Belfast Telegraph

Teachers need to tell children about pioneering women

By Nelson McCausland

The American educator Myra Pollack Sadker (1943-1995) once wrote: "Each time a girl opens and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less."

Last Sunday was International Women's Day, so with those words in my mind I thought that it might be appropriate to recall some of the notable women that Ulster has produced.

At this point it would be remiss of me not to congratulate the new Editor of the Belfast Telegraph, Gail Walker, the first woman to hold the position, and I am delighted to congratulate her and wish her well.

In drawing up this short selection of 10 notable Ulster women I have excluded any who are still alive and, therefore, probably better known and have chosen women from across Northern Ireland and from a wide range of areas of activity.

Rhona Kathleen Adair (1878-1961), from Cookstown, was a pioneer of women's golf and one of the best female golfers in the world at the start of the 20th century. She toured America in 1903 and contributed a chapter to the first book ever written exclusively for women golfers.

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was born in Millisle and founded the Welcome Hall in Belfast, but then went to India as a missionary and founded the Dohnavur Fellowship.

Her work there including rescuing children and young girls from what was, in effect, temple prostitution, and the books that she wrote are still published today.

Charlotte Lillian McIldowie (1895-1975) was born in Belfast of Scots and Ulster-Scots ancestry and, when she became an actress in England, she changed her name to Moyna Macgill. She later moved to America, where she appeared on stage and screen and she was the mother of the actress Angela Lansbury, star of the television series Murder, She Wrote.

Annie Scott Dill Maunder (1868-1947), the daughter of a Presbyterian minister in Strabane, was an astronomer who had a crater on the moon named after her in recognition of the importance of her work.

Martha Maria Magee (1755-1846) was the benefactress of Magee College in Londonderry, which opened in 1865 and is now a campus of the Ulster University.

Vonla McBride (1921-2003) was the daughter of a farmer from Broughshane and joined the Women's Royal Naval Service, commonly known as the Wrens, in 1949. She served as director of the WRNS from 1976 until her retirement in 1979 and paved the way for the integration of women into the Royal Navy.

Anne Louise McIlroy (1878-1968), from Lavin House near Cloughmills, was the first woman ever to be appointed a medical professor in England when she became Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the London Royal Free Hospital.

Sara Anne McLagan (1856-1924) was born in Belfast, but emigrated with her parents from Ulster to Canada.

There she became the publisher and editor of the Vancouver Daily World and the first female newspaper editor in Canada, as well as a social reformer.

Margaret Montgomery Pirrie (1857-1935) is remembered as the wife of Lord Pirrie, the man who built the Titanic, but she was an industrialist in her own right as well as a social activist and philanthropist.

Charitie Lees Smith (1841-1923) was the daughter of the Scottish-born rector of Aghalurcher in Co Fermanagh.

She is remembered as a hymn-writer and especially for the hymn Before the Throne of God Above, which has become one of the most popular hymns in the Christian world today.

Isabella Tod (1836-1896) was a social reformer, a temperance reformer, a campaigner for women's rights and the leading woman among the Liberal Unionists.

Although born in Scotland to a Scottish father, her mother was an Ulster-Scot from County Monaghan and she spent most of her life in Belfast. She was proud of the fact that one of her ancestors had signed the Solemn League and Covenant in Holywood in the 17th century.

Yes, Ulster has certainly produced many notable women and they should be represented in what is taught in our schools.

Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee

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