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International Women’s Day 2021: Our teachers tell us their most inspiring women

Monday 8 Mar 2021

On International Women’s Day 2021, we asked our teaching staff to let us know which women have inspired them most. We received an incredible response with some stellar figures from history as well as some women from their personal lives who had a huge impact on our teachers. Here’s the female role models they picked out:

Jacinda Ardern

Mrs Coventry King writes: She leads in her own way as a woman and doesn’t feel she has to change her style to be more like a man plus she’s kind and has excellent communication skills. Also, she is balancing an important role with recent motherhood which I find particularly inspiring for obvious reasons.

Mrs Manning writes: I would like to choose Jacinda Ardern as a woman who inspires me. She has shown the rest of the world how to be a great leader during a time of crisis. She has acted decisively throughout the pandemic making difficult choices, but always putting kindness first.

Chrissie Wellington

Mrs Clarke writes: Chrissie Wellington is the most incredible triathlete who always smiled her way through the pain. Her schedule was gruelling and she did not always know what she was doing when she first started training and competing but she learnt to compete in the toughest of competitions. Her attitude is very much one of ‘have a go’ as it is always worth trying. She had her fair share of accidents as well as the misfortune to be ill with a cold when she was due to defend her title as World Ironman Champion but in the end, she was World Champion Ironman four times.

Mui Thomas

Mr Denvir writes: Mui Thomas is a young woman living in Hong Kong suffering from Harlequin ichthyosis, a rare congenital skin disorder which causes her skin to grow at a rapid rate causing severe dryness and pain which leaves her body, including her face and head, visibly disfigured. She is one of the oldest surviving  people in the world with the condition. Abandoned at birth and subsequently adopted by a British family, despite being visibly disfigured, she has inspired others to confront cyber-bullying attacks and raised eye-brows in the street by leading a full life, including as a rugby referee.

Emily Dickinson

Dr Noble writes: My first would be Emily Dickinson, the American Poet. I got back into poetry about 5 years ago and came across Emily Dickinson’s work. I love her poetry as it just has the most beautiful and unusual structures and expresses so much in so few words. She lived a life, very much like we have all had to live in these Covid times; in her home, not seeing many people. She had an unconventional life with a lot of isolation but yet she writes with such a depth of emotion and passion about her personal feelings in much of her work that her family nearly decided not to publish much of it when they found it after her death. Her sister, Lavinia, actually burned much of her work, in line with Emily’s own instructions. I often wonder what she would make of her work, now being so widely known and admired, as in her lifetime, she produced the work for the love of process rather than for recognition

Aine O’Brien

Mr Constanti writes: l have settled on former colleague Aine O’ Brien, who may be remembered by many in Year 13.This is because she is a tremendous role-model, by dealing with adversity, her ‘go-getter, follow-your-dreams’ positivity, her unabashed love of Science and geekiness, her connections (she knows so many people in the scientific community) and her principles/ ongoing fight for diversity and equality in Science.

Lise Sherwell

Mrs Hankey writes this about her sister: Elise age 7ish replied to the question of ‘what do you want to do with your life?’ by saying “a violinist, an Olympic athlete and a lawyer.” She attended Guildhall School of Music and Drama as a double bass player. She started rowing and has raced at 3 Olympics – Sydney, Athens and Beijing. She won a bronze medal in 2004 in Beijing and was within a hair of being the first woman to win Gold in Beijing. The race was incredibly close with the point of the position of the stroke being the cause of the placing. She walked away with a second Bronze medal. She was then invited to join the GB cycling team. As a newly married wife, she became pregnant and retired from professional sport. She is now a lawyer.

Michelle Obama

Miss Turnbull writes: I admire Michelle Obama because she is so hard-working, productive, empathetic and – best of all – has a fabulous sense of humour.

Mrs McCartney writes: In my life I would be lying if I said anyone other than my mum, sister, and close girlfriends. They’ve taught me to work hard, be honest, and to challenge myself. Outside of my immediate circle, Michelle Obama is a fantastic role model and all round inspirational woman. She has been on a great personal journey herself, and has stood up for equal rights. I enjoyed her autobiography, Becoming, and would highly recommend.

Valentina Tereshkova

Mr Bilton writes: A former textile worker from the Soviet Union became the first woman in space, orbiting the earth forty-eight times. She logged more flight time than the total combined times of every American astronaut who had flown before her – she was only 26 years old. An incredible achievement taking into account the political environment she grew up in. Alternatively my mum who put up with my loud music for the best part of 20 years!

Margaret Clutten

Mrs Drury writes: A woman who has inspired me was my great great Aunt. She was in her nineties when I used to go an visit her and she spent hours teaching me how to sew, despite the fact she was partially blind. During this time, she wrote a book of her life called Treasure in Learning: Account of an Educational Venture in the 1930’s with Autobiographical Reflections. She was a head mistress of her own school. She was Frobel trained and quite revolutionary in her time. She wrote about her time running a school during the war. I often wonder if the time I spent with her has shaped the teacher I have become.

Maya Angelou

Mrs Jones writes: As an A Level English Literature student I had the opportunity to go to a poetry reading in London to hear the extraordinary Maya Angelou. We had just finished reading her autobiographical ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ (my annotated copy still sits on my bookshelf). My teenage self was in awe – she was ever so tall with an amazing smile and was a lady who didn’t have to say much in order to be powerful (something I aspire to!). Her sparseness with words and lyrical beauty always appeals to me as a visual learner and practitioner. Every year I will still treat my tutor group, usually on national poetry day, to listening to Angelou read ‘And still I rise’ on Youtube.

Caroline Bradley

Mrs Tansley writes: My first inspiration as a young girl came in the form of Caroline Bradley the show jumper in the 70s. In a sport dominated by men she shone out to my young self and I admired her strength and courage. I was devastated when she died so young in 1983, at just 37, of a sudden heart attack at the Suffolk Show! She was the first woman to win the Puissance title and went on to ride for Great Britain and win team gold medals in world & European championships. She inspired me to believe that girls could do anything if they set their mind to it, even in a man’s world.

Rosa Parks

Mrs North writes: I have chosen Rosa Parks as my inspiration. We all know the story, that she refused to give up her seat for a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. What she did that day made her a symbol of dignity and strength in the struggle to end racial segregation. Her courage, her composure and her refusal to be intimidated in the face of hatred and bigotry, remind me to persist, to stay true to the things I believe in and not to be fearful of challenge.

Maggie, my grandmother

Mrs Steggles writes: Margaret Price was born in 1903, one of 12 but only 8 made it past 20. Although she and her sister won scholarships to go on with their education past the age of 14, neither girl did, as the family could not afford to educate the girls and it was not considered that girls needed an education! Maggie went to work in a grocer’s in the West end and then got a job as a seamstress. On her marriage she worked by taking in mending and repair work for Jaeger. She raised 5 girls, like many women of her generation mostly on her own in the war. On the death of my Grandfather she decided to travel and loved to go on a Saga holiday every February. 42 years ago she was in Yugoslavia and she suffered a heart attack dancing a foxtrot in a bright red dress.

She always spoke about the need to life your live and make the most of it and not to regret the unfairness of things. She had a great admiration for Millicent Fawcett and how she had worked to support equal rights for women just as much as others but had not felt violence was the answer. In her way my Grandmother managed to get her own way without conflicts, she used charm and a smile and taught all her daughters and granddaughters that they could and indeed should go out in the world and work and do their duty. But that you could have fun and be kind while you do it!

Kelly Holmes

Miss Linnell writes: Kelly Holmes is an inspiration to me through her continued hard work to overcome so many challenges. Many challenges arose throughout her career and how she managed to achieve success in the end with a double gold medal at Athens 2004.

Ellen MacArthur

Mr Wade writes: Ellen MacArthur has always inspired me. She held the record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the world in a yacht and the resilience and fortitude she needed to achieve this was staggering.

Mr Means writes: As a keen sailing family, there can be only one, and that is Dame Ellen Macarthur. Born in 1976, she was inspired by earlier female sailors as well as the Swallows and Amazons books. When she was 17, MacArthur bought a small 20ft boat and named it Iduna. Between 1995, at the age of 19, she sailed single-handedly on a circumnavigation of Great Britain. She had a highly successful long-distance sailing career, and until this year, held the female solo circumnavigation record. At the age of 29 on return from her record-breaking circumnavigation, she was made a Dame. She retired from racing at the young age of 34 so that she could concentrate on her Foundation that concentrates on promoting sustainability and the cyclical economy through both business and education.

My friend Jane

Mrs Regan writes: Nobody famous from me – but I have a friend who had a really tough time some years ago but found the strength to keep going and now has that composure which is such that I do believe nothing will fell her. I aspire to reach this state, but I am not there yet. She inspires her friends to feel confident – sometimes when something difficult comes up, I ask myself “What would Jane do?” and it helps me find my way again.

Gertrude Bell

Mr Lloyd writes: I have always been inspired by the story of Gertrude Bell, who was largely responsible for the setting up of the Hashemite states of Iraq and Jordan. She was an archaeologist, political agent, and much more besides. She broke convention and earned the respect of all those who worked with her in what was (and still is) a profoundly misogynistic part of the world. She has been likened to the female version of Lawrence of Arabia, although that is not a fair comparison, because the hurdles that she would have had to overcome as a woman.

Mrs Farthing

Mr Boyd-Williams writes: In my first teaching job, as an English and Drama teacher at Millfield School, I was very fortunate to work alongside Joanna Farthing. Mrs Farthing was the Head of Drama and she had single-handedly developed the Drama Department at Millfield over twenty years or so into a centre of excellence. Jo had no hubris and was always kind. She was fiercely intelligent and, whilst she was in many ways quiet and introverted, she would not tolerate bullying, unkindness or stupidity and would speak out against this whenever she felt she needed to. She was, and is, an amazing, warm, creative and hilarious woman who always dared to be brave, and always chose to challenge anything that she felt was an obstacle to improving the positive educational experience of her pupils and colleagues.

My wife

A husband and father writes: My wife is an inspiration! She trained as a nurse. We had our first child within a year of being married and she decided she would be the best possible mother she could be. One of our daughters developed a brain tumour and died five years’ ago. My wife plugged away at music with all our children. Through it all, she showed perseverance, tenacity and on the most part, good humour. Of our seven children, three of the four boys went on to be choristers at Westminster Abbey. I am in complete awe at what my wife has achieved in her life! She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer which meant a double mastectomy and a long course of chemotherapy. But she is well. There are many ways you can be successful and an inspiration and if you know yourself then you will know what path is right for you. I am just so grateful I met my wife 50 years ago!

Rachael Heyhoe Flint

Mr Marvell writes: If you take a walk around the College grounds during the summer, you’re almost certain to see cricket being enjoyed by both boys and girls in equal measure. This is in part due to the remarkable pioneering spirit of one Rachael Heyhoe Flint. It was her skill, determination and engaging personality that made people sit up and take the women’s game seriously. She captained England between 1966 and 1978 during which time they never lost a game. She helped establish a Women’s World Cup (two years before the men) which she then helped England win in 1973. She led the first women’s side to play at Lord’s and was among the first ten women to be admitted as a member to the previously all-male MCC as well as hitting the first six in a women’s Test match. After her retirement she became Baroness Heyhoe Flint and was the first woman to be inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame, working tirelessly in promoting the women’s game until her death in 2017. She was, according to journalist Scyld Berry, “the Dr WG Grace of women’s cricket – the pioneer without whom the game would not be what it is” and for that we should all be hugely grateful.

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