As a part of the wonderful 2017 Jersey Festival of Words, I went to see Dame Jenni Murray talk about her book A History of Britain in 21 Women last night. Before I go any further, I have a confession to make. I have never listened to one single airing of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
The erudite among you will, of course, know that Jenni Murray has presented Woman’s Hour since 1987. During the first 10 minutes in the company of a fellow Yorkshire woman, I felt that by not tuning in to Woman’s Hour for the last 30 years, I have been depriving myself of something special. I have no idea why this bastion of BBC radio programmes has eluded me for so long. Thank goodness for podcasts.
Jenni has interviewed some of the most influential women of our time; all of whom are on my most-revered-list. She shared many wonderful anecdotal accounts of some of her most memorable interviews. Hillary Clinton and two interviews with the Iron Lady, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, before and after she was Prime Minister. Jenni is someone who has never been phased by an interviewee, but recalled that she did find those piercing blue eyes a little unnerving during their first meeting at Downing Street. Baroness Margaret Thatcher , despite the mixed press she receives, is recorded in history as the first woman to be elected Prime Minister of Britain and became the longest to serve in the twentieth century. You can listen to Jenni’s wonderful, slightly edgy, interview with The Iron Lady on 18th October 1993 here.
A History of Britain in 21 Women features a personal selection of some of the many women who have shaped Britain’s history, socially, politically, religiously and culturally. It was a privilege to meet Jenni Murray. In a world where our history is defined by men, this is an account that is long overdue. A name at the top of my-most-revered list, Gloria Steinem, has described this book far more succinctly than I ever can:
‘I can’t think of any more seductive way of learning about the past than meeting its principals as if they were friends in a room. That’s the gift that Jenni Murray gives us; a rare gift because the principals are women. If someone in every country were to write a book like this, scholars might finally admit that there are two things – history and the past – and they are not the same.’ Gloria Steinem
And the 21 women Jenni selected?
Boudicca, Aphra Behn, Elizabeth I (this chapter also features Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots), Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Constance Markievicz, Nancy Astor, Ada Lovelace, Caroline Herschel, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst, Gwen John, Rosalind Franklin, Ethel Smyth, Margaret Thatcher, Nicola Sturgeon, Mary Quant, Barbara Castle and Mary Somerville.