From Anne Lister to Mary Prince, author Holly Kyte retells the stories of eight women who changed society but were forgotten by history
Image: BBC/Lookout Point/Jay Brooks)
As we approach International Women’s Day on Tuesday, one author delved into the lives of “history’s unsung heroines”, to celebrate the achievements of women time forgot.
Roaring Girls, by Holly Kyte, retells the extraordinary lives of eight women who revolutionised the way we see women today.
“If these women were men, they would already be household names,” Holly tells the Sunday Mirror.
“Women’s history wasn’t written about because it wasn’t considered interesting or important enough to record.”
Here are Holly’s Roaring Girls…
1. Mary Frith
Mary was of the most outrageous and controversial women of the 16th and 17th centuries, who made her living as a thief deep in London’s underworld, earning her the persona Moll Cutpurse.
But Holly argues Mary is a Roaring Girl for refusing to bow to conformity, using cross-dressing to enrage society, and being an “audacious and irreverent woman”.
2. Margaret Cavandish
Margaret was a 17th-century poet and philosopher who wrote in her own name in a period when most women writers remained anonymous, challenging the social belief that men were inferior to women.
Holly says it’s hard to “overstate how daring it was” for her to publish her own writing.
3. Mary Astell
Mary was a 17th and 18th-century poet and philosopher, often dubbed ‘the first English feminist’ for her work campaigning for women’s education.
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She never married, arguing that women should receive an education equal to men and should be able to refrain from marrying if they wished.
Holly says she was a “pioneering thinker, exemplary polemicist and tireless chamption of women”.
4. Charlotte Charke
Charlotte was an 18th-century actress, theatre manager and cross-dresser, at a time when it was highly unusual for a woman to run a theatre.
Holly says her role in the history of British theatre has been ignored, as she earned “her own living as a woman in a man’s world”.
5. Hannah Snell
Hannah was an 18th-century performer who disguised herself as a man and became a soldier.
For nearly five years she lived and fought as a man, sailing to Lisbon with the 6th Regiment of Foot.
For hundreds of years, the ‘no women allowed’ rule in the army meant that their role in the forces had to be unofficial or covert.
Holly says Hannah proved women are just as capable of fighting as men centuries before they were finally allowed to do so.
6. Mary Prince
Mary was an 18th and 19th-century slave who became the first black woman to publish her life story in Britain – despite being illiterate.
Holly says she didn’t just publish her history, but she “made history”.
7. Anne Lister
Made famous by Suranne Jones’ acclaimed portrayal in Gentleman Jack, Anne was the “first modern lesbian”, with Holly saying she is an LGBT icon who helped reclaim women’s bodies and desires.
Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council)
8. Caroline Norton
Caroline was a 19th-century writer and women’s rights campaigner, whose work led to the passage of the Custody of Infants Act 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and the Married Women’s Property Act.
She also left her husband George Norton, who sued her close friend Lord Melbourne, then the Whig Prime Minister, for adultery and she was denied access to her three sons.
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Holly says “every wife, every mother, every woman divorced and separated woman who faces her own George Norton owes Caroline a debt of gratitude”.
- Roaring Girls: The extraordinary lives of history’s unsung heroines, by Holly Kyte, is out now in paperback (HQ, £10.99).