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International Women's Day 2017

In honour of International Women's Day 2017, this week's blog pays tribute to some of the inspirational women whose burial records are held in the Deceased Online database.
8 March each year marks International Women's Day. The event commemorates the movement for women's rights, and dates from 1909 when a day of observance was held in New York. That day was organised by the Socialist Party of America, but in the 21st century events take place all over the world. They include talks, marches, conferences, fun runs, concerts, festivals and online digital gatherings. Throughout the day, actions and thoughts are focused on women living now and those who inspire us from the past. Among the billions of inspirational women who are no longer with us are remarkable women whose lives continue to be remembered by historical researchers and family historians. Below I highlight just a few of the women who continue to inspire, long after their deaths.
The burial place of Katharine of Aragon at Peterborough Cathedral
Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536) is often dismissed as merely the first consort of King Henry VIII. However, she was far more than this and remained high in the King's esteem, even after their notorious divorce. Katherine had married Henry's older brother, Arthur, in 1501, but he died a few months later, leaving his widow alone in a foreign land. Nevertheless, she prospered. In 1507, the classically educated Katherine was appointed ambassador for the Spanish Court in England. Significantly, through this she became the first female ambassador in European history. Her political skills were so highly regarded that when Henry went to France on a military campaign, he made Katherine Regent of England in his place. When King James IV of Scotland declared war on England, the heavily-pregnant Katherine rode north close to the site of the impending Battle of Flodden to address the troops. King James was killed in the battle and Katherine held England.

Her Catholic faith was strongly founded in religious teaching. Katherine was extremely well-educated herself and insisted on the same for her daugher, Princess (later Queen) Mary. In 1524, she commissioned Juan Luis Vives to write a book, The Education of Christian Women, to advocate for women's right to education.

On Friday 7th January 1536, Katherine of Aragon (then referred to as the ‘Princess Dowager’) died in Kimbolton Castle at the age of 49. The remarried King did not attend her funeral in Peterborough Cathedral on 29th January. The Cathedral's burial records, including that of Henry's first Queen, can be explored online in the Deceased Online database


Horatia Nelson kneeling before her father's tomb, by William Owen (after 1807), (c) Wikimedia Commons: 
Horatia Nelson Ward (29 January 1801- 6 March 1881) is another woman who is perhaps more famous for her relatives than for herself. Horatia, the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton, was buried at Paines Lane Cemetery (or the Old Cemetery, Paines Lane), Pinner in Middlesex on 11 March 1881 and her burial record can be found in the Harrow Collection in the database.
Burial Register Scan from Deceased Online
Horatia had an unconventional start to life, being born at the home of her mother’s husband, Sir William Hamilton, in Piccadilly, London. As both her parents were married to other people, they had their daughter christened as “Horatia Nelson Thompson”, but later adopted her. Nevertheless, she was adored by her celebrated father. Although often away at sea, Nelson continued to write and speak lovingly of his “adopted daughter”.

In 1805, the dying Nelson, bequeathed his beloved only child to the nation: “I leave to the beneficence of my country my adopted daughter Horatia Nelson Thompson, and desire she will use in future the name of Nelson only.” Unfortunately for Horatia, as she was illegitimate, Nelson’s dukedom, barony and an annuity given by a grateful nation went to his brother, the Reverend William Nelson. Nelson’s wishes for the financial care of his daughter and mistress were ignored, resulting in a dramatic fall in Horatia’s fortunes.

At the time of her father’s death, Horatia, aged 12, was living in luxury in his and Emma’s villa in Merton in South London. After he died, Emma fell further into debt and was imprisoned in the King’s Bench prison in 1813. Horatia spent ten months living within the prison before a temporary release was arranged, and she and her mother fled to France. It was there that the poverty-stricken Emma died of dysentery in January 1815. She was buried in Calais but no gravestone remains.

Soon afterwards, Horatia returned to England, where she was raised by Nelson’s sisters in Norfolk. She married a clergyman neighbour, Reverend Philip Ward, and settled into the role of a vicar’s wife.

Despite a strong and feisty character, Horatia deliberately avoided the fame her parents had courted so energetically. Instead she sought to be a loving and attentive mother to her ten children and numerous grandchildren. She continued to use the name Nelson, and bestowed it upon three of her children, but she always denied that Lady Hamilton was her mother. After the death of her husband Philip in Kent in 1859, Horatia remained a widow. She eventually moved to Pinner to be near her son, Nelson Ward, a solicitor. Her former home of Elmdene stands not far from the cemetery.

The deaths of Horatia’s notorious mother and her heroic father, contrast strongly with her own demise. Horatia Nelson Ward died at home of Beaufort Villa in the then village of Pinner, aged eighty, after a long and respectable life. The Times announced her death on 8 March and published an obituary two days later, concentrating on her prosperous early years in Merton, and of her father’s adoration.
Entry for Alice Johnson in the Register of Cremation for Cambridge City Crematorium January 1940
There are a number of inspirational female scientists recorded in the Deceased Online database. Most deserve to be better known than they are. Among these is zoologist and educator, Alice Johnson (1860-1940), who was cremated at Cambridge City Crematorium on the 16th January 1940. Johnson had been born in Cambridge into an academic family. Her father was a school master and her brother became a logician. Helped by a supportive family, Johnson was able to enter Newnham College in 1878, where she studied the Natural Sciences Tripos. She went on to work as a demonstrator at the Balfour Laboratory. Her later research into the early development of the newt was published by the Royal Society. However, from 1890 she was as a private secretary to Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, firstly when Sidgwick led research at the Society for Psychical Research and then when she became principal of Newnham College in 1892. Joihnson became an associate of Newnham in 1893. She died in Cambridge, aged 79, on the 13th January 1940.


Burial register entry for Jennie Causer
Not all inspirational women of the past are well-known or celebrated with titles and grand appointments. Many of us have female ancestors who have influenced us in various ways - be it for their hard work, loving nature, tenacity, or ability to overcome difficulties. Some of these women may not be of significance to anyone outside of their family. Many lie in unmarked graves. Nonetheless, they remain important to their descendants. 

With this in mind, I have chosen to end this post not with the details of a famous woman but of my husband's grandmother, Jennie Causer, who left a lasting legacy of laughter and joy in life. She lies buried in Heath Lane Cemetery in the West Midlands borough of Sandwell. Her burial entry can be seen above.

Do you have any inspirational female ancestors whose details you have found on Deceased Online? Do get in touch to tell us about them. We love to hear from you in the Comments Box below, or via our Facebook and Twitter pages!

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