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Women who’ve made firsts

For #PROCESSIONS2018 we have partnered with betty, champions of women and a brand opening the conversation about periods, pads and puberty with young girls. As a tribute to the project, they’ve shared stories about women who’ve made major progress by becoming the first to do something amazing.


The first Queen of England: Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554)

Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England for just nine days in 1553. This was how she got her nickname, ‘The Nine Days’ Queen’. Before Jane, the only queens in England were women who’d been married to kings. They weren’t monarchs in their own right. Jane was the first to break the chain in 1553, when she was just sixteen! She also refused to name her husband as joint ruler and intended to own her throne.

The first female doctor in England: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917)

Back in the nineteenth century, even though Queen Victoria was following Lady Jane’s footsteps and sitting on the throne, women in Britain were not allowed to become doctors. The first to do so was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, but her path was not easy. She had to enrol as a student nurse because she was denied entry to medical school and when she tried to go to classes for male doctors, she was banned. In 1865, she managed to sit the necessary exams by taking advantage of a loophole in the Society of Apothecaries rules (they’d forgotten to specifically forbid women from doing so). Elizabeth passed and gained a certificate to become a doctor. She went on to practice medicine in London and help other women. She founded the New Hospital for Women and later the London School of Medicine for Women (she also campaigned for women’s right to vote). In 1876, the law was changed allowing women to become doctors too – and now we make up almost half of that number.

The first woman to complete the Boston Marathon: Kathrine Switzer (b. 1947)

In 1967, KV Switzer registered to run the Boston Marathon. This keen runner began the race typically enough, but after a few miles was attacked by a race official screaming ‘Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!’ He was furious because KV Switzer was actually Kathrine Switzer. No-one at the start line had noticed that there was a woman taking part in this all-male race. The official didn’t succeed in stopping Kathrine and she went on to complete the marathon in four hours twenty minutes. The incident made Kathrine a hero for feminists. Her success also helped to prove that women were physically capable of long-distance running, which many at the time didn’t believe. Now there was evidence to prove them wrong. Kathrine went on to run more than thirty marathons and won the New York one in 1974, just two years after women were finally allowed to officially enter the Boston Marathon. The marathon only became an Olympic event for women in 1984. In 2017, Kathrine returned to run the Boston Marathon for the second time. This time round, all the crowds cheered her on. She wore the same number, 261, which race organisers have now retired in her honour. Amazingly Kathrine was only twenty-five minutes slower than fifty years before despite now being seventy. Definitely an inspiration.

Pink Parcel and betty will be at the London procession with the bettybus on Abingdon Street at the end of the route. Visit them to hear more about their work, download the Pink Parcel / betty PROCESSIONS Snapchat filter and take a selfie with the PROCESSIONS themed flower wall.

As part of their charity work, betty collect unwanted (and unused) pads and tampons to donate to charities which support vulnerable and homeless women and school children with all of their period needs, including Binti, the York Road Project and the Red Box Project. Visit the bettybus to find out more.

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