New book tells unheard stories of women who changed the face of Leeds

Tina Jackson. Picture: Marc Jackson.Tina Jackson. Picture: Marc Jackson.
Tina Jackson. Picture: Marc Jackson.
One was a queen of the Victorian stage, the other a 19th century flax mill worker.

Shakespearean actress Adelaide Neilson became a London theatre star in her 20s, while Elizabeth Bentley's life of toil began when she was aged just six.

But, despite their very different existences, they had at least one thing in common – Adelaide and Elizabeth were both born in Leeds, in 1848 and 1809 respectively.

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And their stories are among those told in a new book which explores how life changed for women in Leeds over the course of a hundred tumultuous years.

Adelaide Neilson.Adelaide Neilson.
Adelaide Neilson.

Penned by writer and journalist Tina Jackson, Struggle and Suffrage in Leeds covers the years 1850 to 1950, a period when female workers helped make the city one of the country's major industrial powerhouses.

Tina, a former arts editor at The Big Issue, said: "Industry in Leeds relied on a workforce of highly skilled but low-paid women workers, and writing this book has given me a chance to tell the often unheard stories of these women – what their lives were like at home and at work, and how over the course of a century their living conditions changed and how they fought and campaigned to get the vote.

"Leeds's history is packed with stories about exceptional women who made a difference – some of them are deservedly famous, like the suffragettes Leonora Cohen and Mary Gawthorpe, and Alice Bacon, Leeds's first female MP.

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"But alongside these well-known women, there are so many others who played their part in changing women's lives for the better and whose names and achievements deserve to be remembered.


"It's been a real privilege to write this book and let their voices be heard.

"I hope readers will be inspired by their lives and struggles, and celebrate their achievements, at a time when women's voices still need to be raised in protest."

Struggle and Suffrage in Leeds is published by Pen & Sword Books, priced £14.99 in paperback.

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