IWD 2021: Women In History

I could actually fill a book with the lives of the inspiring, strange, brave, scary, and fascinating women from Manx history. (Note to self: add this to list of potential book ideas.) Nevertheless, a word count is still a word count, even on International Women’s Day, so here’s just four of the finest from recent history, to mark the occasion. 

Beryl Swain wasn’t Manx, didn’t live on the Island, and only spent a wee bit of time here. So what is she doing on the list? Well, her place in Manx history is assured as the first woman to compete in the TT, back in 1962. 

Wearing a lead belt to get herself over the minimum weight restriction, she ended up 22nd out of 25 finishing riders in her race. OK, not the most spectacular result, but history had been made, and the media were entranced by her. There are plenty of photos from that year’s TT of Beryl looking fierce in leather trews, Fair Isle jumper, and a mahoosive Swinging Sixties perm. 

The mountain course might not have defeated Beryl, but the tedious sexism of the era clobbered her. Despite her plans to return the following year, the international motorcycling federation revoked her licence to race. Reports from the time suggest that this prejudice was motivated by the dodgy press (and therefore the loss of profits) that might come from a woman dying in a race.

Beryl never competed in the TT again, and indeed no woman would race again until 1978 after the chauvinistic rule had been changed. There were plans to invite her as a guest of honour to the centenary of the TT in 2007. Sadly, she died a few weeks before the event took place, but she will always be the Island’s original biker chick. A trailblazer in more ways than one.

Sophia Craine was born in Lonan in 1833. She married Robert Goulden and moved with him to the adjacent island. There, she had a rather eye-popping eleven children, including a daughter named Emmeline who became well-known by her married name – Pankhurst. 

Having a mum from a country where women had been voting for decades influenced Emmeline’s campaign for female suffrage in the UK, which finally arrived in 1918, just….*checks notes*…..37 years after the Isle of Man. Which makes Sophia the mother of British women voters, metaphorically and a little bit literally. There are plans to put up a statue of her in Lonan, and quite right too. Speaking of votes and women…..

Marion Shimmin was married to ace Manx playwright and MHK for Peel Christopher Shimmin. When he died in January 1933, she stood to replace him in the House of Keys and was elected unopposed, becoming the first female MHK. Her election was covered by the super-soaraway Peel City Guardian, who threw some shade on the previously totally blokey House of Keys, noting that she was “a most intelligent and capable lady, if anything above the average standard of members of the present House.” That’s some serious sass level for the 1933 PeeCeeGee.

Like Christopher before her, Marion was very concerned with the welfare of the poorer and less fortunate in Manx society. She was still in office, campaigning for fairness and justice when she died in 1942.  Since then, we’ve only had another 17 female MHKs – will we get some more in the 2021 general election? Watch this space…..

Elizabeth Holloway Marston was born in Sulby in 1893 and died in New York City 100 years and one month later. A century is a long time, but she still managed to pack in a lot.

After emigrating to the USA, she qualified as both a psychologist and an attorney. She published textbooks and worked with her husband William, devising a way to record blood pressure. Brilliantly, she and the hubster also worked on creating the character of  Wonder Woman. Imagine having THAT on your CV. 

It seems that Elizabeth also had a rather, unconventional private life. She and William shared their lives with another woman, named Olive. After his death, Elizabeth and Olive continued to live together, raising the children that they’d both had with him. 

As far as blood pressure-monitoring superhero-creating, polyamorous, centenarian, psychologist attornies from Sulby go, she is my absolute favourite. 

So there we have it. A quartet of Manx (or Manx-connected) women who broke down barriers, smashed glass ceilings, defied convention and inspired other women to stand up for their rights. And invented Wonder Woman. 

As part of Gef’s International Women’s Day Series

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