An event at York Explore tomorrow will celebrate the lives of influential women who have helped shape York in the 100 years since women won the right to vote. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

ONE hundred years ago today, British women were allowed to vote for the first time in a General Election.

Not all women. The Representation of the People Act 1918 granted the vote only to women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications - ie who were respectably middle class or better. Younger adult women and those who weren't well off (and therefore presumably educated) still weren't trusted to be able to vote. But it was a start.

The granting of the vote to women owed much to the First World War, and the way in which, while their husbands, sons and fathers were away at the front, women had taken on so many jobs traditionally done by men.

The Suffragists and Suffragettes also played a big part: women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Wilding Davison and - here in York - Violet Key Jones and Annie Seymour Pearson, who were willing to risk arrest and imprisonment in the cause of women's right to vote.

Today, York Central MP Rachael Maskell and Sheriff of York Verna Campbell will be among those gathering in St Helen's Square at mid-day to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that historic first vote (on these shores) for women.

Then tomorrow (Saturday), at Explore York central library, there will be a celebration of the York women who, over the century since, have played an important part in the life of this city.

The event will take the form of an exhibition in the library's Marriott Room telling the story of the lives of more than 20 women. MP Rachael Maskell, meanwhile, will give a talk about women in politics, while Explore archivist Laura Yeoman will look at the way women are represented in history.

Kate Hignett, the solicitor whose idea herstory.york was, says it is hugely important to tell women's stories: because too often they are nowhere to be found in the history books.

If you look through history books, she says, there are something like nine men featured for every woman. That even applies to fun, popular books such as Terry Deary's 'Gruesome Guide' to York (part of the Horrible Histories series). It's a great book, Kate says. "But it includes 47 men and just nine women - four of whom are witches!"

History has been written by men for men, in other words. If an alien who had been learning about us by reading our history came to Earth, she/he/it would be surprised to learn that women actually made up just over 50 per cent of the population, Kate says.

Women are so absent from history books, she says, that you have to ask the question what have they been doing all this time?

Herstory.york hopes to begin to set the record straight. The biographies of more than 20 women will feature in tomorrow's exhibition. Others can be seen on the group's website (

Ultimately, the group hopes to tell the story of the lives of 100 influential women who have helped shape York over the last century: women who have made real contributions to the arts, business, education, health, law, politics, religion, science, sport and more. The group also hopes to produce educational materials for schools and libraries, which will be available as a downloadable resource pack.

Telling these women's stories matters, Kate says."If we don't learn about them, they too will remain invisible."

BLOB Herstory.york runs in the Marriott Room at York Explore from 11am-2pm tomorrow. The Herstory.york team are looking for suggestions about other women who have made an impact on York in the last century to include in the project. To find out more or to make a suggestion, visit


York's inspirational women

Here are just a few of the inspirational women who will feature in the Herstory.york celebration at Explore York library tomorrow...

Mary Stuart, later Mary Hughes (1886-1955)

Co-founder of York Refugee Committee

Mary Hughes was a Quaker, living in York. She co-founded the York Refugee Committee, offering financial support to find homes for Jews and political refugees escaping occupied Europe.

‘I have sad cases coming to me almost daily now and just can’t find hospitality for them – Oh! That people would open their doors! I feel every Quaker house should be ashamed if it hasn’t one refugee at least. But will they come forward? No!’, she reported in January 1939.

Mary worked tirelessly to raise a fund to support those who took in refugees, and by May 1939 there were 118 refugees living in York. Two unemployment bureaus were also set up along with sports and social clubs. Many of those who settled in York during the war chose to stay after 1945, a lasting testimony to the work of Mary Hughes and the Refugee Committee.

Catherine Muriel ‘Kit’ Rob (1906-1975)


Kit was a keen botanist and conversation campaigner. She was born in 1906 and at the age of four she started to show her interest in flora. She was always asking the gardener questions, wanting to know everything there was to know about botany.

At a time when there were limited opportunities for female scientists, Kit never had a formal education, but this did not stop her. A close friend described her as ‘unconventional and determined’. She used that determination to become the President of the Botanical Society of the British Isles, a prestigious society that helped complete the iconic Collins Guide to British Wild Flower.

Kit’s papers were recently found by archivist Lydia Dean in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust archive and are now held at the Borthwick Institute at the University of York. She was celebrated on International Women’s Day 2018.

Violet Rodgers (1914 – 1978)

Museum curator

Violet Rodgers was born in Bradford. In 1938, at the age of 24, she came to York to work with Dr John Lamplugh Kirk - the Pickering GP and avid collector of ‘bygones’ - at the newly-opened York Castle Museum, which housed his collection.

It is not clear how Dr Kirk and Violet met or how she came to work for him, but in January 1938 Kirk wrote to J. B. Morrell that 'Miss Rodgers is promising' and requested that she be paid £1 a week 'until such time as your committee can confirm her status'.

Dr Kirk died in 1940 and Violet ran the museum during the Second World War and into the late 1940s as Deputy Curator, making a huge contribution to the development of the museum. She expanded the educational service and developed an interactive approach to the collections, allowing visitors to handle objects.

Despite achieving the Museums Association Diploma (one of the first women to do so) and effectively being in charge of the entire museum during the war, Violet was not paid the same as a male equivalent.

After the war, she was forced to take a pay cut because a new male curator was appointed. She married Wladyslaw Wloch in June 1947. That same year, Violet left the museum for a new life in Poland. She became a Curator at the Historical Museum of Krakow and was awarded the Polish Cross of Merit for her work.

Sally Arnup (1930 – 2015)

Animal Sculptor

Born in Surrey, Sally Arnup’s first experience with clay as a two-year-old at her Montessori school gave her a lifelong love of the material. At 13 she attended Camberwell School of Art and then the Royal College of Art where she met her partner Mick. They moved to York where Sally taught sculpture at York Art School. The couple set up a home and studio in Holtby in 1959, staying there for the rest of their lives.

Sally became renowned for her animal sculptures created from live animal models. Her technique, working initially with clay, then wax moulds and finally sending these to a foundry to be cast in iron, led to an international reputation for pieces such as the bronze calf in Kings Manor and the silver leopard given to the Queen in 1981 by the city.

Amy Tyro

Footballer and football coach

Amy was born in Sheffield in 1987 but from an early age was brought up in York.

She was playing football with her friends when the father of one spotted her talent and suggested she play at Doncaster Belles. Women’s teams were few and far between at the time, but Leeds United had a women's team that was nearer. Amy went there for trials, was successful, and signed up, starting in Leeds Under 12’s and progressing right through to the women’s team reserves. Achieving distinction in the National Diploma in Sport and Exercise Science at York College, she went on to Loughborough University and played in representative teams there.

Following university Amy coached at soccer clubs in the USA during the summer then worked at the Football Association’s North Yorkshire Girls Centre of Excellence, now a Regional Talent Club.

Amy played county football for Yorkshire (as well as county hockey) and with Leeds United won the League Cup and the League as well as individual honours such as Players’ Player of the year and Manager’s Player of the Year.

Amy is now a Coach with York City Foundation. Since 2018 she has been running Walking Football sessions around the city for and leading a ‘sporting memories’ weekly session encouraging those with dementia to reminisce and socialise through football and running. She is also leading on the Foundation taking football into the women’s prison at Askham Grange.

Amy’s achievements in football as a player have been backed up by success as a coach, with some of those coached by her going on to play for England under 15’s and one going on to play for Manchester City.

Yvie Holder

Founding chair of York Racial Equality Network

After teaching English and Drama in Leeds, Yvie Holder gained voluntary experience in trades union work, as a school governor, and in mentoring, community relations and local politics.

A woman of mixed UK and Caribbean heritage, she set up her own business as a freelance trainer and consultant on equality and diversity in 1989. For more than 20 years, she encouraged a wide range of public and third sector organisations to develop non-discriminatory practice, in York and the region.

Yvie was instrumental in the creation of the York Racial Equality Network in 1994 and chaired the charity for its first seven years. She established the University of York’s Equality and Diversity Office in 1998, and was its director until her retirement in 2010.