Influential Stoke-On-Trent Women - International Women’s Day

· 8 min read
Influential Stoke-On-Trent Women - International Women’s Day
Photo by Leonardo Zorzi / Unsplash

Stoke-on-Trent is the home and birthplace of many famous people from all walks of life. And while there are many articles and posts about them, I can't seem to find any that celebrate the women of our fair city.

So in honour of International Women's Day, here are some of our most influential and inspiring Stoke-on-Trent women.

Clarice Cliff

Clarice Cliff

It would be remiss of me to not start this list with one of the most famous women, not just in Stoke-on-Trent, but in the world of ceramics. Clarice Cliff was born in Tunstall in 1899 and started working in the pottery industry at age 13. She moved to AJ Wilkinson's pottery factory in 1916 and was given her own studio and the role of apprentice modeller, which was a role rarely taken by a woman. Fortunately, the factory owner, Colley Shorter, appreciated her talent.
Her famous 'Bizarre' wares launched in 1927 and completely revolutionised the ceramics industry.
She ended up marrying Shorter and they lived at Chetwynd House, Clayton. It was here that she died in 1972.

There is a film about Clarice Cliff called The Colour Room.

Learn more about Clarice Cliff

Jessie MacWilliams

Florence Jessie Collinson MacWilliams

Jessie MacWilliams was born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1917 and was one of the first women to publish in the mathematical field of coding. She studied at Cambridge and moved to the United States to study at Johns Hopkins University and then later, Harvard. All of this was incredible as women's education was extremely difficult to access at that time.
She published groundbreaking work in code theory and had breakthroughs in computer science and mathematics.
There is a new secondary school in Meir, Stoke-on-Trent being created that will bear her name to ensure her local legacy lives on.

Eleanor Lodge

Eleanor Constance Lodge CBE

Born in Hanley in 1869, Lodge was the only daughter of Oliver Lodge, a chine clay merchant. She took up her studies at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and became a librarian. She then studied in Paris, coming back to England to become a tutor at Lady Margaret Hall. She became the vice-principle in 1906.
She moved on to Westfield College in London to teach and became the principal of the college in 1921.
Lodge was the first woman to be awarded a D.Litt by Oxrod University in 1928 for her work in modern history and she received a CBE in 1939.
In a world and a time when women's education was extremely limited, this was no small thing.

Ann Savours Shirley

Ann Margaret Savours Shirley

Born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1927, Shirley is best known for being a historian of Polar Exploration in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. She studied at Royal Hollow Way College, the University of London, the Sorbonne in Paris and the Burslem School of Art. Her career began as a library assistant at the University of Aberdeen before becoming curator of manuscripts at the Scott Polar Institute. She then went on to become the assistant keeper and custodian of manuscripts at the National Maritime Museum.

You can read her book, 'The Voyages of the Discovery' here.

Charlotte Rhead

Charlotte Antoinette Adolphine Rhead

Rhead was born in Burslem in 1885 and was the daughter of pottery designer Alfred Rhead. By the time she was 5 years old, the family had moved to The Villas in Stoke and her father worked at the Minton factory. They moved again to Porthill, into a house her father built, then again to Fenton. Throughout this time, her father taught her to paint and draw. She then took up study at Fenton Art School. She worked for a company called Wardle and Co and became skilled at tube-lining, which is creating fine raised decorations on pottery made from liquid clay. When that company declined though, she moved to Keeling and Co, where they didn't practise tube lining, so she had to become an enameller. She worked her way up in an industry that did not favour women and became the art director of T & R Boote.
She moved to Wood & Sons of Burslem to train tube liners but became a designer in her own right. It is here that the ‘Lottie Rhead Ware’ was created. Although it wasn't until her move to Burgess & Leigh that her name, and her wares, worldwide.

Learn more about her and her pottery here.

Dinah Craik

Dinah Maria Craik

Born Dinah Mariah Mulock in 1826 in Stoke-on-Trent, she was raised in Newcastle-under-Lyme. She felt a calling to be a writer and in 1846 she travelled to London in 1865 she married George Lillie Craik who was a partner in the Macmillan & Company publishing house.
She wrote a number of poems and novels as well as created numerous sketches to go with them. Her best-known novel is John Halifax, Gentleman, which is a Victorian novel about a young orphan boy and his life, moving through the socio-economic classes of the day.

You can read her complete works here.

M'Lita Dolores

M'lita Dolores

Her real name was Mary Poole and she was born in Mollart Street, Hanley in 1890. She got a lucky break when she won a talent contest at the Imperial Concert Hall in Hanley. She was well known for being a child impersonator, but she had a multitude of performing skills, such as trick cycling, roller skating, comedic acting, a speciality dance, and being a comedienne.
Her name came from a nun who was taking care of her when she was ill on the isle of Malta on her honeymoon. Dolores means sorrowful and the locals called the island M'lita.
She used the name and topped the bill at many large West End theatres across London such as The Apollo and The Palladium. She also became well known for her child impersonation act on BBC radio. She then moved on to become the well-known children's storyteller on the BBC known as Auntie M'Lita.

Susie Cooper

Susie Cooper

Born in Burslem in 1902, Susan Vera Cooper OBE, showed an interest in drawing and art at a young age and attended night classes at the Burslem School of Art. She worked for A E GRay & Co Ltd from 1922 and Edward Gray recognised her talent. She was soon producing her own designs and in 1923 she launched the Gloria Lustre Range.
She moved away from the company and set up with her brother-in-law Albert Beeson and set up her own company, Susie Cooper Potteries.
Her work is sought after and collected all over the world and she is one of the best-known pottery designers of all time, even the Queen Mother was an admirer of her work.

Find out more about Susie Cooper and her pottery here.

Sybil Leek

Sybil Leek

Known as 'Britain's most famous witch', Sybil Leek was born in Normacot, Stoke-on-Trent in 1917. She claimed to be a descendant of Molly Leigh, the Burslem 'witch'. She married 16, although he died two years later. Then she left Stoke-on-Trent and lived in the New Forest with the New Forest gypsies. At age 20 she opened three antique shops. She lived behind a shop in Burley and became something of a media sensation. Although she became tired of the attention from the media and tourists. She was a witch, astrologer, occult author and psychic. And while many people thought she was a joke or a fraud, she stayed true to her beliefs her whole life, even angering other witches with her opinions differing strongly with theirs on many things such as nudity in rituals, curses and drugs.
She wrote many books and was a media favourite for many years.

Learn more about Sybil Leek and her life here.

Jessie Tait

Dorothy Jessie Tait

Born in 1928 in Stoke-on-Trent, she studied at the Burslem School of art and was a junior designer for Charlotte Rhead. She became a designer for Midwinter Pottery and when that was taken over by J & G Meakin and then Wedgwood she moved to Johnson Brothers and then retired in the 1990s. Her style was unique and sought after, using detailed and geometric patterns. She also worked from home in the evenings making tube-lined wares on terracotta bodies for family and friends.
Her work is extremely collectable and sought after all over the world.

Susan Williams-Ellis

Susan Williams-Ellis

Although she wasn't born in Stoke-on-Trent, she still has firm foundations in the city, as she was the co-founder of Portmeirion Pottery. Born in 1918 in Guildford, Surrey, she was born into an artistic society. Her father was an architect and her mother was a writer. Her Godfather was Rudyard Kipling and their friend's circle consisted of people such as Virginia Woolf and Augustus John.
She studied fine art a Chelsea Polytechnic and then moved to wales with her husband, making money from book illustrations and designing.
She and her husband took over the souvenir shop in Portmeirion, which had been created by her father, and turned it into a booming business. By 1961 they had opened another shop on Pont Street, London.
They purchased two run-down pot banks in Stoke-on-Trent and turned them into the world-renowned Portmeirion Pottery. This was one of the first pottery businesses to create casual pottery, for everyday use for men and women of all social statuses. She was the designer of the most popular patterns, Botanic Garden, which became a worldwide bestseller.

Molly Leigh's Grave, Burslem

Molly Leigh

This list would not be complete without Stoke-on-Trent's most famous woman, Molly Leigh.
I'm not going to go into detail here, as I wrote an entire article on her, but it seems she was actually an entrepreneur and a rather wealthy and well-known woman.

If you would like to learn more about Molly Leigh, you can read my article here - Molly Leigh - the True History of an Independent, Wealthy, Land Owning Woman

If you like what you have read, please feel free to support me by following and signing up for my newsletter and/or buying me a coffee!

Thank you.

If you are interested in the history of Stoke-on-Trent & the surrounding areas then check out these books on Amazon.

Down at the bottom here I am going to shamelessly plug my clothing company Weird Horse Apparel!

There are some weird and wonderful clothing designs available and even some Stoke-on-Trent designs!

Take a look!