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Ep 162: International Women's Day - Bella Burge, Mary Somerville and Ada Coleman.

We've a trio of fabulous ladies for you today, to celebrate International Women's Day, one each from Alex and Fiona and returning guest Katie Wignall. When you've looked at the pictures, scroll down to find my plan for Friday night.

Bella Burge in 1910 with Marie Lloyd and Marie Lloyd Jr NPG Collection

Starting with Bella Burge, who started her life in New York, and her professional life in London as dresser to music hall star Marie Lloyd. She also performed with Marie's sister Rosie.

She married ex boxer Dick Burge. A slight setback (listen to find out) meant that in the early years of her marriage she was still treading the boards. But in 1910 she swapped the boards for a ring as she and Dick open a boxing venue on the Blackfriars Rd. She was effectively the first female boxing promoter. Just her presence (and quite often that of Marie) made boxing more acceptable for women to watch. After Dick's death of pneumonia in 1918 she ran The Ring until it was damaged in the Blitz in Oct 1940.

Slightly less than flattering pavement mosaic on the South Bank
The Ring - the boxing venue opened by Dick and Bella Burge in 1910 Leonard Bentley CC BY-SA 2.0

In later years the boxing was mixed with wrestling and live theatre events with Bella always in charge, keeping order. In 1958 her long career in entertainment was recognised with an appearance on This is Your Life.

Bella Burge on this is your life with Eamon Andrews Mon 20 Oct 1958 via Big Red Book

Fiona chose to champion Mary Somerville, the first person to be described as a scientist.

Mary Somerville by John Jackson

Here she is in an original painting and the Royal Bank of Scotland £10 note version.

Scottish born, erratically educated, Mary was twice married with six children, and published four major books during her ninety one years (Same as Christopher Wren!). "Her grasp of scientific truth in all branches of knowledge, combined with an exceptional power of exposition, made her the most remarkable woman of her generation."

Mary Somerville (Fairfax). Lithograph after J.Phillips.Wellcome CC-BY-4.0

Here's another image of her, less the dreamy heroine, more sharp thinking mathematician. Like Newton her determination paid dividends, she said "Sometimes I find [mathematical problems] difficult, but my old obstinacy remains, for if I do not succeed today, I attack them again on the morrow." On the pod we cover her role in the discovery of Neptune. Her interests ranged from the planets to the microscopic, and her books were used in schools right through the 1800s. A fierce advocate of education especially for women, it's no wonder Somerville College at Cambridge University was named after her. As were a room, a house, a school, an island, an asteroid, a satelite, and, a crater on the moon.

Somerville Crater James Studby based on NASA image Apollo 15. AS15-M-2250
Page from a notebook of Mary Somerville. Bodleian Library CC by 4.0

On this page from her notebook she writes: "The ultimate object of all science is to improve the character and condition of the human race. "

I'll tell you what else improves the condition of the human race - A good drink! And Alex is shining the spotlight on Ada Coleman. Head Bartender at the Savoy Hotel for 23 years. Born in 1875, (just three years after Mary died), Ada also lived until 91. How extraordinary that these two women take us from 1780 right through to 1966!

Ada Coleman at the Savoy around 1920

Ada started work at the flower stall of Claridges, and quickly moved into the bar there. Then to the prestigious American Bar at the Savoy. The perfect host, loved by her regular customers, who knew her as Coley. She was also a great mixologist, creating new drinks and spending months tweaking recipes to make them perfect.

Actor Charles Hawtrey and his Hanky Panky Cocktail image Will Shenton, CC BY-SA 3.0

Her most famous creation was for the actor Charles Hawtrey. Who took one sip, then drained the glass and declared "By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!",

100,000 customers and over 1 million drinks later, her time at the Savoy ended when the American Bar was renovated in 1925. But she is remembered in the industry as a legendary bartender. Poet Ted Hughes "Not only was Coley...a woman in the world of male bartenders," he said, "it was she who made the bar famous."

So there we have it. Alex insists we make it a competition, so have a look on the socials to register your vote. Or, on Friday evening, International women's day, invite some friends around, to for an impromptu boxing match and music hall style singalong. Drink hanky pankys, and when the moon comes up, pop outside to gaze at the sky and thank the heavens that girls these days get to study science with the boys.

We love to hear from you. Get in touch and find the pod here:

It's also the place to find links to Katie's excellent blog Look up London, and Blue Crow Media who are publishing her map.

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