Pioneering women who have left an indelible mark on Leeds are poised to be immortalized in the annals of history at the esteemed Leeds Civic Hall.

Residents throughout the city are urged to contribute their insights to determine which extraordinary women from the past will be commemorated on the walls of the Council Chamber within the iconic building.

An extensive consultation, open until March 1, has been initiated this week, seeking the opinions of residents regarding the deserving women to be acknowledged.

Leeds locals are encouraged to articulate their preferences from a preliminary roster of six women, each of whom has charted an exceptional path in her own distinctive manner. Additionally, residents are welcome to proffer their own recommendations for inclusion.

The women featured on the initial list include:

Women who feature on the initial list are:

Gertrude Paul pic- Family photo
  • Gertrude Paul: A founding member of the Leeds West Indian Carnival and the first black head teacher in Leeds. She also founded the Leeds International Women’s Group, the Afro Asian Organisation and the United Caribbean Association. 
leonoracohen
  • Leonora Cohen OBE: A pioneer of the Suffragette movement, born in Leeds. She was famously arrested for smashing a glass case containing royal insignia at the Tower of London in protest against the government’s position on a woman’s right to vote.
Alice Bacon- Wikimedia Commons
  • Alice Bacon MP CBE: The city’s first female MP, as a minister in the Home Office in the 1960s she oversaw the introduction of substantial societal changes, including the abolition of the death penalty, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the legalisation of abortion.
Beryl Burton- Wikimedia Commons
  • Beryl Burton OBE: English racing cyclist who dominated the sport in the UK and abroad, winning more than 90 domestic championships and seven world titles and setting numerous national records.
Barnbow- Credit Leodis
  • The Barnbow Lasses: These women worked in the Barnbow Munitions Factory, where 35 women and girls were tragically killed in an explosion during the First World War. It remains the single biggest loss of life in the city’s history.
Ivy Benson- Credit Leeds Museums and Galleries
  • Ivy Benson: Born in Holbeck, Benson was a saxophonist and bandleader, who led an all-female swing band. Benson’s band were the first entertainers to be invited to perform at the VE celebrations in Berlin in 1945.

The names of those who are chosen by the people of Leeds will be announced on International Women’s Day on March 8, and will form part of a report for the final decision-making process later in the year. The names formally agreed will be added to the walls of the chamber alongside the men from the city’s past who already feature there. 

When Leeds Civic Hall was built in 1933, the decision was taken to recognise men who had a close association with Leeds or who contributed in a significant way to the history of the city, with scores of names added over the subsequent decades and the council is keen to ensure inspirational women from the city’s past are also recognised.

Councillor Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for resources, said: “As a city, Leeds has a very proud track record of honouring those who laid the foundations of the place we know and love today.

“However, there’s no question that the names which currently feature on the walls of the Council Chamber echo a time when the accomplishments of women were not held in the same high esteem that they are today.

“It’s high time we began to address that imbalance, to ensure that the achievements of these truly remarkable women get that same recognition and that their names stand as a lasting inspiration for future generations.”

As part of the survey, people can also suggest any names which they would wish to be considered in future.

To take part, please visit: www.leeds.gov.uk/inspirationalwomen