“It’s best to aim high as a woman” – Princess Bukky Awofeso is a Virago Woman!

inspirational woman


By Abigail Opiah


Spot Light on: Baroness Jowell

Here at Virago, we’ve celebrated at length the achievements of historical female figures, but today we wanted to talk about women who deserve recognition for the work they have done and continue to do.

Tessa Jowell recently caught headlines for her brave and brilliant speech in the House of Lords where she spoke open and honestly about her battle with brain cancer.

In the speech she spoke about the lack of new technology available for that battling brain cancer, she said

“Less than 2% of cancer research funding In the U.K is spent on brain tumors. No vital new drugs have been developed for the last 50 years..”

And while her personal story is the one making the headlines now, back in 1992 it was because she was elected Member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood.

During her political career she played a number of roles, she was appointed as Minister of State in the Department of Health after the historic 1997 Labour win. She moved again to the department of education and employment in 1999 and was lastly promoted to Secretary of State at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport  after the 2001 election.

As culture secretary she set about trying to address her concerns with Television Broadcasting, she was a key member in the Communications Act in 2003 which established a new media regulator, OFCOM.  Jowell was also key to the successful bid Britain made in 2002 to host the 2012 Olympics, she came up with the idea in 2002 during her time as Culture Secretary with very little support from inside the cabinet. Jowell convinced the government to support the bid, in 2004 the big was launched and the games were awarded to London.  She was later promoted to Olympics Minister and held full responsibility for the responsibility from 2006 and retain her position throughout Labour’s time in office.

Following the general election of May 2010, she became Shadow Olympics Minister and remained on the 2012 organising committee until she resigned from her role in 2012.  That same year Tessa Jowell was appointed as a Dame Commander in the civil  division giving her the title DBE and she was later raised to the peerage in the 2015 Dissolution Honours giving her the title of Baroness Jowell.

It is clear that whatever life throws at her, public service has been a part of her life since she joined the Labour party in the early 70’s  and for her duty to public service even while she battles through cancer, we here at Virago believe Tessa Jowell represents and signifies everything we believe Virago here at Virago and we’ve made her an honorary Virago women.

It is obvious that she will more than qualify for a blue plaque.

by Azana Francis




In honour of Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday, here is a special selection of 10 female poets and poems to inspire you

Portrait image of feminist Instagram poet Rupi Kaur, author of Milk and Honey and feminist icon.

How important it is for us to recognise and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!

– Maya Angelou, who was born 90 years ago today.

As a poet Angelou channelled her Virago strength into empowering poetry. She always promoted the work of women and the importance of literature so we’re celebrating 90 years since her birth by continuing her good work.

Maya Angelou was definitely a Virago woman. Her seminal book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, is even published by a publishing house which shares our name! We hope if she were alive today she might be proud of the project we’re running here. She was passionate about women’s right and women’s writing and often talked of the power of literature to inspire. So we’re celebrating her birthday in a way we hope she’d enjoy. In honour of Maya Angelou, here’s a collection of poetry for virago women: these are the female poets who inspire us to be #phenomenalwomen.

1. Maya Angelou – Still I Rise

Let’s kick off with Maya Angelou’s own poem, Still I Rise, which talks about having the resilience to continue when others try to beat you down, and which celebrates female sassiness and strength:

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Read the whole poem here.

2. Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman


‘Phenomenal Woman’ is another wonderful example of Maya Angelou’s empowering Virago spirit. It’s full of confidence and sunshine and self determination. A truly Virago poem!

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Read the full poem here:

It’s no surprise that a poem this strong would be the favourite of inspirational women everywhere. There have been some brilliant women who’ve recited this.

Hear Serena Williams read Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise in the video below, recorded before just Serena won the 2016 Wimbledon Women’s Tennis final and in the process equalled the world record.

3. Wendy Cope – Differences of Opinion

Black and white photograph of Feminist poet Wendy Cope. Picture by Stevie McGarrity Alderdice

A true national treasure, Wendy Cope is one of Britain’s best loved poets. One of her best Virago Poems is Differences of opinion. The whole poem is below:

Differences of opinion

He tells her that the earth is flat —

He knows the facts, and that is that.

In altercations fierce and long

She tries her best to prove him wrong.

But he has learned to argue well.

He calls her arguments unsound

And often asks her not to yell.

She cannot win. He stands his ground.

The planet goes on being round.

Read more of Wendy Cope’s poetry here.

4. Hollie McNish – Mathematics

Wise, rude, sharp, and totally unique, Hollie McNish’s poetry performances have been watched by millions on YouTube and she’s been described as the most important spoken-word artist of her generation.

And when I meet these paper claims
That one of every new that came
Takes away ones daily wage
I desperately want to scream
‘Your maths is stuck in primary’

Watch her recite the whole poem below:

5. Sylvia Plath – Lady Lazarus

Sylvia Plath is one of the defining voices in twentieth-century poetry. Her achievement is even more remarkable given that she only published a single volume in her life time. Ariel covers women’s creativity, motherhood, and the female voice. Her poetry is fiercely defiant of the sexist world of 1960s America in which she lived, and one of the most ferociously Virago poems in Ariel is Lady Lazarus:

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Read the whole poem here.

6. Imani Cezanne- Heels

A powerful slam poem which demolishes one of the stereotypes around women’s appearance, Heels encourages women to dress for themselves – not for men. Imani Cezanne flaunts her self-love and her confidence and she encourages you to follow suit.

I wear heels because it’s useless to cater to the insecure.

Watch her perform the whole poem below:

7. Amanda Lovelace – The Princess Saves Herself in This One

Winner of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Award, the princess saves herself in this one is a collection of poetry about resilience. It is about writing your own ending. Lovelace’s book is divided into four different parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, & you. Here’s the title poem:

This independent review summarises the power of The Princess Saves Herself in This One, better than we could:

“Gut wrenching at times and exhilaratingly inspiring in others. I finished it in maybe 3 hours, if that, and I have absolutely zero regrets about it. If you want a good Sunday afternoon read that will tear on your heart strings, comes with a trigger warning, and will leave you feeling strong & beautiful, then this book is for you. It dives deep and swims wide, so fair warning. But you will not be able to put it down. So you can’t say I didn’t warn you..”

8. Lily Myers- Shrinking Women

Shrinking women, Lily Myers’ slam poem expresses the pressure women feel to take up less and less space, to be quiet, to be small and to eat sparingly.

I have been taught accommodation.

My brother never thinks before he speaks.

I have been taught to filter.

“How can anyone have a relationship to food?” He asks, laughing, as I eat the black bean soup I chose for its lack of carbs.

I want to tell say: we come from difference, Jonas,

you have been taught to grow out

I have been taught to grow in

you learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much

I learned to absorb

Watch Lily Myers perform the full poem below.

9. Adrienne Rich – Power

Adrienne Rich was an American poet, essayist and radical feminist. She was called “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century”. Her poem ‘Power’, about Marie Curie, speaks about the strength and fortitude of women.

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
her wounds came from the same source as her power

Read the full poem here:
Another poem of hers, the very popular ‘Planetarium’ is full of energy, science, fun and most importantly “woman”:

I am a galactic cloud so deep      so invo-

luted that a light wave could take 15

years to travel through me       And has

taken      I am an instrument in the shape

of a woman trying to translate pulsations

into images    for the relief of the body

and the reconstruction of the mind.

Read the full poem here.

10. Rupi Kaur – milk and honey

No list of Virago poetry would be complete without “instagram poet” Rupi Kaur, whose powerful poetry and revolutionary publishing technique has inspired a new generation of girls and young women to love poetry and love themselves. She writes short, sharp, sweet poetry with an empowering message and illustrations. Here are some of our favourites:

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

If this post has made you hungry for more poetry, why not check out our explainer vid about another feminist icon  and inspirational female poet, the truly extraordinary HD- Hilda Doolittle, check it out here!
By Rose Nugee

“Never look back!” – Penny Akinde is a Virago Woman!

Penny Akinde says that her strength comes from within!

“Coming from a broken home, you never really know how much it effects you until you reach a certain stage in your life!”

“You start seeing that you don’t value love the way you should and that’s because my dad broke my heart first before any man got the chance to.”

“It took my husband years to break down the wall I built as a defence mechanism, in order to protect myself.”

“But that wall came down, eventually!”

“Becoming a mother is an indescribable feeling! He is my perfect mini-me!”


Hear her story and the advice she has for us all!

By Abigail Opiah

Who was Ada Countess of Lovelace? Westminster history

Ada Countess of Lovelace was born Augusta Ada King-Noel . She was a British mathematician and writer and is known as the world’s first computer programmer after she has worked on the analytical engine developed by Charles Babbage, arguably the inventor of the computer.

Ada was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, while many others focused only on those capabilities.
And published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine.
At the age of 12, she conceptualised a flying maching. The young girl studied the anatomy of birds and the suitability of various materials and illustrated plans of her flying machine.
Ada married William King in 1835. He was then made Earl of Lovelace in 1838 and Ada became Countess of Lovelace.
The computer language she created on behalf of the United States Department of Defense was named after Lovelace. This came after US Navy Commander Jack Cooper suggested it and everyone approved.
Her contributions to computing were not recognised until a CENTURY after her death ! This is probably because her ideas about computing were so far ahead of their times that it took time for technology to catch up. Indeed, Lovelace’s  notes on Babbage’s analytical engine found a much wider audience when they were published in 1953 then at the time they were originally published in 1843.
The British Computer Society has awarded the Lovelace Medal since 1998 and initiated an annual competition for women students in 2008.

Watch the video to learn more about this incredible woman !

A blue plaque has been installed in St James’s Square in Westminster to commemorate this Virago woman. If you’re in the area why not check it out yourself! The address is
12 St James’s Square, St James’s, London SW1Y 4RB

Article and video by Justine Chalabi

Who was Rosalind Franklin? Chelsea history

The discovery of the structure of DNA was one of the most important scientific achievements in the last century. The now famous double-helix is almost synonymous with James Watson and Francis Crick – they won the Nobel Prize for figuring it out. However, you may have heard that Rosalind Franklin’s data supported Watson and Crick’s idea, or that:

“She was a plain dressing belligerent scientist.”

That was actually how Watson described her in his book The Double Helix. Thanks to Franklin’s biographers who investigated her life and interviewed many people close to her, we now know that Watson’s account of her is far from the truth.

“Her Scientific contributions have been vastly underplayed.”

In her early years, she won a scholarship to Cambridge where she earned her PHD. She later conducted research on the structure of coal that led to better gas masks for the British during World War II.

Rosalind Franklin is commemorated with a blue plaque in Chelsea. If you’re in the area why not check it out for yourself!

The address is Donovan Court, 107 Drayton Gardens, Chelsea, London SW10 9QS,

By Abigail Opiah

Who were the McMillian Sisters? Bromley history


Christians. Socialists. Activists. Who were the Mcmillan sisters?

Today we celebrate two Virago women.

The Mcmillan sisters, Rachel and Margaret Mcmillan,  were christian socialists and educationalists who campaigned for the improvement of education and health for poor children in the early 1900s.

By 1910 they had relocated from Bow to Deptford (one of London’s more deprived areas) The clinic provided dental and medical care. The children were generally debilitated and 80% had rickets. In 1911 the clinic moved to Evelyn House, a small nursery and baby camo was establishshed in the garden. Within a few weeks of opening its doors, the school had 30 children.

By the start of WW1 the sisters approached the government, offering to take the children of married women working in the munition factories.

For this their school received a grant 7D (3p in today’s currency) for each child.

Prior to the opening of this school children were often left to play and roam the streets or tenement housing.

The school was established initially for only 6 children but by the summer 29 children lived at the school.
Rachel died on her birthday 25th March 1917 and the school was renamed in her honour. Her sister continued to fight for better childrens education and health until her death in 1931.

Clink the link below to see exactly how the sisters revolutionised childcare.

Margaret McMillan Rachel McMillan

The McMillan sisters are commemorated with a blue plaque in BromleyThe McMillan sisters are commemorated with a blue plaque in Bromley. If you’re looking for things to do in the area why not check it out yourself! The address is

51 Tweedy Road, Bromley, BR1 3NH

By Azana Francis

Who was Lady Nancy Astor? Westminster history

“I wanted the world to get better and I knew it couldn’t get better if it’s going to be ruled by men. Matter of fact, I think it’s amazing how well the men did for 2000 years considered they tried to do it alone!” – Lady Nancy Astor (1879 – 1964)

Who better to say such a bad-ass statement than the first female MP in British history?! Lady Nancy Astor defied the odds by achieving the great feat of becoming the first female MP to take a seat in the House of Parliament.

She fought for her husband’s old seat as MP for Plymouth Sutton and won with 51% of the vote! She fought for women and children’s rights alongside fellow virago woman Margaret McMillan.

Watch the video below to find out more about this remarkable woman!

Nancy Astor’s blue plaque is in Chelsea- if you’re looking for things to do in the spare why not check it out yourself! The plaque can be found at

4 St James’s Square, St James’s, London SW1Y 6JU, City of Westminster

By Folayemi Olorunselu

Who was Violette Szabo? Stockwell history

Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell (26 June 1921 - 5 February 1945) was a British Secret Agent during World War 2.

She dedicated her life to the French Resistance by joining the SOE (Special Operations Executive) at a young age. Her efforts during the war put her in the heart of the war and she did many of the things her male counterparts would do!

Violette’s missions would take her to Nazi-Occupied France where she would help rescue captured comrades, until she was captured by the Germans and executed in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp on the 5th February 1945.

She was the second woman to be awarded the George Cross for bravery. Her legacy is commemorated at her home in 18 Burnley Road, Stockwell, London SW9 0SJ, London Borough of Lambeth.


By Folayemi Olorunselu