International Women's Day: 40 fantastic Suffolk females

March 8 is International Women's Day

March 8 is International Women's Day - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

March 8 is International Women's Day and to mark the occasion we're celebrating women past and present whose achievements have helped make Suffolk great

Eve Balfour

Born into one of Britain's most important political families, from a young age Eve Balfour wanted to be a farmer. After training at Reading University College, she bought a farm in Suffolk where she experimented with organic agriculture. She published The Living Soil in 1943 and founded The Soil Association in 1946, Britain's leading organic food and farming organisation. 

Painting by Mary Erstman of Lady Eve Balfour, founder of the Soil Association

Painting by Mary Erstman of Lady Eve Balfour, founder of the Soil Association - Credit: Mary Erstman

Boudicca

Warrior queen of the ancient Iceni tribe, Boudicca led a rebellion that almost ended Roman rule in Britain. When said Romans plundered Iceni lands in modern-day Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, they flogged Boudicca and raped her daughters. The Iceni rose up and with other tribes wiped out the Romans’ Ninth Legion, sacking their strongholds at Colchester, London and St Albans.  

Queen Boudica’s (Boudicea) statue stands at the north end of Westminster Bridge. London, England,

Queen Boudica's (Boudicea) statue stands at the north end of Westminster Bridge in London. The queen of the Iceni tribe of led an East Anglian uprising against the Roman occupation in AD61 - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Margaret Brotherton

A wealthy and influential noblewoman, Mary Brotherton’s business acumen, and some untimely deaths, made her one of the richest women in medieval England. She inherited Framlingham Castle where, as a widow, she lived and entertained in style. In 1397, Margaret, who lived to be 80, became Duchess of Norfolk, the first woman to be made a duchess in her own right. 

One of the stone carvings at Framlingham Castle that may be a likeness to the Mowbrays, descendants of Margaret Brotherton.

One of the stone carvings at Framlingham Castle that may be a likeness to the Mowbrays, descendants of Margaret Brotherton. - Credit: Simon Parker

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Stella Cobbold, Charlotte Ridley and Mabel Pretty 

Dubbed ‘The Ladies of Ipswich’, this philanthropic trio - founding members of the British Red Cross Suffolk Branch - banded together during World War I to form what would become a countrywide network of hospital supply depots. Shipments of hundreds of thousands of items of clothing and medical equipment to Red Cross Hospitals and frontlines all over the world saved countless lives. 


Stella Cobbold, c.1903

Stella Cobbold, c.1903, one of the Ladies of Ipswich who organised Red Cross depots throughout the county to help send supplies to World War I frontlines. - Credit: Cobbold Family History Trust archive

Edith Maud Cook

Balloonist, parachutist and pilot, Ipswich-born Edith made 300 balloon ascents. Holding onto a trapeze bar, she was lifted to 4,000 feet when she would let go and parachute down – thrilling entertainment. In 1909 she trained as an aviator and is recognised as Britain’s first woman pilot. She died in 1910, when a parachute descent at Coventry went fatally wrong. 

Pioneering pilot Edith Cook was the daughter of an Ipswich confectioner based in Foundation Street

Pioneering pilot Edith Cook was the daughter of an Ipswich confectioner based in Foundation Street - Credit: Supplied by Sally Smith

Lady Caroline Cranbrook

A tireless campaigner for rural communities, Lady Cranbrook gained national attention when she successfully challenged plans to build a major supermarket in her local town, Saxmundham, in 1997. Her detailed study of the area’s food network highlighted the potential damage to the rural economy. Lady Cranbrook has been honoured with an OBE and Fellowship of the Royal Agricultural Association of England. 

Lady Caroline Cranbrook . Hasketon farm shop Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Lady Caroline Cranbrook. - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Helen Davies

Ipswich-born Helen Davies is an inspirational long-distance runner. In 2010 she represented GB at the European Championships in Barcelona, and England at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. In the 2011 and 2012 London Marathon she clocked a personal best of 2:34:11, just missing the 2:31:00 required for the 2012 London Olympics. In 2020 she topped the over-40 rankings for 10K and half-marathon.  

Long distance runner Helen Davies, from Ipswich.

Long distance runner Helen Davies, from Ipswich. - Credit: EDWARD THOMAS

Lia Ditton

Lia Ditton, from Playford, near Ipswich, is a professional sailor and conceptual artist - the only woman to complete the OSTAR 2005 single-handed transatlantic, second in the 2006 single-handed transatlantic Le Route du Rhum, 53rd woman to row the Atlantic, and in 2020 set a new women's world record for rowing solo from the US mainland to Hawaii (86 days, 10 hours). 

Solo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, has set a new world record by rowing from San Francis

Solo rower Lia Ditton, who grew up in Suffolk, set a world record by rowing from San Francisco to Hawaii in 86 days, 10 hours, five minutes and 56 seconds. - Credit: Ken Watts

Fiona Ellis

Originally from Zimbabwe, Fiona studied psychology at the University of Cape Town and came to the UK in 2005. She founded Survivors in Transition (with Clare Wilson) in 2009 to support female survivors (now men also) of childhood sexual abuse, violence and exploitation. Fiona is passionately committed to survivors’ rights and access to specialist services, and contributes to national strategic fora.  

Fiona Ellis, founder of Survivors in Transition. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Fiona Ellis, founder of Survivors in Transition. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Kerry Ellis

Haughley-born musical actor Kerry has starred in some of the biggest West End shows. Her big break came as Martine McCutcheon’s understudy in Trevor Nunn’s revival of My Fair Lady, when she was spotted by Queen guitarist Brian May who was casting We Will Rock You. Kerry and May have since released albums together and performed sell-out tours in Britain and Europe.


West End star Kerry Ellis

West End star Kerry Ellis. - Credit: Kerry Ellis

Clare Euston

Lady Clare was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk in 2014, the first woman to hold the position. As well as looking after the Euston estate, she has worked in the voluntary sector and supports many charities, including St Nicholas Hospice Care, Bury St Edmunds, and Suffolk Community Foundation. In 2014 she launched Suffolk Rural Life Fund to help people in rural areas access services available in towns.  

Lady Clare Euston

Lady Clare Euston - Credit: Alex Kilbee Photography

Millicent Fawcett

Born in 1847 in Aldeburgh, suffragist Millicent Fawcett was instrumental in getting the women's vote. In 1897 she formed the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and played a key role in founding Newnham College at Cambridge University, the second to admit women. Her statue, unveiled in 2018, is the first of a female in in Parliament Square. 

The statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. Picture: Garry Knight

The statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. - Credit: Garry Knight

Rev Canon Sally Fogden 

One of the first woman priests, Sally has helped set up various charities, including Bury St Edmunds women’s refuge and St Nicholas Hospice. As chair of the Farming Community Network for Suffolk she helped farmers during swine fever, setting up the Addington Fund which went national when foot and mouth disease struck. She is chair and founder of the Rural Coffee Caravan which visits isolated villages with coffee, homemade cakes and information. 

Ann Osborn and founder Sally Fogden with the new caravan. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Rural Coffee Caravan founder Sally Fogden with CEO Ann Osborn. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Dame Elisabeth Frink

Sculptor and printmaker Elisabeth Frink was born at Great Thurlow, studied at the Guildford School of Art and at Chelsea School of Art, and became a Royal Academician. She is known for her bronze outdoor sculptures of men and animals, including the stature of St Edmund in Bury St Edmunds, Warhorse at Chatsworth, Derbyshire, and Eagle, a lectern in Coventry Cathedral, one of which was purchased for JFK's Memorial in Dallas. 

Elisabeth Frink with Birdman, 1960. Photo: Barry Warner.

Elisabeth Frink with Birdman in 1960. - Credit: Barry Warner

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson 

Pioneering physician from Aldeburgh and the first Englishwoman to qualify as a doctor. Refused entry to medical schools, in 1865 she passed the Society of Apothecaries examinations, became a visiting physician to the East London Hospital and founded the New Hospital for Women in London, staffed entirely by women. In 1902, she retired to Aldeburgh and became England’s first female mayor.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman in England to qualify as a doctor.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman in England to qualify as a doctor. - Credit: Archant

Belinda Gray

Belinda established Art For Cure in 2014 to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research and support, following her own battle with the disease. An initial one-off exhibition of art and sculpture at her home near Woodbridge raised over £100,000. The charity evolved and has raised more than £1million from annual exhibitions, online fundraisers and sponsored cycle rides (2022 Kerala).  

Belinda Gray of Art for Cure photographed ahead of the show at the new Ballroom Arts in Aldeburgh.

Belinda Gray of Art for Cure. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Maggi Hambling 

One of the nation’s leading artists, Sudbury-born Maggi studied with Cedric Morris and Lett Haines at Benton End, Hadleigh, at Ipswich School of Art, and the Slade. Initially known as a portrait painter, she was the first artist in residence at the National Gallery. She lives and exhibits locally, as well as in London. Public works include memorials to Oscar Wilde and Mary Wollstonecraft (London), and to Benjamin Britten (Aldeburgh). 

Maggi Hambling in her Suffolk studio 2017

Maggi Hambling in her Suffolk studio. - Credit: Luke Walker

Ruthie Henshall

Ruthie has lived in Suffolk since a teenager. She made her stage debut at 19 in Clacton and then in the West End, appearing in Cats, Les Misérables, and as Amalia Balash in She Loves Me for which she won an Olivier. Other shows include Peggy Sue Got Married, The Woman In White, Marguerite, Oliver!, Billy Elliott:The Musical, and Roxie Hart in Chicago, both in London and on Broadway.  

Ruthie Henshall is returning to West End musical chicago becoming the first actress to play all thre

West End star Ruthie Henshall. - Credit: Ruthie Henshall/Mug Photography

Ania Hobson

Winner of the Young Artist Award 2018 (part of the BP Portrait Award) for her large-scale work A Portrait of Two Female Painters, Ania lives near Saxmundham and has a studio near Woodbridge. She studied at Suffolk New College, completed a fine art degree at University of Suffolk. She has exhibited with the Society of Women Artists and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.  

Ania Hobson in her Suffolk studio with her 2020 paintingThe Meet Up Photo: Ania Hobson

Ania Hobson in her Suffolk studio with her 2020 painting, The Meet Up - Credit: Ania Hobson

Dorothy Hodgkin 

A pupil at Sir John Leman Grammar School in Beccles, in 1921 Dorothy Hodgkin was one of only two girls allowed to study chemistry. She later advanced the technique of X-ray crystallography, enabling penicillin, vitamin B12 and insulin molecules to be seen, leading to faster manufacture of penicillin and better treatment for diabetes. In 1964, Dorothy won the Nobel Prize in chemistry.   

Dr Dorothy Hodgkin at Sir John Leman High School Prizegiving 1981. Photo: Archant.

Dr Dorothy Hodgkin at Sir John Leman High School Prizegiving 1981. - Credit: Archant

Sarah Holmes

New Zealander Sarah Holmes came to Ipswich in 2001 as chief executive of the New Wolsey Theatre, with a vision to open it up to wide ranging audiences. Under Sarah’s guidance the theatre has pioneered a fringe festival, Pulse, and formed close ties with the community. Sarah is among few regional producers to make The Stage’s Top 100 most influential people in British theatre. 

Sarah Holmes, chief executive of the New Wolsey Theatre.

Sarah Holmes, chief executive of the New Wolsey Theatre. - Credit: Mike Kwasniak

Norah Lofts

Best selling author Norah Lofts was born in Norfolk and grew up in Bury St Edmunds, where she was educated at Guildhall Feoffment Girls School and the County Grammar School for Girls. She lived most of her life in the town and wrote more than 50 books specialising in historical fiction, including her Suffolk Trilogy, plus mysteries, non-fiction and short stories.  

Novelist Norah Lofts lived most of her life in Bury St Edmunds

Novelist Norah Lofts lived most of her life in Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Gina Long 

Voluntary fundraiser, entrepreneur, charity campaigner and activist, Gina has raised over £4 million for national and regional charities, through events and auctions. She has supported the work of the Prince’s Trust, and co-founded Breakthrough Suffolk, helping the group raise £1 million for breast cancer research. Her own charitable foundation, GeeWizz, supports East Anglian families living with cancer or a disability.  

Campaigner and fundraiser Gina Long MBE, who founded charity GeeWizz.

Campaigner and fundraiser Gina Long MBE, who founded charity GeeWizz. - Credit: Lucy Taylor Photography

Dame Clare Marx

One of the UK’s most eminent medics, Dame Clare has worked as an orthopaedic surgeon at Ipswich Hospital since 1993, a time she has described as an “amazing part of my career”. She was the first woman president of the Royal College of Surgeons, and was the first woman chair of the General Medical Council, a position she relinquished in 2021 following diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  

Clare Marx, the first-ever woman to be president of the Royal College of Surgeons

Clare Marx, the first-ever woman to be president of the Royal College of Surgeons - Credit: RCS ENG Photographic unit

Bridget McIntyre

Social entrepreneur and founder of the Blossom Charity, Bridget has lived in Suffolk most of her life. She is known for her passionate desire to bring out the best in people by providing support and encouragement. Bridget was awarded an MBE for services to women and in 2020 was High Sheriff of Suffolk and Patron of Suffolk Community Foundation. 

Bridget McIntyre, chairman of Notcutts Picture: NOTCUTTS

Bridget McIntyre, social entrepreneur and non-executive director and chair of Notcutts - Credit: Notcutts

Poli Mohan

Poli was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and has been living in Suffolk since 1994. She is chair of Ipswich and Suffolk Indian Association (ISIA), responsible for organising three major annual community events that promote community cohesion across Suffolk - Ipswich Indian Summer Mela, Holi Festival and Diwali Dinner - and attract diverse crowds from across the county. 

Poli Mohan, chair of Ipswich and Suffolk Indian Association

Poli Mohan, chair of Ipswich and Suffolk Indian Association - Credit: Poli Mohan

Zoe Newson

Paralympic weightlifter Zoe has been flying the flag for Suffolk and Great Britain for years as a champion weightlifter. Diagnosed with dwarfism as a child, she was inspired by the Dwarf Games to train in powerlifting with the Suffolk Spartans. Representing team GB, Zoe has won two Paralympic bronze medals, bronze in the World Championships in Mexico and bronze in the Commonwealth Games in Australia.  

Zoe Newson was crowned Suffolk Sports Personality of the Year 2016

Zoe Newson with her Suffolk Sports Personality of the Year award - Credit: Photo: Keith Mindham Photography

Ann Osborn

Ann first heard about The Rural Coffee Caravan in 2004. Having experienced loneliness and rural isolation, she applied for a job and is now its CEO. From one vehicle making 15 visits a year, it has grown to two vehicles doing around 200 visits, and started MeetUpMondays. Ann says Suffolk’s is “a most caring county” and its greatest asset is its people.  

Ann Osborn, CEO of The Rural Coffee Caravan.

Ann Osborn, CEO of The Rural Coffee Caravan. - Credit: Simon Parker

Helen Pankhurst

The University of Suffolk's first chancellor is a women's rights activist, scholar and writer, the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, both leaders in the British suffragette movement. She has worked for international development organisations with a focus on urban and rural development, water hygiene and sanitation, and women's rights, and is Care International’s senior adviser the UK and Ethiopia. 

Dr Helen Pankhurst, Chancellor of the University of Suffolk

Dr Helen Pankhurst, Chancellor of the University of Suffolk - Credit: University of Suffolk

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Mischa Pearson

Mischa founded The Teapot Project in Ipswich in 2015 as a ‘pay what you can’ community café supporting people struggling to afford to eat. It has since evolved into an award-winning community scheme, collecting edible surplus food that would otherwise become landfill waste, from restaurants, supermarkets and other food businesses which is distributed to vulnerable people, charities and community groups throughout Suffolk. 

Mischa Pearson heads up The Tea Pot Project 

Mischa Pearson heads up The Tea Pot Project - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Diana Porter

Diana worked with children and families for over 50 years in a variety of statutory and voluntary settings. In 2012 she used a £6,000 redundancy payment to start Fresh Start New Beginnings, a service focused on the needs of children affected by sexual abuse and their families, that ensures they are not alone in their recovery and get the specialised support they need.

Founder of Fresh Start New Beginnings, Diana Porter. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Founder of Fresh Start New Beginnings, Diana Porter. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Edith Pretty

Edith Pretty was responsible for excavations at Sutton Hoo in 1938 which led to one of the most important archaeological finds of all time. Edith was familiar with archaeological digs from her travels and was curious about the strange mounds on her land near the River Deben. The dig uncovered remains of an Anglo-Saxon ship burial, probably of King Rædwald of East Anglia. 

Edith Pretty, the owner of Sutton Hoo estate, standing on the veranda of Tranmer House

Edith Pretty, the owner of Sutton Hoo estate, standing on the veranda of Tranmer House - Credit: Archant/The National Trust

Maureen Reynal

Born and educated in Ipswich, Maureen founded FIND (Families in Need Ipswich) in 1990, a charity providing emergency assistance to families and people affected by poverty and dispossession. She has been honoured with the Queens Award for Voluntary Service, an MBE and the High Sheriff’s Award for Volunteer of the Year. She was made a Fellow of the University of Suffolk in 2015.

Maureen Reynal, founder and CEO of FIND, Families in Need Ipswich

Maureen Reynal, founder and CEO of FIND, Families in Need Ipswich - Credit: Neil Didsbury

Ruth Rendell 

Among Britain’s best-loved authors, Ruth Rendell helped put Suffolk on the map with novels that regularly featured the county. She was best known for her Inspector Wexford detective series, which was adapted for TV. She was honoured with a CBE and made a life peer, and introduced to the Lords a bill that would become the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. 

SUFFOLK GLOSSYRuth Rendell at GrotonPICTURE TUDOR MORGAN-OWEN 13/1/06

Ruth Rendell at her Suffolk home - Credit: Tudor Morgan-Owen

Sue Ryder

Sue Ryder was a volunteer with SOE in World War II. After the war she volunteered to do relief work in Europe and was awarded an OBE. She married Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC, founder of Leonard Cheshire Disability, and established the Sue Ryder Foundation (now Sue Ryder), based in Cavendish with a home for concentration camp survivors which later provided care for the elderly and disabled.  

Sue Ryder outside her Cavendish home.

Sue Ryder outside her Cavendish home. - Credit: courtesy of Lady Ryder of Warsaw

Goldie Sayers

Born and raised in Newmarket, javelin thrower Goldie is an Olympic medallist, and three-time Olympic and British record holder. In an 18-year athletics career she was 11 times national champion and a British Athletics team captain, competing for Team GB at five World Championships, three European Championships and three Commonwealth Games. She has also been a board member of the British Olympic Association Athletes’ Commission.

Javelin thrower and Olympic medallist Goldie Sayers from Newmarket.

Javelin thrower and Olympic medallist Goldie Sayers from Newmarket. - Credit: Getty Images

Amy Starkey

Amy is managing director east region at the Jockey Club, responsible for racecourses at Newmarket, Epsom, Sandown, Kempton, Market Rasen, Huntingdon, Nottingham and the wider Jockey Club Group. Under her nine-year leadership, attendances at Newmarket Racecourses have increased at all major meetings, attracting 350,000 spectators each year, and a day out at the races has become a more welcoming, family occasion.  

Managing director east region at the Jockey Club Amy Starkey.

Managing director east region at the Jockey Club Amy Starkey. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Laura Wright

Laura Wright, from Framlingham, is a leading classical singer. She has been BBC Radio 2 Chorister of the Year, a member of all-girl group All Angels, official anthem singer for England’s rugby internationals, and has sung for the Queen on numerous occasions, including the Golden Jubilee celebrations. Her causes include fitness and young people in sport, music charity Nordoff Robbins, Arthritis Research UK, SportsAid and the Invictus Games.  

Laura Wright, singer and sportswoman

Laura Wright, singer, sportswoman and charity supporter. - Credit: Robin Boot

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