Female firsts at Manchester
At the University, we've always been pioneering. Discover our women who changed the world.
Beatrice 'Tilly' Shilling – one of the first females to enrol on the University’s Electrical Engineering course
After completing her MSc in Electrical Engineering at Manchester, Tilly's invention, the RAE restrictor, eliminated engine cut-out in RAF fighter planes, meaning they could keep up with the Luftwaffe. It was a crucial moment in the war effort and earned her an OBE.
Catherine Chisholm – our first female graduate of medicine
Catherine Chisholm was the first female graduate of medicine from the University. As a paediatrician, she gathered activists and civic leaders to raise support for the Duchess of York hospital. She was awarded a CBE in 1935 for her work in paediatrics.
Christabel Pankhurst – one of the first suffragettes
Dame Christabel Pankhurst was a suffragette and graduate in Law from the University. A driving force behind the suffragette movement, alongside her mother and sister, she campaigned for women's rights, encouraging women to break down the barriers to gender equality.
Ellen Wilkinson – first female Minister of Education
Originally from a working-class family in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Ellen won a scholarship to study history at The University of Manchester and went on to become a founding member of the British Communist Party for which she was nicknamed ‘Red Ellen’.
Frances O’Grady – first female General Secretary of the TUC
Manchester alumna, Frances O’Grady, is the first female General Secretary of the Trade Unions Congress after joining in 1994 as Campaigns Officer. Frances lead the reorganisation of local skills projects into 'unionlearn' which now helps a quarter of a million workers into learning every year.
Read her blog
Jean McFarlane – first Professor of Nursing
Jean McFarlane was not only appointed as the first Professor of Nursing in England by the University, she also established the country's first nursing degree. Professor McFarlane founded Manchester's history of trailblazing work in educating health care professionals.
Professor Dame Sally Davies – first female Chief Medical Officer for England
Professor Dame Davies was appointed as the UK's first female Chief Medical Officer in 2010. Acting as the government’s principal medical adviser and the professional head of all directors of public health in local government, she has led global action to fight the trend of infections becoming resistant to antibiotics.