Celebrating women: A champion for people with learning disabilities

To mark the 2018 centenary of the first British women winning the right to vote, we are honouring Bristol women who have changed our institution, and the world. From our first woman lecturer to the first British woman to have won a Nobel Prize, these activists, educators and agitators now take their rightful place on the walls of the Wills Memorial building – along with ten of the women in today’s University community to who continue to be inspired by their legacy.

Norah Fry, champion for people with learning disabilities, with Beth Richards, researcher in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies

“Norah, a member of the Fry family famed for its chocolate and cocoa, was born and educated in Bristol. Her family’s wealth meant she never needed paid employment, but throughout her life she committed herself to work on behalf of those less fortunate than herself.

“After completing her studies at Cambridge University and an apprenticeship with the Charity Organisation Society – a home-visiting
service that formed the basis for modern social work – Norah focused her attention on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities.

“She also had a very close relationship with the University, being a member of Council for over 50 years. When she died in 1960, Norah left money to the University to be used for teaching and for finding out more about the needs of people with learning disabilities and mental illnesses.

“The Norah Fry Research Centre was created in 1988 and has pursued a programme of research which has helped us to see people with learning disabilities in a new light and challenge our preconceptions about their identity.

“People with learning disabilities, like myself, now work as co-researchers in some studies – something which would have been unimaginable 100 years ago. The centre makes a positive difference in the lives of disabled children, young people and adults. We hope Norah would have approved of what we have achieved since she handed down the challenge.

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The University of Bristol was the first higher education institution in England to welcome women on an equal basis to men, but our commitment to gender equality reaches far beyond this milestone. The wooden panels of the Great Hall in its Wills Memorial Building have been an all-male domain thanks to hosting portraits of its Vice-Chancellors. But now, thanks to a project specially-commissioned to mark 100 years since the first women in Britain won the right to vote, a series of ten portraits redresses the balance and celebrates notable Bristol women who have changed the institution – and, indeed, the world.

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