Made in Oxfordshire
Oxford, let’s face it, is famous, as much for its architecture and university as it for Colin Dexter’s Morse. And consequently, all year, tourists and visitors descend on our city en masse in the hope that just a little of its magic can be caught on camera, Instagram and Facebook, and messaged out to the rest of the world (with a suggestive pout, if possible).
That’s, of course, without visiting Harry Potter’s dining hall, the pub where Bilbo Baggins was surely once on the mind of Mr Tolkien, and the finishing line of the world’s first four-minute mile. But I do wonder if all these travellers also recognise just what a cradle this city has been for some of the world’s most extraordinary women? After all, amongst other things, it’s been a playground, a laboratory, a library and a stage for those whose talents and achievements have shone a torch for women everywhere. Astonishingly, for the last two years I have had the privilege of researching and writing about just a tiny few of some of the truly great, pioneering women who have used the city as their launch pad into literature, medicine, politics, science, and the arts.
But, I’ll admit, it’s been taxing. After all, how can you possibly, in just 300 words, do justice to the impact a single individual has had on the lives of millions? Indeed, to say it has been eye-opening, inspirational and an education is a criminal understatement. From Dame Maggie Smith (Harry Potter’s Professor McGonagall), whose career began in the Oxford Playhouse and who met the love of her life on the steps of the Ashmolean, to the breathtaking beauty of Jane Burden, whose face made her the ‘It’ girl of the pre-Raphaelite era, or Sarah Cooper, whose homemade treat of marmalade has gilded many a dull breakfast. The list is literally endless.
They have entertained, inspired and saved the lives of millions, and it all began here, in the classrooms of our local schools and college libraries, from whence they have gone on to pave the way for a better, healthier and more just world. Let’s see Oxford use its stories and achievements as the ultimate platform for inspiring women everywhere – after all, it’s not as if their stories are of easy riches and accomplishment; for many, their lives were ones of battling prejudice, but astonishingly, they had the grit and the courage and talent to persevere. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed meeting these wonderful women and that they have given you the courage you need to begin your own journey.