This post is phenomenal. There, I’ve said it.  I’m so proud that we can post something like this on AOW.  

It’s the story of Edith, and the story of feminism, and a story that will make you  think, and be overwhelmed, and realise  how far we’ve come. It’s a post that will make you realise how little of this story so many of us have seen, and yet that there are women who have seen it all, who were born without what we demand as our birthright.

Let’s all raise a glass to Edith next Tuesday, and to the hundreds of thousands of women who weren’t born with the equality that we have, who slowly gained it right by right, Act by Act, through hard-fought victories and through social change.

Thank you for this, Gwen.  Over to you:       


Edith was born on the 14th January 1914 in a hostel for fallen women. She shared her birthday with her mother. Edith was lucky to survive the birth – infant mortality was around 11%. She didn’t know her father. He may have died in the War as so many young men did. When her mother remarried, she was brought up by her grandmother, a Victorian who never got over the shame of her being born out of wedlock.


When Edith was four, women over the age of thirty won the right to vote. When she was five, the first female MP was elected (Constance Markiewicz). In 1928, women gained the franchise on an equal footing to men.


Edith left school and began working in the railway office. She was fifteen. She was very bright, but university wasn’t an option for a working-class girl. After all, Cambridge didn’t award women degrees until 1948.


In 1922, when Edith was eight, women were able to inherit property on the same grounds as their husbands. When she was nine, an alteration to the Matrimonal Causes Act meant that divorce equality was finally introduced.


When Edith was twenty five, the Second World War broke out. Her husband was exempt from military conscription due to illness, so they worked in the Rolls Royce factory. During an air raid, everyone ran out of the factory, only to see planes overhead. They dropped to the pavement. Edith’s friend’s coat flapped upwards in the wind. She had to patch the bullet holes in it – she didn’t have enough ration coupons to buy a new one.


Edith birthed her older children at home with a friend or neighbour to help her in delivery. Her husband was probably in the pub. She won’t have been able to afford prescriptions for pain relief. She was thirty four when the NHS was introduced, and a mother of two. When she had her youngest child, aged thirty seven, there was probably a midwife present. As an ‘older’ mother, there would have been increased risks to her pregnancy, but ultrasound wasn’t invented until 1956, so there wasn’t much opportunity for forward planning or preparations.


It wasn’t until after Edith had finished her family that the Pill became available, in 1967, when she was fifty three. It wasn’t available on the NHS until 1974. Her daughters were the first generation of young women to take it. They were also the first generation to be able to ask for contraceptive advice regardless of their marital status, as this was enshrined in the same law. Previously it wasn’t permitted to advise unmarried women on such matters.

Edith was fifty six and the landlady of a pub when the Equal Pay Act came into force in 1970. For the first time in her working life, she was entitled to the same pay as her husband. Even though her marriage wasn’t the happiest, if she had got divorced, she wouldn’t have been able to buy a house or take out a loan independently. She still would have needed a male guarantor.


Edith wasn’t protected against Sex or Race discrimination throughout her working life. She was sixty one and retired when these legislations came into place. She missed out on maternity provision and rights too – so did her daughters – as they didn’t arrive until 1965.


Edith was sixty five when Britain’s only female head of state was elected. She didn’t vote for her. She was sixty six when she was allowed to apply for a loan or credit as a sole female, by which point she was too old. She was sixty eight when the Court of Appeal decided that refusing a woman service in a pub was sex discrimination. Edith would have served anyone in her pub, as long as they said please.


It was in 1987, when Edith was seventy four, that Diane Abbott, the first black female MP was elected. It was also the year that her youngest grandchild was born. Her parents were unmarried too, but she was born with medical intervention in a specialist hospital.


When Edith’s granddaughter was three, in 1990, married women were taxed independently from their husbands for the first time. That was the year that Edith was widowed. When Edith’s granddaughter was seven, marital rape became a crime. She was eleven when the Human Rights Act was passed.


When Edith was in her late eighties, she suffered a series of strokes, which increased the onset of dementia. She became frail and elderly. Her bright and active brain degenerated quickly, and she began to be confused and upset when her granddaughter visited, as she didn’t remember who she was anymore.


Edith’s granddaughter became the first woman in the family to gain a degree.  She was invited to speak in the Scottish Parliament, and was overwhelmed when she realised that her grandmother was born before women were able to vote. Edith’s son joked that his daughter is stubborn and vocal, just like Edith. She hopes that Edith would have been proud.


The 14th January 2014 will be Edith’s hundredth birthday. Her granddaughter will raise a glass of sherry to her, and reflect on how much has changed in just one lifetime.

Categories: Life Experience, Politics and Feminism
36 interesting thoughts on this


  1. rachel JHD
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday Edith x

  2. Hannah
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    What a lovely piece! We are so lucky to be able to take so many good things for granted.
    Happy Birthday Edith!

  3. Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    All the tears. Thank you for this Gwen!
    Happy birthday Edith.

  4. ChirstyMac
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Amazing amazing amazing.
    Actually cried at my desk, and I NEVER do that.
    Happy birthday Edith. I am sure she would have been so proud.

  5. Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday Edith! This is a wonderful post, thank you x

  6. Katielase
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Absolutely brilliant. I’ll raise a glass to Edith on 14th.

    She’d definitely have been proud, Gwen.

    KL x

  7. Fee
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    This is amazing post – it has really opened my eyes. I am going to keep this to show my children one day.

    It has also made me think of my Nana and all the things she lived through before she became my Nana.

    I’ll be thinking of Edith on her birthday. Gwen, you’re awesome xx

  8. Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I kind of want to just stand and applaud this post. It’s brilliant. It’s such a great post Gwen. Such a great post. I will think of Edith next Tuesday :)

  9. Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    What an amazing post. Happy Birthday Edith.

  10. Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    You know this is incredible. People can get nostalgic about the past but sometimes progress is progress. Crazy.

  11. Fran M
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Progress is incredible. Thank you Gwen, this really opened my eyes to how much has been achieved for women over the past century – it’s so easy to take our rights today for granted.

  12. Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Stunning. What a powerful way to put across the speed of change. I hope we keep going apace. Happy birthday Edith!


  13. Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Oh, this is just amazing. Thank you so much for writing it. Happy, happy birthday Edith xx

  14. Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Gwen, you just made me cry on the train. Edith was, as my own nana would put it, ‘some woman’. She’d be VERY proud of you. :)

  15. Ro
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Such a great piece – there are many things it is easy to take for granted as a woman in the UK now and it’s great to be reminded that we shouldn’t.

    I currently live in a part of the world (Myanmar) where nothing can be taken for granted and many of these hard-won rights are not available; I don’t work on women’s rights but being here has made me realise just how privileged I am to have been brought up in the UK. Here it is still common for rape to be used as a weapon by various armies, contraception is still not readily available, healthcare is minimal and you can all too easily end up in prison for trying to challenge a powerful man for raping you or killing your family. Meeting people for whom this is their reality, who just get on with life (often with a smile on their face) and who are every day fighting for rights I’ve pretty much always taken for granted is humbling and inspiring.

  16. Liz
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    This just made me cry. Wow. We have come a long, long way. Happy 100th Edith!

  17. Lexie
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    What a great post. It still shocks me how recently it is that some of these laws changed and just how many ‘firsts’ there are still to go for women. Happy Birthday to Edith!

  18. Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink


    Well done Edith, and well done you Gwen (check you out in Parliament).

    Needed this today, on a day where I cried because my internet is down. There are bigger, more important things and this is absolutely one of them.


  19. Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Gwen this is utterly amazing. It brings the reality of just how good we have it today crashing home. Edith sounds like an inspiring woman, and she would definitely have been proud of you. What a tribute.

    I’ll stop there before I start blubbing at my desk again. Outstanding. xx

  20. Yanthé
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Wow. Just wow.
    Happy 100th Edith.
    Gwen you, and this, are flipping marvelous.

  21. Lee-Anne
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful post. xx

  22. Rach M
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Cracking post, Gwen. Just brilliant. Happy Birthday Edith! Xx

  23. Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Fantastic piece of writing, almost made me cry at my desk. I’ve learnt a few things this morning. Happy birthday Edith (and well done Gwen on the Scottish Parliament!)

  24. Zan
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Oh wow – another one with tears here! Amazing writing Gwen and such a fabulous tribute to Edith. You’re both amazing women :) And I too was surprised by how many of these basic rights were inscribed into law quite recently. Shocking when you really think about it.

  25. deltafoxtrotcharlie
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Such an excellent post :)

    And maybe a reminder that there are places in the world where women have nothing like these rights and also that women in the UK still have a way to go to reach equality.

    DFC xxx

  26. Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Fab post Gwen! And Happy Birthday Edith, we’ve come a long way x

  27. Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    What an amazing piece of writing Gwen. And HOW amazing was Edith?! Tears here too. She’d definitely have been proud xxx

  28. Posted January 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for your lovely comments!

    There were a couple of things that struck me while I was writing it – firstly how much things change in a short amount of time, but also, like a couple of people have said above, how much it saddens me that so many women don’t have the rights and protections that we do.

    To be honest, I’m not sure how amazing my Grandma is. In many ways she is a product of her time – a very ordinary working woman, who just happened to have lived through an incredible amount of change in a comparatively short period. She’d probably tell you all to stop making a fuss, and go put the kettle on. But still, to have experienced so much in a lifetime is really very unique, so thanks for letting me share it with you all.

  29. Posted January 8, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    That you so much for sharing this Gwen, it is incredible and so eye opening xx

  30. Posted January 8, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    This me cry too. What an amazing piece of writing. We’ve come such a long way in those hundred years, and I’m sure Edith would be immensely proud. Thanks for writing this. Just fabulous. x

  31. M
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful writing Gwen, made me tear up a bit. Exactly as you said, it’s amazing how much has changed within one lifetime. It makes me wonder what changes we will see in our lives. Hopefully only for the better.

  32. Posted January 8, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I held it together until the part where edith became upset when you visited because she didn’t know who you were anymore. It is extraordinary to think on all the generations before us who don’t have what we have. Maybe you’re right, maybe Edith was just any other woman of her day, but we love reading about any other women, right?

    Beautifully written Gwen. You deserve a large sherry.

  33. Hannah
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    This couldn’t have been posted on a better day. My nan passed away a couple of days ago and I’ve been asked to deliver her eulogy, I’ve been struggling to know where to start but this fascinating and moving piece has inspired me to think about all the changes she saw in her life and finally start writing. Thank you x

  34. Kate G
    Posted January 9, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Apart from a brilliant social commentry of how much has been been achieved in a relatively very short period of time this is a poignant piece of writing that really touched me. The detail of how her friend’s coat flapped up because there were bullet holes in made my tummy fall away. Our grandparents lived through times that we can only imagine and we are so fortunate for what we have. This is wonderfully written Gwen and brings Edith to life for us. Fab. xx

  35. Posted January 9, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    This is a wonderful piece of writing and it really does make you think about how much has changed in the last 100 years. I wonder how much might change in the hundred years spanning our generation’s lives – some of these milestones are incredibly recent.

    Just wow.

  36. Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    This is awesome Gwen, happy belated birthday to Edith, what a life! :)

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