The Sunday Times: Review: Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention by Cathy Newman/Yes She Can: Why Women Own The Future by Ruth Davidson — female trailblazers

cathy newman

There will be some, and I might have been one of them, who will roll their eyes at these titles. Not more bloody feminism! But now I’ve finished them, I could hug Cathy Newman and Ruth Davidson for writing these two books.

Together, they tell a collective history that feels urgent and exciting, with Newman, the Channel 4 News presenter, exploring women’s past, and Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Tory party, tackling our future. Both books rebrand Herstory, a horribly hemp-and-hessian concept, and do so in voices that are modern, punchy and fresh.

Newman’s title misquotes, and reclaims Theresa May’s quip that she is a “bloody difficult woman” (as Ken Clarke suggested). The book’s chronology of exceptional women spans several centuries, from the 1800s to today. The style is poppy and informal, but the information is densely packed.

across the gender bar

Bloody Brilliant Women is full of fascinating stories about revolutionaries and pioneers: the first female journalists, the first policewomen, the first fighter pilots, the first computer programmers, politicians, writers, scientists and artists. There are determined individuals such as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, one of the earliest female doctors, who in the 1860s had to learn French to obtain her qualification because the only medical school that would admit a woman was in Paris. There are gutsy women, such as 18-year-old Dorothy Lawrence who pretended to be a man so she could see action on the Western Front during the First World War, and the aeronautical engineer Beatrice Shilling, whose contribution to the Spitfire and Hurricane’s Rolls-Royce Merlin engines saw her receive an OBE.

And there are lawyers such as Dr Ivy Williams, who in 1922 was the first woman called to the bar (she went on to teach), and Helena Normanton, who followed suit as the first practising female barrister. Jane Drew, the modernist architect and town planner, is just one of the many women who helped shape modern society, in everything from the National Trust, to the welfare state and CND.


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