The Women in our Community

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality.

Janet, geddington.net’s treasurer, was asked to organise the Geddington & Newton W.I.’s Members’ Evening in March this year. The date happened to coincide with International Women’s Day, which this year was on the 8th March so, given the strong and visible role the W.I. has had over many years in giving women a voice on social, political and gender issues, it seemed an opportunity to consider the role of women in Geddington more closely, and so every member was invited to take on the role of a woman who was living in Geddington in 1911. The census of that year is the latest census currently available. It pinpoints a way of life that was about to face huge upheaval: transport networks, communication technology, mechanisation, food distribution and, of course, World War One. These would all have a dramatic effect on life in villages like Geddington and on the lives, outlook and aspirations of the women who lived there.

Often when you read the history of an event or a community the voices recorded are those of the men, they were the ‘leaders’, the chairmen of committees, the representatives quoted in the press, the audible voice of the views of a community. This was not malicious or consciously patronising, but rather reflected social attitudes of the time. What is remarkable is that, despite these social attitudes, Geddington had more than its fair share of women who were independent, creative and modern in their outlook and determined to carve out a niche for themselves in their chosen role.

Janet Freestone on harp, and her musical group

Janet’s interest in researching women’s lives and in deciding to look at life in 1911 Geddington, from the point of view of the women of the village, was to bring to the forefront those undiscovered, forgotten or unacknowledged histories: some life changing, some influential, some brave, some poignant, but all significant within their circle. There were a great many of them. It was time to tell their stories. The result was the series of biographies posted here on www.geddington.net, which covered the lives of ten women, some more well-known than others, from all levels of society in the village.

Mary Towell

Geddington ‘s women were great social reformers, strong minded political influencers, religious reformers, musicians, playwrights, dressmakers to royalty, entrepreneurs and business women, educators, community stalwarts and, above all, survivors in a world without a health service, without security of tenure to a home, without any old age pension and without any equality in voting rights. They were quite remarkable for their tenacity and their commitment to their home village.

Eleanor, who’s Cross is at the heart of the village, was not a Geddington woman, but has become one. Her story is the last to be told in the series and it reveals the individual behind the royal façade who used her not inconsiderable talents in her adopted homeland to promote culture and the arts, education and sound political systems. For most people around the country she is the forgotten queen of medieval times. As you pass her Cross next time, perhaps you might consider her history in a different light. She was the daughter of a crusader, she married at 12, was multi-lingual, a scholar, highly intelligent and a policy maker for Edward 1. It is also to Eleanor that we owe the civilising habit of using a fork to eat our meals with and the luxury of tiled bathrooms!
A remarkable woman!

In order of appearance, these are the women that Janet profiled:

Mary Anne Saddington   Elizabeth Wilkins    Janet Freestone
Constance Croot    Charlotte Ager    Betsy Cobley
Mary Jane Towell    Anne (Nancy) Moore    Nurse Bessie Mary Rumbold

And, of course: Queen Eleanor of Castile

All these biographies can be found on www.geddington.net/News or use the Search button for each individual. Later this year, these stories will be moved to the History column, their effect on Geddington too important, and too interesting, to lie buried in the increasingly long News column.

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