International Women’s Day is a time for us all to reflect on women’s struggle for equality, at home and around the world. It was first celebrated in New York in 1909. In 1917, Lenin declared it a national holiday, and in 1975, the United Nations General Assembly began celebrating 8 March as International Women’s Day.
Julian of Norwich (1342–1416)
Mother Julian, as she was also known, was an anchorite, who lived in permanent seclusion in a small cell in St Julian’s Church, Norwich, which still stands today. Not much of her previous life is known, nor is it clear whether her name was actually Julian. She preferred to write anonymously, from the solitude of her cell, and was the first woman writer to be published in English, in 1395! Her “Revelations of Divine Love” is still in print today, and she is well known for the quote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’. Norwich may well have been one of the most religious cities in Europe at the time, and Julian of Norwich is one of the most influential figures in Christian mysticism. David Holgate’s statue of Julian of Norwich, outside Norwich Cathedral, was completed in 2000.
Edith Cavell (1865–1915)
Edith Cavell was born just outside of Norwich. She is known for her extraordinary dedication to saving lives through her medical skills, and her subsequent execution for “treason”. Living in Belgium during WWI, Edith Cavell treated soldiers from both sides of the war with no discrimination, saying that she couldn’t “stop while there are lives to be saved”. She helped 200 allied soldiers escape from German occupied Belgium during the war, but was later arrested by German soldiers, found guilty of treason, and sentenced to death. At dawn on 12 October 1915, despite international pressure for mercy, Edith Cavell, aged 49, was put to death by a German firing squad. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage. Initially, her body was buried at the rifle range where she was executed. After the war, her body was returned to England and a memorial service was held for her at Westminster Abbey. She was later reburied at Norwich Cathedral and a statue in her honour can be found outside on Tombland.
E L Turner (1867–1940)
Emma Louisa Turner was a highly respected ornithologist, writer and pioneering bird photographer – an unusual achievement in the male-dominated world of the early twentieth century. She was also one of the first bird ringers and an early member of the Linnean Society. Born in Kent, she visited the Norfolk Broads in 1901 (aged 34) and became fascinated with photographing the birds she saw there. For a quarter of a century, Turner lived and worked for part of each year, including two winters, at Hickling Broad. She stayed mainly on a houseboat of her own design, which she named after the water rail, the first bird she photographed in the Norfolk Broads.
With the help of the game keeper, she spent her time walking the Broads and photographing birds, using an old plate camera. One of her biggest moments came in July 1911 when she photographed a recently fledged bittern. This was the first evidence of the species’ return to the United Kingdom as a breeding bird after its local extinction in the late 19th century. It provided a powerful incentive for the camera to replace the gun as proof of a bird’s presence, although persecution and specimen collecting were still major threats to scarce species.