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Harrogate Plaques dedicated to Women

Prompted by Women’s History Month – March -, and within it, International Women’s Day, this piece looks at the Heritage Plaques of Harrogate which are dedicated to women. Since the inception of the plaques in 1975, jointly between the then Harrogate Society and Harrogate Borough Council, 87 plaques have been unveiled up to March 2021. Of the total plaques, three-quarters are of places of historic and other interest if you include a Spitfire. That leaves fifteen plaques to men and six to women or 17 and 7 per cent respectively of the total. Putting it another way, 71 per cent of those of people were to men and 29 per cent to women. Others, please note, might come up with slightly different figures, but I included with my men plaques also associated with a particular place but where the man was of central importance.

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Florence Nightingale - Plaque 62

UK Association for the History of Nursing

The first plaque to a woman is number 62, to Florence Nightingale, installed in 2010 at 12 York Place. Nightingale was a visitor to Harrogate, for the first time in 1852, staying with her aunt at Mrs Wright’s lodgings. Her renown, of course, was international. Born in 1820 in Florence, hence her name, into a prosperous family, she trained as a nurse in Europe and in 1853, the year following that Harrogate visit, became the superintendent of a hospital for invalid women in London. But her fame comes from volunteering for duty in the Crimean War in 1854 when she took thirty-eight nurses to the military hospital at Scutari, where she reduced the mortality rate drastically. It is from this service that the name of the Lady with the Lamp derives. Back in England, she formed institutions for the training of nurses and in succeeding years devoted herself to the improvement of nursing and public health. She was also a noted statistician. Her continuing significance and the esteem in which she is widely regarded is shown by the naming of the emergency Covid-19 hospitals as Nightingales and by the declaration of 2020, the bicentenary of her birth, as International Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Organisation. But, like many figures from the past, she has more recently come under attack for racist and colonialist beliefs. The New Zealand Nurses’ Association declined to participate in those birthday celebrations based on her role as advisor to the governor of New Zealand in the 1860s during a period of severe repression of Maori uprisings. I will close with a quotation from her: ‘I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse’.

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Catherine Gurney - Plaque 67

St George’s Police Trust

The next plaque is number 67, at the St Andrew’s Police Treatment Centre on Harlow Moor Road. It is to Catherine Gurney. She was born in 1848 and was a member of the wider wealthy and influential Gurney family of Quakers. In 1883 she founded the Christian Police Association and opened London’s first Police Institute as a drop-in centre. It is this work for which she is noted, although she was also a prominent campaigner in the cause of temperance. She established police convalescent homes and orphanages, paid for through her fund-raising efforts. Here in Harrogate, an orphanage was established in a former private school as the Northern Police Orphanage in 1898. The convalescent home was in the same property until St Andrew’s opened in 1903. In 1911, the year of the census, St Andrew’s was looking after seventeen police officers, almost all of them from big city forces and all a little older and married. They were cared for by thirteen staff. At the orphanage were seventy-five boys and girls looked after by eleven staff. Those of school-age walked down to Western School on Cold Bath Road every day, whilst the older girls trained in housework. Among the boys it was recorded that sixteen-year-old Joseph Lowe had tuberculosis.
Gurney served as World Superintendent of Work Among Police and was Honorary Secretary of the International Police Christian Association. The Gurney Fund still provides for the children of deceased or medically retired officers. The Harrogate orphanage, later known as St George’s House, closed and was demolished in 1976 but St Andrew’s has continued its work. She was awarded the OBE for her charitable services. She died in 1930 and was buried at All Saints, Harlow Hill.

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Mrs Mehroo Jehangir - Plaque 71

The statue La Douche: Paul Jennings

Plaque 71 was installed in 2013 in cooperation with the Friends of Harrogate and is to Mrs Mehroo Jehangir. It is in the gardens between West Park and Montpellier Hill. The accompanying statue was donated by Mrs Frainy Ardeshir in loving memory of Mehroo, who was her sister-in-law. Sculpted by Charles Raphael Peyre the statue was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1913 and is titled La Douche. It was purchased by Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji, a wealthy shipping magnate for his main home at Windsor. It remained there until the 1950s when Lady Bomanji moved to the Harrogate residence, Pineheath on Cornwall Road, which had been owned by the family from the mid-1920s. Lady Bomanji was a generous benefactor to Harrogate and was awarded the Freedom of the Borough in 1984. In all her work she was supported by her daughter Mehroo, who continued the family tradition of service and generosity to the town until her death in 2012. She was President of Women of the North, of the Friends of Harrogate and of the Harrogate branch of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade.

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Grand Duchess George of Russia - Plaque 72

Photographer unknown

The following year, 2014, plaque 72 was put in place on Wetherby Road to Her Royal and Imperial Highness Marie Georgievna Romanova, known as the Grand Duchess George of Russia. She was the daughter of King George 1 of Greece and his Queen Olga, the Grand Duchess Olga Constantinova of Russia, first cousin to the Tsar, Nicholas II. She married in 1900 Grand Duke George of Russia on the island of Corfu, but the couple settled in St Petersburg. Sadly, she never adapted to life in Russia, became estranged from her husband and increasingly spent time abroad, including visiting the then world-renowned spa town of Harrogate, partly for the delicate health of her daughters Nina and Xenia. This was on the recommendation of the Tsarina Alexandra, who had visited Harrogate in 1894.
Grand Duchess George was in Harrogate at the outbreak of the First World War and decided to stay, devoting herself to helping wounded and sick service men. She founded hospitals and convalescent homes, including Tewit Well, Heatherdene, St George’s and St Nicholas, not only providing the funds but also nursing patients herself, having trained as a Red Cross nurse. In all, through the war and immediate post-war year, her hospitals treated nearly 1,200 casualties. The memorial cross adjacent to the plaque was given by her to the town in 1921 to commemorate patients who died of their wounds. Her later life was lived in considerably reduced financial circumstances as a result of the Revolution in Russia, which also claimed the life of her husband, who was shot by the Bolsheviks in 1919. She returned to Greece and remarried but was forced into exile in Italy from 1924 to 1940, when her pro-British views led to her being forced to return to Greece, where she died later that year.

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Dr Laura Veale - Plaque 77

Yorkshire Post from British Medical Journal obituary

The next plaque, number 77, is to Dr Laura Veale at the site of her surgery, number 3 Victoria Avenue. It was paid for by the Harrogate Medical Society, the Harrogate Civic Society and Richard Eves Architects. Laura Veale was born on 30 August 1867 in Hampsthwaite, a village to the north-west of Harrogate, where she spent her early childhood. Her father, Richard, whose middle name of Sobey she also took, was a native of Cornwall who had studied medicine at Edinburgh. Her mother, also Laura, was born in Heckmondwike. Two brothers, Henry and Rawson Augustus were also to pursue distinguished medical careers. The family moved into Harrogate, living in Victoria Park, one of several elegant neighbourhoods in the town. They were a comfortably off middle-class family: in 1881, for example, served by a governess, nurse, cook and housemaid. Her father died comparatively young, and Laura was a little older than was usual when she began her medical studies. She overcame the considerable degree of opposition to women entering the medical profession in the late nineteenth century to pursue a distinguished career. The medical school in Leeds having shut its doors to her, she went to London for her studies at the University of London, passing the London M.B. In the 1901 census we find her as a thirty-three-year-old medical student with other, younger, women students living in St Pancras. Her medical education was then pursued at the Royal Free Hospital.
Her first post was at the Hospital for Women and Children in Leeds, but she soon returned to Harrogate where she began general practice at the surgery on Victoria Avenue, and was also appointed to a position on the medical staff of Harrogate Infirmary. There she started a department for women and children, the nucleus of which was a dispensary she had set up in New Park, a working-class district of Harrogate adjoining the town’s gas works. After the First World War, she achieved her ambition of establishing a maternity department in the hospital, which opened in 1937. She also established infant welfare and antenatal clinics and was medical officer of the Municipal Babies’ Hospital. In addition to her work for the health of women and children, she was a founder member of the Yorkshire Council for Cripples and a member of the Yorkshire Council of the Empire Cancer Campaign. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Medical Society and was a member of the BMA Federation of Medical Women. She retired in 1936 but continued to play a prominent part in the life of the town. She organised the Women’s Voluntary Service for Harrogate during the Second World War and led the campaign to collect scrap metal for the war effort, riding through the town in a car pulled by local scouts, shouting out at the top of her voice. She spent the rest of her life in Harrogate, latterly in Springfield Avenue. She died on the 14 August 1963, aged 95, at Scotton Bank Hospital.

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Dr Kathleen E H Rutherford - Plaque 87

Soroptimist International Harrogate and District

The last plaque, number 87, is to Dr Kathleen E. H. Rutherford by the Soroptimist International of Harrogate District, at her York Road home and surgery, St Mungo. It was installed on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021. That year was also the centenary of Soroptimist International, first founded in Oakland, California in 1921, with the aim to ‘educate, empower and enable opportunities for women and girls’. Kathleen became the Harrogate Club’s Founder President in 1933, and in 1939 Vice-President of Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland.

She was born in Glasgow in 1896 to James Rutherford, a physician and Amy, a Dr of Philosophy, born in Sheffield. The family moved to Harrogate and in the 1911 census were in York Road in the house they called St Mungo after the founder and patron saint of Glasgow. Kathleen was then fourteen, with younger sister Dorothy and brothers Raphael and Eric plus two servants. She qualified in 1920 at Glasgow University, taking the MB and ChB from Glasgow and Leeds the following year. She held a number of hospital posts, including in Barrow-in-Furness, before setting up in private practice back in Harrogate, where her brothers also practised.

As a committed Quaker, humanitarian and pacifist, her work extended far beyond medical practice in Harrogate. In the 1930s, she helped organise the relocation of Basque children fleeing the Civil War in Spain. Prior to Britain’s entry into the Second World War and during the conflict itself, she continued to campaign for peace and in 1940 spoke to a public meeting under the title ‘Is War the Only Way?’ After the war, she continued to work for the Women’s Peace Campaign supporting the provision of food, clothing and medical supplies and equipment to Europe.

In 1962 she was bequeathed a considerable sum of money, most of which was devoted to charities including Famine Relief, War on Want, Save the Children and Guide Dogs for the Blind. She also worked around the world to help women and children. In 1966 she worked with women and infants in the slums of Naples. She had for many years raised money for victims of leprosy and in 1967 and 1971worked in a Ugandan leper colony. In 1970 she went to Biafra to help organise relief at the end of the war. She also worked in eye clinics and general medicine in Algeria and in Palestinian refugee camps in Jerusalem.

She was awarded an MBE in 1970 for services to medical work in under-developed countries. She was invited to China in 1972, aged now well into her seventies, with other doctors to share medical advances and promote global understanding. In the following year, she became an Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Harrogate.

Her obituary in the British Medical Journal describes her as ‘never physically robust’ and as continuing her work to the end despite failing health. It also speaks of her as ‘a highly intelligent person, possessed of a great sense of humour’, with a love of music, the theatre, art and literature’, a ‘gifted and charming lady’. She died on 9 November 1975, aged 79.

The women chosen for the plaques represent a huge amount of dedicated work for Harrogate and the wider national and international world. What can we say about these six women? First, they all came from more or less wealthy and privileged backgrounds. Helping others less fortunate and serving the community had always been roles for royalty, aristocracy, and the wealthy generally. But they also show how for middle and upper- middle class women, like Laura Veale or Florence Nightingale, despite all the formidable obstacles, the opportunity for higher education and professional life, and eventually political life too, was opening in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is notable too that four of the six were members of the medical profession. It is also interesting that two were Quakers.

There are no doubt many other candidates for commemoration. In my own research into Edwardian Harrogate I came across several. The wives of Mayors and local gentry like Viscountess Mountgarret or Lady Ingleby feature prominently in philanthropic endeavours. Or individuals like Muriel Maud Garrad, who was the ‘friend and benefactor’ of St Monica’s Home from 1904 to 1947. This was originally what was called a Prevention and Rescue Home, to prevent young women from falling into immorality or prostitution or to rescue them if they had. Garrad was its Hon. Secretary. First established in West Cliffe Terrace and then Harlow Terrace and later in Robert Street, the home helped young women, chiefly those who had become pregnant, with their child and in finding work, particularly in domestic service. Garrad was also a Justice of the Peace and is remembered by a prayer stool at St Wilfrid’s Church.

But there are also the working-class heroines of Harrogate, if I may put it that way, like the thousands who worked long and hard hours as domestic servants, or in shops, or in dressmaking and millinery. It was to be much further into the twentieth century before wider opportunities began to open for them.

The texts for many of the Harrogate plaques were researched and written by Malcolm Neesam. He also included a portrait of Grand Duchess George in his A-Z of Harrogate: People – Places – History, published by Amberley in 2019.
UK Association for the History of Nursing.
St George’s Police Trust.
Veale obituary in the British Medical Journal 24 August 1963.
Rutherford obituary in the British Medical Journal 6 December 1975.
Soroptimist International Harrogate and District.

Paul Jennings March 2021

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