, led Lady Wilde to move ro London, near her sons, Willie and Oscar. 
She continued writing while living with her journalist son, Willie, in Oakley Street, Chelsea. Devastated by the imprisonment of her more famous son, the playwright and poet, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Jane succumbed to bronchitis on 3rd February 1896, after her request to see him was refused. Although Oscar paid for her funeral, he could not afford a headstone and Jane lies buried in a common grave. In 1999, the Oscar Wilde Society erected a Celtic Cross monument in her memory.

The burial entry of "Wilde, Jane F S Lady" is found online in the records of Kensal Green Cemetery
Have you found any women in the Deceased Online database whom you feel deserve to be honoured on International Women's Day? Perhaps you know of women in your own family who never received the recognition they should? Either way, please let us know via the Comments Box below, or on our Facebook and Twitter platforms.


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