Meet the Rebel Women of Sunderland who made their mark on the world

By Anna Pavlova,

A project led to 14 women being selected from the past and present to represent the diversity of the achievements of the women in Sunderland

The project, Rebel Women, was originally commissioned by Sunderland Culture for Heritage Open day in 2019 as the theme was “People Power”. Sunderland Culture started thinking about how to apply the theme to Sunderland and realised that there weren’t many women’s stories as many stories were dominated by mines, shipyards and football. The inspiration also came from a book called “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” which was opening an amazing new world of female heroes. They squashed these two ideas together and created this project.

They wanted to represent the stories in a new way, and they collaborated with Illustrator Kathryn Robertson and writer Jessica Andrews who brought the project and the women to life through their art. Laura Brewis, who is part of Sunderland Culture, said “The fantastic thing about Rebel Women is it never ends!” Even after the initial exhibition of 10 women, there was still much interest and more stories, so they added four more women on International Women’s Day in 2020. These are the 14 women that have made their mark:

1. Dr Marion Phillips, first female MP in Sunderland

2. Kate Adie, journalist and broadcaster

3. Margaret Dryburgh, teacher and missionary

4. Ida and Louise Cook, activists who smuggled Jews out of Nazi Germany

5. Hope Winch, the first head of the University’s pharmacy department

6. Kenickie (Lauren Laverne, Marie Nixon and Emma Jackson), one of the most famous female-led bands to come from Sunderland

7. Elizabeth Donnison, founder of the Donnison School

8. Abbie Robinson, Team GB para climber

9. Emeli Sande, musician and University of Sunderland Chancellor

10. Steph Houghton and Jill Scott, England Footballers

11. Ellen Bell MBE, Sunderland’s first female councillor and champion of Public Health

12. Nadine Shah, musician and activist

13. Florence Collard and shipyard women

14. Aly Dixon, long-distance runner

Laura added “I think it will grow and grow. I have a feeling we will never run out of women and every time we hear a new story, we are reminded of the incredible achievements of Sunderland women- and this is important because these women will become role models for future generations”

Due to COVID, the project has been on pause but are thrilled to be working alongside the University of Sunderland and are in process of adding three Rebel Women to the collection this year. Ida B Wells, Eileen O’Shaughnessy and Katherine Backhouse. This will be a celebrated event that will take place on the 5th of March 2022, 1-3 pm at Pop Recs which will include family-friendly rebel kid’s activities, music, creative writing and cake.