Heather Owen (BA International Relations, 2013), Research Officer in the University's Development, Alumni and Business Engagement office, helps us to celebrate International Women's Day 2015:
'I am proud to highlight some of the University’s and city’s pioneering women who were at the forefront of the struggle for women’s suffrage and rights. They pushed the boundaries of women’s participation in education, medicine, and politics. These were the women of the Sturge family, a Birmingham Quaker family who were key supporters in the founding of the University of Birmingham and some of whom are also our earliest alumni.
Hannah Sturge (1816–1896)
Hannah Sturge was a prominent Birmingham philanthropist and campaigner. She is identified as one of the first female British campaigners for the abolition of slavery.
In 1825 Hannah, along with other Birmingham women, organised one of the first women only antislavery societies, which became one of the most vital and outspoken forces in the fight to end slavery in Britain.
This female only public pressure group reflects the first documented example of female campaign politics in British history that brought women one step closer to women’s suffrage and involvement in the political arena.
Eliza Sturge (1842–1905)
Eliza Sturge was a women's activist, Secretary, and later Vice-President of the Birmingham Society for Women’s Suffrage. She is recognised as one of Birmingham’s most active speakers for the suffrage movement and gave speeches on suffrage across the UK. She often lectured about the undervaluing of women’s work and activities and the design of social and educational systems which restricted women’s intellectual and spiritual development. At a suffrage lecture in 1872 she asserted: ‘You may say we have liberty of conscience; liberty of conscience without liberty of action is a mockery’. In 1873 she also became the first woman elected to the Birmingham School Board which monitored education standards and provided school funding to underprivileged children across the city.
Dr Mary Darby [Maida] Sturge (1865–1925)
Dr Mary Sturge was a pioneer of medical training for women, and also campaigned for women's suffrage. She was one of the first four women students at Mason Science College in 1880, which later formed the University of Birmingham. Mary also helped form the students' union, before leaving in 1886 to study medicine at London University.
After qualifying as a medical practitioner, Mary returned to Birmingham in 1896 and took over the administration of anaesthetics at the Women's Hospital. She became acting honorary surgeon in 1905 and continued to work at the Hospital until retiring in 1924.
Alongside this role Mary championed the introduction of pension funds and proper accommodation for nursing staff, as well as promoted opportunities for female medical students at the Hospital. She was also President of the Medical Women's Federation (MWF) from 1920-22 where she campaigned for equal pay and the removal of the marriage bar for women in medicine.'