We take many of our modern liberties for granted, not least free education and the right to vote, but these both began with political activism and the work of social reformers like Preston’s champion of women’s suffrage, Edith Rigby.
Edith was born in 1872, the second of seven children to surgeon Alexander Rayner, whom many of his patients from Preston's working classes - increasing Edith’s early awareness of social and economic inequalities.
She married doctor Charles Rigby just before her 21st birthday, moving to Winckley Square, Preston. However, she was determined to become involved in working for social reform, initially improving the lives of women and girls in local mills.
In 1899 she founded St Peter's School, allowing girls to meet and continue education beyond the age of 11, and joined the Independent Labour Party in 1905, a year later forming a branch of the Women's Labour League in Preston.
In early 1907, Edith formed Preston’s branch of militant suffragette organisation, the Women's Social and Political Union, with the following years involving her spending time in prison.
She made many headlines, joining the Pankhurst sisters’ hunger strikes and window breaking campaigns, protesting at a 1909 Preston meeting addressed by Winston Churchill, throwing a black pudding at an MP, planting a bomb at Liverpool Cotton Exchange and setting fire to soap powder magnate at Lord Leverhulme’s holiday home.
During the Great War Edith contributed to the war effort in the Women's Land Army, while remaining devoted to a life rejecting conventional beliefs about women, being determined to express her independence of mind and courage in her own convictions.
Refusing to wear clothes and footwear considered appropriate to women in her era, she was one of the first Preston women to ride a bike, with many of the ideals she championed becoming accepted over time.
Edith's home on Winckley Square can be seen along the Blue Plaque Heritage Walk.
Image: Edith Rigby