A project celebrating the women in Salisbury we don’t often hear about has nominated six inspirational women from history.
Her Salisbury Story is a project organised by Soroptimist International of Salisbury.
The project researches and writes the stories of women who have been overlooked in history to inspire this generation’s women and girls to achieve their potential.
The project has nominated their six favourite women from Salisbury’s history – and here is the list.
Agnes Bottenham (1300s)
Agnes owned the ‘Rydedorre’ (now the Rai d’Or) and a nearby brothel, and local legend says that she founded Trinity Hospital in 1370 to atone for her sins as a brothel-keeper.
She founded the hospital to house poor residents, offering three night’s stay to 18 poor strangers, and where travellers who fell ill could stay until restored to health.
Mary Sidney Herbert (1561-1621)
Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, was responsible for many translations during the Reformation, including respected translations of 107 of the 150 Psalms.
These translations made the Psalms more accessible to Queen Elizabeth and influenced devotional verse by writers including the poet John Donne.
She also published ‘The Doleful Lay of Clorinda’ in her own name in 1595, when it was groundbreaking for an aristocratic woman to publish literature.
Charlotte Moberley (1846-1937)
Charlotte ‘Annie’ Elizabeth Moberly became the first Principal of St Hugh’s Hall in Oxford.
St Hugh’s Hall was a place for poorer young women to gain an Oxford education and the focus was to encourage the less well-off daughters of Anglican Clergymen to attend, as the fees were lower in comparison to other colleges.
The Hall began as a semi-detached house with four women students. Under her leadership, the numbers of female students grew.
Today St Hugh’s is one of the largest colleges at Oxford, with around 800 students, and the college states that “Many of its alumni have been trailblazers for female achievement in their respective fields”.
Dorothy Lawrence (1896-1964)
After living in Salisbury, Dorothy left the city as a journalist.
She had a few small pieces published in the Times and Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine, but nothing with her name on it and nothing that was seriously newsworthy, as at the time women wrote the cookery sections and were not permitted to write on serious matters.
The young journalist manages to persuade the editor of The Times to help her get a passport. She then bought a bicycle and with her notebook and pencil, boarded a boat for France to report from the front line in World War One.
She is remembered as the only woman who fought in the Great War disguised as a man.
In 2016, she was finally given true credit by the Wiltshire Heroine Project for her bravery and courage as the only English woman soldier in the Royal Engineers 51st Division 79th Tunnelling Co.
Jill Furse (1915-1944)
Jill Furse was a young actress who was born in Salisbury at Netherhampton House.
Jill trained in drama and became a dedicated and sensitive actress, considered to have a rare gift, but frequent bouts of illness.
She starred in The Intruder at Wyndham’s Theatre, in which she was acclaimed as “extraordinarily moving and tender”, and had film roles in Goodbye Mr Chips and There Ain’t No Justice.
Bette Blackwell (1921-2018)
Bette Blackwell was one of thousands of civilian women recruited during World War Two into a secret workforce producing Spitfires in factories hidden in Salisbury.
Bette was working as a hairdresser in Salisbury when, aged 20, she was called up to help with the war effort.
After an interview and a medical she was told to report to Wessex Motor Garage, in New Street.
Like most of the local population, Bette had no idea that the factory now built Spitfires and she never saw aircraft move out of the factory as secrecy was paramount.
Bette worked gruelling 12-hour shifts for six days a week, with rotations of one month on day shifts and one month on night shifts.
The machinery was heavy, and the women were timed in everything that they did. It was made clear that they were there to work, not talk, as any slip-ups or mistakes would delay the whole factory process.
More than 2000 Spitfires were built in Salisbury, making up 10% of all Spitfires produced during World War II.
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