Celebrating iconic Welsh women throughout history this International Women’s Day
Who knew the creator of the mini-skirt was a Welsh gal
This International Women’s Day, we wanted to celebrate several Welsh women who have made huge successes throughout history. From empowering women through the creation of the mini-skirt, to running the Welsh coal industry, and becoming the first female Welsh PM, these Welsh women are nothing but inspiring.
Laura Ashley (1925-1985)
Laura Ashley was born in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil in 1925, later becoming a famous fashion designer and businesswoman. From a small Welsh mining town to a multi-million pound business, Laura Ashley was a trailblazing businesswoman. In 1961, she opened her first shop in Machynlleth, and at the height of the company’s success they had over 500 Laura Ashley shops across the globe. In an interview, Laura denied being a feminist, claiming that too often feminists place themselves as equals to men, chuckling that she was much stronger than any man she’d met.
In 1968, Laura & Bernard Ashley opened their first London shop.
It was not initially a success, so Bernard took 100 posters to the London Underground.
3 days later, turnover had increased by 300%.
This poster shows an advert featuring their youngest daughter, Emma Ashley. pic.twitter.com/S5urEfujsh
— Laura Ashley (@LauraAshleyUK) October 28, 2020
Laura Ashley’s legacy lives on through the Ashley Family Foundation, working to strengthen rural Welsh communities.
Margaret Mackworth (1883-1958)
Suffragette, Businesswoman, Author, and Editor, there really wasn’t much Margaret Mackworth wasn’t good at. Born in Llanwern, Newport, Margaret played a key role in the Suffragette movement. Margaret fought for a seat in the House of Lords, and is the reason women are allowed to sit there today. Although, this legislation wasn’t passed until after her death unfortunately.
#WomensHistoryMonth Welsh suffragette Margaret Haig Mackworth a successful business woman and journalist. She blew up a post box in Newport, to show how strongly she felt about votes for women earning her a prison sentence she went on hunger strike and was released after 5 days pic.twitter.com/dCwAf57HQ3
— WomanOnFire (@MrsEdithRigby) March 26, 2018
Gwenllian Ferch Gruffydd (died 1136)
Gwenllian was a Welsh warrior princess born in Anglesey, who was the only known Medieval woman to lead an army into battle. In 1136, she led an army of Welshmen against the Norman forces, however she sadly died on the battlefield. Welsh men were said to cry out ‘Revenge for Gwenllian’ after her death.
In 1136, #GwenllianFerchGruffydd led an attack on the Normans in her husband’s absence. One of her sons was killed, she & another son were executed – a spring appeared at the spot (#MaesGwenllian) & her name became a Welsh battle cry "Ddail Achos Gwenllian!" pic.twitter.com/uyf7sqcT8i
— Joy Parry (@JoyParry13) January 19, 2021
Trudy Norris-Grey (present day)
Morriston-born Trudy is a prominent figure in the world of Science and Engineering. In 2005, she became President of Sun Microsystems, and in 2012 became Managing Director of Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe. In 2008, Trudy was appointed Chair of Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WISE). Through this position, Trudy campaigns to encourage more women to pursue a career in STEM industries.
Megan Lloyd George (1902-1966)
Megan Lloyd George was Wales’ first female MP when she was elected at the age of 27. Born in Caernarfonshire, Megan served as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party before becoming a Labour MP. Megan continuously campaigned for women’s rights throughout her life, was elected a bard of the National Eisteddfod in 1935, and became the first female member of the Welsh Church Commissioners in 1942. It was a life of first’s for Megan, and she led way for Welsh women in politics today.
Megan Lloyd George elected as MP 30 May 1929 – 51 for Anglesey, and 1957 – 1966 Carmarthen constituency.
Megan was the 1st female MP for a Welsh constituency, campaigning for a Welsh Parliament & the creation of a Secretary of State for Wales. pic.twitter.com/ZyOLCeOafM
— Women Members of Parliament (@WomenMPs) April 4, 2018
Mary Quant (1930-present)
Mary Quant was born to two Welsh parents, but herself grew up in London. Quant is known for her outstanding contributions to fashion. V&A described Mary Quant as the most iconic fashion designer of the 1960’s, who popularised high hemlines, and famously designed the miniskirt, naming it after her favourite car, the Mini. Through her designs, Quant inspired women to have autonomy over their own bodies.
Today’s #WomensMarch is a time to celebrate strong women like Mary Quant, whose iconic 1960s-70s fashion designs rebelled against conservative and stifling expectations placed upon young women.
#WeWantQuant #WomensWave #BreadAndRoses
Photo © Gunnar Larsen pic.twitter.com/eYfcZSL9Y4
— V&A (@V_and_A) January 19, 2019
Ruth Jones aka Nessa (1966-present)
Ruth Jones has become an entertainment sensation in Wales and across the globe since Gavin and Stacey, which she co-wrote alongside James Corden. Bridgend born Ruth Jones has written and acted in several TV hits including Stella. Jones was appointed an MBE in 2014, and has received several other awards including BAFTA Cymru awards.
Elis James sits down with Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon to look back at what made Gavin & Stacey such a hit from genuine characters to providing an authentic slice of Wales.
— BBC Wales 🏴 (@BBCWales) December 9, 2019
Mair Russell-Jones (1917-2013)
Born in Pontycymer, South Wales, Mair Russell-Jones went on to study Music and German at Cardiff University. She was headhunted whilst at university, and became a civilian codebreaker for government at Bletchley Park during World War Two, decrypting messages in the Enigma machine code. Welsh gals really can do it all.
Amy Dillwyn (1845-1935)
Swansea-born Amy Dillwyn became a novelist and industrialist, supporting women’s suffrage and sexual equality. In 1890, her brother and father’s deaths meant that she was left responsible for the family’s spelter business with a workforce of over 300. Dillwyn worked hard to free the business of its debts and turn it into a profitable business, which she registered in 1902.
Dillwyn was known for her public rejection of the Victorian expectations of being a woman. Commonly criticised for wearing male-like clothes and smoking a ‘man’s cigar’. As President of the Swansea NUWSS suffrage society, she took part in campaigns for women’s right to vote, and in 1911 led a rally to support a group of seamstresses on strike for poor pay and conditions.
Through her novels, Dillwyn wrote about the rebellious woman in for-the-time unconventional manners, often writing about lesbians.
Amy Dillwyn (1845 – 1935). A pioneering industrialist, businesswoman, and novelist renowned for her social justice work. An important Swansea figure and an important lesbian figure. I'd love to see a statue of her in #Swansea. #HERstory #rememberher pic.twitter.com/bMoc7Lk9v0
— Dr Amy Harris (@DrAmyHarris) April 17, 2018
Lucy Thomas aka the Mother of Coal (1781-1847)
Born in Llansamlet, South Wales, Lucy played a large role in the coal industry, giving her the commonly-known title as the ‘Mother of Coal’. After her husband’s death, Lucy was responsible for transporting their coal to London. It is reported that Lucy could neither read nor write, but had a great business sense, making her one of the only female bosses of her time. Lucy transformed her Father’s business, increasing its worth almost tenfold.
This list truly could’ve gone on for hours with the number of talented, successful and notable women in Wales’ history. These women, alongside many, many others, have paved the way for generations of young girls and women to be able to study what they want, work any job they wish, and continue to make history. Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate these women and take inspiration from their successes.