The Forgotten Women of Wakefield

Forgotten Women Wake

Lady Catherine

Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell

Born in 1856, Lady Catherine spent much of her life supporting the health, education and well being of Wakefield’s poorest communities.

Shortly after arriving in Yorkshire as a new bride from her home in Shropshire, in the 1880s she set about supporting women and children less fortunate than herself.

She established what was called the Guild of Pity, which provided free milk to children in workhouses and distributed clothing to poor families and those of wounded soldiers. She was also instrumental in setting up a scheme which placed orphans in foster homes rather than leaving them to the workhouse.

By 1891 Lady Catherine was an established published essayist exploring the complex lives of women which were, unsurprisingly, received with some hostility by a male dominated press,” she says. “By the time of her death in 1935 she shared the same publishers as George Gissing and the Bronte Sisters and had published nine books and a host of articles and essays.”

Lady Catherine, who was awarded The Order of St John – a royal order of chivalry, also played a role in medical care in Wakefield.

It was she who founded the Wakefield-based division of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade in 1911, which during the First World War delivered care at the city’s former Clayton Hospital.

At registration, 70 men and 27 women wore their uniforms with pride. This uniform was provided by Lady Catherine and funded from the sale of Alpine plants grown in her garden.

Lady Catherine, who died in 1935, was also among the first women to become A Justice of the Peace.

Her blue plaque can be found on The Gardener’s House in the Rose Garden at Thorne’s Park.

Lady Catherine is Blue Plaque Number 14  in our quest for #BluePlaqueParity.

We unveiled Lady Catherine’s blue plaque as part of the Suppressed Suffragist Exhibition supporting the Unfinished Business Exhibition from London Library. The ceremony took place in September 2020 at Wakefield Library.

Lady Catherine Broadsheets

Find out all about Lady Catherine and her incredible life with our broadsheets below. Just click on broadsheet page you wish to read and then double click to zoom in and read at your leisure. Please contact us if you require the text in a different format.

Below, you can read some of the incredible things that Lady Catherine did that continue to shape Wakefield today in this artistic graphic by DTC.

Artist Response by Writer Sarah Leah Cobham

Written initially as a stage play by writer Sarah Leah Cobham, this comedic film entitled “Lady Catherine” was recorded by the FWW team over one weekend during lock down and under the constraints of social distancing regulations. Regardless of the challenges, we hope that this farce gives you an insight into the kind of character we believe Lady Catherine might have been:

FWW Community Member Response: Toni Stephenson

This podcast by researcher, FWW volunteer and actor Toni Stephenson is about Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell and gives you a wonderful insight into her life and the things Toni has discovered.

Creative Response: Restoring Lady Catherine’s Seal

Early in 2021, FWW’s Sarah Cobham learned that an antiques dealer had a certificate and medal that had been awarded to Lady Catherine. Unfortunately, and due to the passage of time, the seal was in poor condition. Sarah has worked with the incredible people at the West Yorkshire Archive Service to restore Lady Catherine’s seal. Below, you can see the result:

Lady Catherine Blue Plaque Unveiling

We unveiled Lady Catherine’s blue plaque unveiled as part of the Suppressed Suffragist Exhibition in September 2020. You can watch the full unveiling below:

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