Famous Women on South Devon

As we celebrate International Women's Day, it's a poignant moment to reflect on the incredible contributions of women throughout history. South Devon has been home to some remarkable women whose legacies continue to inspire and shape our world. From pioneers in science to champions of social justice, let's explore the stories of some of South Devon's most influential women. 

Dame Agnes Weston (1840-1918) 

Known as the "Sailors' Friend," Dame Agnes Weston was a social reformer and philanthropist who dedicated her life to improving the welfare of sailors in the Royal Navy. Weston established the Royal Sailors' Rests, providing safe havens and support services for sailors during their shore leave in Plymouth and Portsmouth. Her advocacy for better living conditions and moral support for sailors earned her widespread recognition and gratitude. She passed away in Devonport in Plymouth at the age of 78 and was the first woman given a full ceremonial Royal Navy funeral. 

Lady Nancy Astor (1879 – 1964) 

Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat in the British House of Commons, had significant ties to Devon. She represented the Plymouth ward of Sutton for 25 years. She was also Lady Mayoress of Plymouth during the Blitz - a key defining period in the city's recent history. She played a significant role in breaking gender barriers in British politics and advocating for women's rights. Representing Plymouth Sutton until her retirement in 1945, Lady Astor engaged actively with local matters and used her platform to advocate for child welfare, education, housing and healthcare. In recognition of her impact, Astor Park in Plymouth stands as a tribute to her contributions and legacy. 

Dorothy Elmhirst (1887 – 1968) 

Dorothy Elmhirst, an American heiress and philanthropist, made her mark on South Devon through her visionary work at Dartington Hall. Alongside her husband, Leonard Elmhirst, she transformed Dartington into a vibrant centre for arts, education and social reform. Her legacy lives on in the Dartington Hall Trust, which continues to enrich lives through its cultural and educational programs. 

Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976) 

No discussion of South Devon's notable women would be complete without mentioning Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime. Born in Torquay in 1890, Christie's detective novels have enthralled readers for generations. Her iconic characters, such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, continue to captivate audiences worldwide, cementing her status as one of the greatest mystery writers of all time. 

Angela Rippon (b. 1944) 

Born in Plymouth, Angela Rippon is a highly respected journalist, broadcaster and television presenter. With a career spanning decades, she became the first permanent female newsreader on BBC national television in 1975. Rippon has received numerous accolades for her contributions to journalism and broadcasting. 

Sue Barker (b. 1956)  

Former TV presenter and professional tennis Player, Sue Barker was born and raised in the seaside town of Paignton. During her playing career, she won 15 Women’s Tennis Association singles titles and reached a ranking of world No. 3! She began work for the BBC as a presenter in 1993 and used to present A Question of Sport.  

Dawn French (b. 1957) 

Dawn French, the beloved comedian, actress and writer, has strong ties to Devon, particularly through her personal and professional life. Despite being born in Wales, her parents were from Plymouth and they moved back during Dawn’s early years. She attended school in Plymouth. She’s best known for her television work, primarily ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ and ‘French and Saunders’. Her partner comedian, Jennifer Saunders, also had a house in Devon, specifically Chagford, with her husband Ade Edmondson. 

Sharron Davies (b. 1962) 

Olympic swimmer and sports presenter Sharron Davies was another sporting superstar to grow up in Devon. Born and raised in Plymouth and went to school in Tavistock. She originally learnt to swim with Devonport Royal Swimming Association, but moved to Port of Plymouth Swimming Association when she was eight. She set a record by swimming for the British national team at the age of 11, and at just age 13, Davies was selected to represent Great Britain at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. 

On International Women's Day, let us not only celebrate the achievements of these remarkable women but also reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women everywhere. From the arts to the sciences, from activism to literature, South Devon's trailblazing women have left an indelible imprint on history, reminding us of the profound impact that individuals can have on the world around them. 

As we honour the past and present accomplishments of women worldwide, let us also look to the future with hope and determination, knowing that the journey towards gender equality is far from over. Together, let us continue to champion the rights and aspirations of women everywhere, ensuring that every voice is heard and every dream is within reach. 

Happy International Women's Day! 

Remember, it's not just about celebrating today, but about striving for equality every day. 




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