In a sense these six, serious, formidable high-achieving ladies come in pairs: Dr Louisa Martindale, 60, and her partner The Hon. Ismay Fitzgerald, 62; The Hon. Mrs Franklin, 66; then Miss Evelyn Whyte, 48, leader of the PNEU educational movement; and finally the no-nonsense Lady Margaret Moir, 69, blazing a path for women in engineering and Dr Elizabeth Sloan-Chesser, 55, doctor and journalist, pioneering health for women albeit with social views (notably on eugenics) that over time became less fashionable. Did the “lovable Irish charm” of Ismay lighten the debate amongst these heavy-hitters. A table of great contrasts and of powerful intellect.
Whilst the conversation topics don’t immediately suggest themselves – though Mrs Franklin and Evelyn Whyte may have had a brief shop talk on latest PNEU affairs – the interest is in the wide range of achievements at the table. Louisa Martindale, daughter of a railway grease manufacturer, and Lady Moir, daughter of a quarry master, may have come from different social backgrounds than The Honorable Ismay and The Honorable Mrs Franklin, but probably they were raised in an environment where ambition and leadership was strong. Evelyn Whyte, daughter of bank clerk, and Elizabeth Sloan-Chesser, daughter of a surgeon, the relatively younger guests on the table, come from somewhere in the middle. For The Hon. Mrs Franklin career choice was about choosing the right “cause” to support. The Hon. Ismay Fitzgerald probably struggled more with finding a role and purpose in life. Lady Moir styled herself an “engineer by marriage”, accompanying her engineer husband around the world and championing the role of women in engineering. She would doubtless have known Elizabeth Sloan-Chesser, both being Vice Presidents of the Electrician Association for women.
If we are looking for “pioneers” probably Louisa Martindale and Lady Moir stand out, whilst Elizabeth Sloan-Chesser is nonetheless in the second wave of pioneers in medicine.
We know some of the connections with Lady Rhondda: Evelyn Whyte was a year younger at St Leonard’s (though I don’t know if they knew each other there). Lady Rhondda supported Louisa Martindale’s establishment of a hospital in Brighton.
All in all a powerful table of sometimes rather formidable women seeking to make a difference and whose presence underlines the range of talents at this dinner.