history women

Leeds has long been a crucible of history, with a multitude of distinguished individuals shaping its culture and identity. It’s time to shine a light on the women who have contributed immeasurably to the city’s heritage, and the Leeds Civic Hall is set to become a beacon of this recognition. Here, we delve into the lives of six extraordinary women whose names are poised to be immortalized on the walls of the city’s council chamber.

Trailblazers Set to Adorn Civic Walls

In a heartening display of local engagement, the citizens of Leeds have cast their votes to honor women who have been pivotal to the city’s development. Historically, the walls of the Leeds Civic Hall council chamber have been adorned with the names of male contributors to the city’s legacy. However, following a public consultation and the enthusiastic response it garnered, it has been decided to etch the names of six iconic women alongside their male counterparts.

Councillor Debra Coupar conveyed the community’s sentiments: “The public response to this has been incredible, and the overwhelming sentiment which shone through was that each and every one of these women deserved to have their stories and legacy honored.” The reception to the initiative extends beyond mere tribute; it’s a celebration and an inspiration for future generations to pursue their potential unfettered.

Pioneers Poised for Permanent Recognition

The remarkable women set for this honor span a range of fields, from socio-political activism to cultural innovation:

  • The Barnbow Lasses: These courageous women toiled at the Barnbow Munitions Factory during the First World War, where a devastating explosion claimed the lives of 35 workers. Their sacrifice remains the most significant loss of life in a single incident in Leeds’ history.

  • Leonora Cohen OBE: Renowned as a Suffragette firebrand, Cohen’s activism for women’s suffrage included a famous protest at the Tower of London. Her tenacious spirit is emblematic of the fight for gender equality.

  • Gertrude Paul: A pioneer in education and community-building, Paul was the first black head teacher in Leeds and played a vital role in founding numerous community organizations including the Leeds West Indian Carnival.

  • Alice Bacon MP CBE: As the first female MP from Leeds, Bacon’s tenure in the Home Office was marked by sweeping societal reforms that included the abolition of the death penalty and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

  • Beryl Burton OBE: A titan in the world of cycling, Burton’s legacy includes an astounding 90 domestic championships and seven world titles.

  • Ivy Benson: Hailing from Holbeck, Benson led an all-female swing band that had the honor of performing at the VE celebrations in Berlin in 1945.

A Lasting Legacy for Leeds’ Luminaries

The proposal to inscribe these influential figures in Leeds history is more than a gesture of remembrance; it’s a reaffirmation of the city’s commitment to equality and a narrative of shared values. Heather Paul, daughter of Gertrude Paul, expressed gratitude: “The recognition is for all the women of Leeds who gave their time generously to make a difference for all the communities we serve.”

This significant undertaking by Leeds City Council ensures that the impact made by these remarkable women will be permanently acknowledged. Their names will be submitted for approval by the council’s executive board and, upon endorsement, will join the esteemed list of individuals who have helped forge the identity of Leeds.

As we anticipate the commemoration of these women’s contributions, it’s clear that their legacies are not merely etched in stone, but also in the hearts and minds of those who continue to be inspired by their stories. The revised gallery of heroes within the Civic Hall will serve as a testament to the inclusive and diverse spirit of the city—honoring those who dared to challenge, innovate, and lead in their respective arenas, and who, by their example, chart a path forward for generations to come.

By george