In a momentous move, the distinguished contributions of pioneering women who left an indelible mark on Leeds will be officially proposed to adorn the walls of Leeds Civic Hall, as announced today.

The residents of Leeds were called upon to participate in the selection process, determining which women, out of an initial roster of six, should be the first to have their names permanently inscribed on the esteemed council chamber walls. Following an overwhelmingly positive response from the public, all six names will be formally submitted for inclusion on the chamber walls, joining the ranks of notable men from the city’s past who already grace the hallowed space.

Councillor Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Communities, announced an event commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8, themed “Inspiring Inclusion.”

Councillor Coupar said: “The public response to this has been incredible, and the overwhelming sentiment which shone through was that each and every one of these women deserved to have their stories and legacy honoured.

“That’s a testament to how enthusiastic the people of Leeds are about recognising the accomplishments of women and inspiring future generations of women and girls to follow their dreams.

“We’ve also received some amazing suggestions for more names which we can look at in future too, and it’s so positive to see this initiative sparking such a passionate conversation about how we ensure women’s role in the history of Leeds is acknowledged and celebrated.”

The selected names, following the consultation, are as follows:

  1. The Barnbow Lasses: Women who worked in the Barnbow Munitions Factory, where 35 women and girls tragically lost their lives in an explosion during the First World War, marking the city’s single biggest loss of life in history.
  2. Leonora Cohen OBE: A Suffragette movement pioneer born in Leeds, famously arrested for protesting against the government’s stance on women’s voting rights by smashing a glass case at the Tower of London containing royal insignia.
  3. Gertrude Paul: Founding member of the Leeds West Indian Carnival, Leeds’ first black headteacher, and founder of the Leeds International Women’s Group, the Afro Asian Organisation, and the United Caribbean Association.
  4. Alice Bacon MP CBE: The city’s inaugural female MP, who, as a minister in the Home Office during the 1960s, oversaw significant societal changes, including the abolition of the death penalty, decriminalisation of homosexuality, and legalisation of abortion.
  5. Beryl Burton OBE: Dominating the UK and international cycling scene, she secured over 90 domestic championships, seven world titles, and set numerous national records.
  6. Ivy Benson: Born in Holbeck, a saxophonist and bandleader who led an all-female swing band and was the first entertainer invited to perform at the VE celebrations in Berlin in 1945.

Responding to the news, Heather Paul, daughter of Gertrude Paul, said: “Thank you, to the people of the city for voting. The recognition is for all the women of Leeds who gave their time generously to make a difference for all the communities we serve.

“The visibility of diverse women on the walls of the council chambers will provide generational hope and aspirations for the people of Leeds who continue to give their time to others.

“It is a testimony that Leeds City Council is proud to share historical evidence of the immense impact made by women in Leeds”.

The proposed names will now undergo approval by the council’s executive board before joining the existing male figures on the walls of the chamber. Since the construction of Leeds Civic Hall in 1933, the decision was made to recognise men closely associated with Leeds or those who significantly contributed to the city’s history. The council has been keen to ensure that the impactful women from the city’s past are also duly acknowledged.