Published: Monday, 06th March 2017

"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights," - Gloria Steinem

International Women's Day (IWD) has been observed since the early 1900's and is a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender equality.

The day is all about unity, celebration, support and action and that takes many forms whether through bold, well-documented action or through a humble struggle that never made it into the history books. On this day and throughout the year women unite for equality.

We’re asking you to nominate the women in your life, in Oldham who have inspired or influenced change - no matter how big or small - and who you think deserve recognition for their efforts and achievements.

If you would like to nominate somebody, email with her name and the reason you think she deserves recognition and your contact details.

Alternatively you can nominate via Twitter and Facebook using the #amazingOldhamwomen #oldhamcouncil

Here are just a few examples of women from Oldham that through their actions have made change happen and entered the history books.

Annie Kenney

Annie Kenney was born in Springhead in 1879. 

In 1905 she went to a meeting in Oldham where she heard Christabel Pankhurst speak about voting rights for women. Annie was so inspired that she was soon organising and speaking at meetings herself, and joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). 

She attended a Liberal rally at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in October 1905 with Christabel Pankhurst where they asked Winston Churchill: “If you are elected, will you do your best to make women’s suffrage a government measure?". A policeman claimed the women kicked and spat at him while he was trying to remove them. Both were arrested and charged with assault and this was the just the first of 13 times Annie Kenney was sent to prison in her fight for votes for women.

Thanks to Annie Kenny and other women like her the Representation of the People Act 1918 gave the vote to: Women over the age of 30 who were householders; the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5; and British Universities' graduates.

Annie Kenney virtually withdrew from active political life following the Representation of the People Act. She married and gave birth to a son in 1921 and died on 9 July 1953.

Dame Sarah Anne Lees DBE

Dame Sarah Anne Lees DBE was born in November 1842 and was a politician and civic activist.

Lees was the first woman councillor ever elected in Lancashire. She earned the right to sit on Oldham's Town Council, representing the Hollinwood Ward, after the Qualification of Women Act 1907 was passed by Parliament. 

Already in her 60s, Sarah Lees was named the first woman Freeman of the Borough of Oldham in November 1909. She became Mayor of Oldham the following year, only the second woman to hold that title in England. 

Marjory Lees

Marjory was born in 1878 at the Werneth Park family home in Oldham. 

She was home schooled until 1894 when her father, Charles Lees, died.  She then moved to Eastbourne with the rest of her family for a period before returning to the borough. 

In 1897 all three Lees women, Marjory, her mother, Sarah, and sister, Dorothy attended the inaugural meeting of the Oldham branch of the National Council of Women where Sarah became President. 

In 1902 she stood for election as a Liberal candidate for the Board of Guardians and won. Two years later she was elected secretary of the Oldham Branch of the National Council for Women.

In 1910 Marjory helped to form the Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society, a branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and was elected president in 1913.  

When the Oldham society disbanded in 1918 following the Representation of the People Act, she became active in the Oldham Women Citizens Association and helped to establish the Oldham Council of Social Service.

Marjory retired in 1934 - the same year she was awarded Freedom of the Borough. She died in May 1970.

Mary Emmott

Born in Oldham in 1866 as Mary Lees, she attended Queen's College, London, and married Alfred Emmott, a Liberal Party councillor, in 1887.

She was a founder member of the local branch of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and main founder of the local branch of the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW).

In 1898, Mary was elected to the Oldham Board of Guardians, becoming its first female member. After moving to London she became vice-chair of the national Women's Liberal Federation and served on the executive of the London Society for Women's Suffrage for many years.

In 1911, her husband, Alfred, was raised to the peerage and Mary became Baroness Emmott.

She received the Queen Elizabeth Medal for her time supporting Belgian refugees during World War I. In the 1922 UK general election, she stood for the Oldham Liberal seat, and came fifth but remained active on the committees of many organisations, largely feminist and women's groups, for the remainder of her life.

Baroness Emmott died in 1954.

Nicola White

Born in Shaw and Crompton, Nicola began playing hockey at the age of seven and started her career at Saddleworth Hockey Club.

She currently plays for Leicester Ladies HC in the Premier Division.

Since her international debut for England in May 2009, Nicola has won silver at the Champions Trophy and bronze medals at the World Cup, Commonwealth, and European competitions. She also won a Bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics. 

Nicola played a key part in Great Britain’s first-ever Gold medal win in women’s hockey at the 2016 Rio Olympics, including a crucial goal in the final game. It made her Oldham's first Gold medallist since swimmer Henry Taylor’s triple Gold at the 1908 London games. 

In 2016 Nicola was made an Honorary Freewoman of the Borough, not just for her Olympic feats, but also the work she does promoting sport to young women.

Freedom of the Borough is the highest honour Oldham Council can bestow and is given to "local people who have, in the opinion of the Council, rendered eminent services to the borough." There have been just 23 recipients over the years – the first being Dame Sarah Anne Lees.

Shobna Gulati

Shobna was born in Oldham in August 1966 and is a successful actress, writer, and dancer.

Although best known for her roles as Anita in Victoria Wood's Dinnerladies and Sunita Alahan in Coronation Street, she has also appeared regularly on other TV shows, including as a panellist on Loose Women, and various theatre roles. 

The daughter of Dr K.A. Gulati who arrived in Oldham from Bombay, India in 1960, she has a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern politics, speaks six languages and trained in classical Indian dance. 

She has been a vocal supporter of Asian women’s rights and anti-racism campaigns. She also actively supports campaigns on female body image issues and has performed as part of Hunger for Trade - an international performing arts response to the global food crisis. 

Vera Baird DBE QC 

Vera was born in Chadderton in 1950.

She attended Chadderton Grammar School followed by Northumbria University where she obtained a 2:1 LLB. During this time she was active in student politics, first as Editor of the student newspaper Polygon, and later as Vice President of the Students’ Union for External Affairs.

Also a barrister, author and lecturer, she is Visiting Professor of Legal Practice at Newcastle University, an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law at Northumbria University, a Visiting Law Professor at London South Bank University, a Visiting Law Lecturer at Teesside University and is an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford.

Vera sits as a Member of the Trustees of Respect which advises male domestic abuse victims and accredits courses for rehabilitating perpetrators of abuse. She was the MP for Redcar from 2001 for nine years and served as a Government Minister and as the UK Government's Solicitor General for England and Wales from 2007 to 2010.

In November 2012 she became the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria and was re-elected with an increased majority in 2016. She campaigns on championing neighbourhood policing, improving how anti-social behaviour and drug crime are dealt with, and tackling violence against women.

She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2017. 

Lydia Becker

Lydia Becker was born in 1827

The eldest of fifteen children, she was educated at home and following the death of her mother in 1855 - Lydia had the responsibility of looking after her younger brothers and sisters.

She developed an interest in botany and in 1866 her book ‘Botany for Novices’, was published. The following she founded the Manchester's Ladies Literacy Society, whichwas intended as a society to study scientific matters.

In 1866 Lydia heard Barbara Bodichon give a lecture on women's suffrage. She was immediately converted to the idea that women should have the vote and wrote the article Female Suffrage for the magazine, The Contemporary Review. 

Emily Davies and Elizabeth Wolstenholme were just two of the women who read the article and later that year they joined Lydia Becker to form the Manchester Women's Suffrage Committee.

Becker continued to write about the need for parliamentary reform and in 1870 she established the Women's Suffrage Journal and was also involved in other feminist campaigns.

In 1881 Becker received a letter from the Central Society for Women's Suffrage offering her the post of paid secretary of the organisation. She held the post for the next three years. She was elected as president of National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1887.

By the end of 1889 Becker's health began to fail. She caught diphtheria and died on 21st July 1890 at the health resort of Aix-les-Bains.

News archive Oldham Council news RSS feed