New book features pioneering women from Bristol’s past

Author Jane Duffus. Credit: Jon Craig Photos

Author and alumna Jane Duffus (MA 2008) has just published the second volume of The Women Who Built Bristol, featuring 250 brand new stories of inspiring females who fought tooth and nail to shape our city and the wider world. Olympians rub shoulders with boot makers; suffragists stand beside grocers; scientists are as one with artists.

Here, Jane share the stories of some of the pioneering women with a link to the University of Bristol. Women from volume one are featured in a special blog for International Women’s Day.



ISOBEL POWELL, 1907-1995

While Isobel Artner was working in Paris, she met Professor Cecil Powell, who was a Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. Isobel and Cecil soon fell in love and in 1932 she moved to Bristol to marry him and become his secretary at the University. She later became a microscope scanner in his team. Initially, Isobel was one of only a few microscope scanners (leading a team known as ‘Cecil’s Beauty Chorus’), who checked the plates which had been exposed to cosmic radiation. It was in this way that in 1946 Isobel became responsible for identifying one of the subatomic particles which led to her husband’s 1950 Nobel Prize.

MAY STAVELEY, 1863-1934

When Sir George Wills bought Goldney House in the 1920s as a men’s halls of residence, May Staveley nearly exploded with fury. She was the Tutor to Women Students at the University and the warden of the women’s halls of residence at Clifton Hill, just 16 feet away from Goldney Hall. The risks to her girls’ reputations by having young men sleeping so close by was more than May would stand for, so she threatened to resign. It was purely down to May that there even was a women’s halls of residence in Bristol. The site at Clifton Hill became available in 1909 and, with May’s help, a committee was formed to raise the funds to buy it as a women’s halls of residence.

Alumna Peggy Styles with a photo of Helen Wodehouse


In 1919, Helen Wodehouse came to Bristol where she was the first woman to hold the post of Professor of Education and Head of Department at the University of Bristol. She was also the first woman to hold any professorial chair here. Under her care, the University’s education department became one of the leading education departments in the UK. It is worth noting that, by the time of her death, Helen was still the only woman to have held a professorial chair at the University of Bristol.

Helen features in a series of portraits in the Wills Memorial Building, specially-commissioned to mark 100 years since the first women in Britain won the right to vote.


Geraldine Hodgson became head of the women’s secondary teaching training department at Bristol University College in 1902. In 1911, she was among a group of female graduates who formed the Bristol branch of the British Federation of University Women, which campaigned to see women’s achievements in the workplace treated equally. Her shock dismissal from the University in 1916 appears to have been due to disagreements about salary. And she was justified because, in 1911, Geraldine’s annual salary was £200, while a Mr T Foster with the same job title at the same university in the same year was being paid £400, despite not even having her doctorate.

You can buy The Women Who Built Bristol books via Jane’s website

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