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My Norwich

Portraits of Power

Published on Wednesday, 8th March 2023

This International Women’s Day (Wednesday 8 March), we are delving into the past – highlighting the notable women in Norwich who broke down inequality barriers and paved the way for future generations

 From a suffragette, to the first Lord Mayor in the United Kingdom; and a champion of the law-change that saw the voting age for women matched to that of men – such is the impressive legacy of some of our city’s women over the last 100 years.

Gill Blanchard, author and historian who is currently working on a biography of Mabel Clarkson said:

“What is interesting is how much Norwich was a trendsetter. We had such a history of firsts; as well as second and thirds.”

Portraits of some of these women – 12 in total – have been hung on the wall outside of the Lord Mayor’s Parlour in City Hall, to celebrate and honour them. 

Speaking on the relevance of these trailblazers to today Councillor Beth Jones, cabinet member for safe, strong and inclusive neighbourhoods said:

“Today is international women’s day, with its origins back in the early 1900s, before women had the vote and fought oppression that we can barely imagine. It resonates just as strongly today, as there is still much to achieve. 

It is also an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come and those who were part of that journey. It is through politics that we can affect real change to society, so women’s roles in all layers of government were critical step forward and given that the first place this was possible was in local government, I am so proud that we are recognising these women today.”

Guests, including some of the living relatives of those pictured and Phyllida Scrivens – author of the 2018 book The Lady Mayors of Norwich 1923-2017, which provide much of the source material – were invited to a small private view event at City Hall.

Councillor Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council said:

“From 1994 onwards, the tradition was established of hanging portraits of the Lord Mayors. What became very apparent to from reading Phyllida Scrivens book was that there was a great legacy of women whose stories were not represented. This exhibition seeks to tell some of that story.”

Phyllida Scrivens on sourcing the material for her book said:

“When I was researching the book, I was so honoured to find that nine of the 17 women were still alive and willing to give their time to talk in detail about their lives. These portraits and corresponding plaques tell you about their civic lives, and what I wanted to bring out was the other side.”


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