Ten Influential Female Fellows

5 Feb 2018

To celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage, the British Academy celebrates fascinating and influential female Fellows and their contributions to society. 

1. Beatrice Webb - Economist & Activist

Beatrice Webb

Beatrice Webb was the first woman to be elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1931 and was a sociologist, economist, socialist, labour historian and social reformer. She was central to the British Labour movement and was instrumental in shaping the trade union movement. She contributed to the idea of the “national minimum” for quality of life and took part in the creation of a blueprint for the UK’s National Health Service. She was one of the founders of the London School of Economics and the magazine The New Statesman.

2. Mary Leakey - Paleoanthropologist

Mary Leakey

Mary Leakey was a paleoanthropologist whose fossil findings made huge contributions to advancing our knowledge of the origins of humankind. Her first big discovery was of a partial skull fossil of Proconsul africanus, an 18 million-year-old ancestor of apes and humans. In 1959, she discovered a 1.8 million year old fossilised skull of the early human ancestor, Australopithecus boisei, which showed how long the species had been in Africa. Leakey later found the first direct evidence of physical activity by humankind’s apelike ancestors through her discovery of a trail of early human footprints in Tanzania.

3. Joan Robinson – Economist 

Joan Robinson

Joan Robinson was one of the key economists of the twentieth century and is often described as the best economist never to win the Nobel Prize. She developed the theory of “monopsony”, where only one buyer in a market interacts with many potential sellers of a product. She used monopsony to describe the wage gap between equally productive women and men. Robinson also helped to promote the theories of John Maynard Keynes.

4. Professor Philippa Foot – Philosopher

Philippa Foot

The famous thought experiment, the Trolley Problem, was introduced by moral philosopher Philippa Foot. Foot discussed the different moral obligations in this dilemma. The understanding of these decisions is especially important now in the development of driverless cars and AI.

5. Dame Veronica Wedgwood – Historian

Veronica Wedgwood

Despite prejudice against women historians, Dame Veronica Wedgwood was one of the century’s most widely read historians. Her works are known for balancing academia and popular reading, especially her writings on the English Civil War. She was invited to present her impressions of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II by the BBC in 1953 and later became the first female trustee of the National Gallery.

6. Professor Karen Spärck Jones – Computer Scientist

Karen Spärck Jones

Karen Spärck Jones was a computer scientist and Vice-President of the British Academy in 2000 - 2002. She was a pioneer of computing, language information processing and information retrieval. These contributions are still used in most search engines today.  

7. Professor G.E.M. Anscombe – Philosopher

G.E.M. Anscombe

G.E.M. Anscombe was distinguished as an interpreter of the thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein and as a student of ancient philosophy. Most of all, she was known as an independent thinker on a wide variety of topics, including moral philosophy, the philosophy of perception and the nature of time. 

8. Dame Kathleen Kenyon – Archaeologist

Kathleen Kenyon

Dame Kathleen Kenyon was the first woman president of the Oxford University Archaeological Society and made leading discoveries about the Neolithic origins of Israel/Palestine. She showed that Jericho is the oldest known continuously occupied human settlement by excavating to its Stone Age foundation.

9. Professor Jane Wardle – Psychologist

Jane Wardle

Professor Jane Wardle was a pioneer of health psychology in the UK and internationally. Her research was influential in increasing the understanding and uptake of cancer screening, leading on to the national vaccination programme for human papillomavirus (HPV).  She also researched the importance of eating styles and the relationships between eating behaviour and obesity, which led to new methods for encouraging children to eat more healthily. 

10. Dame Margery Perham – Writer & Policy Advisor

Margery Perham

A writer, academic and policy advisor, Margery Perham served on many government committees and became a close confidant of many Secretaries of State for the Colonies. She was the first woman to deliver the Reith lectures in 1961 on the effects of colonialism.

This blog post is part of our Vote 100 series, marking 100 years since female suffrage by celebrating the women at the British Academy.

Image credits:

Beatrice Webb: Photo taken by George Bernard Shaw
Kathleen Kenyon: National Portrait Gallery
Margery Perham: Photo taken by Walter Bird
Veronica Wedgwood: National Portrait Gallery
Mary Leakey: From Biographical Memoir


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