Mary Anne Rawson blazed a trail for women by campaigning against slavery – forsaking a life of comfort and ease to selflessly dedicate her time to the education and aid of the less fortunate.
The Sheffield-born abolitionist, who lived from 1801 to 1887, will be remembered with a category at The Star’s Women of Sheffield awards, which aims to shout about the city’s heroines and inspire women to follow in their footsteps.
Born to a wealthy family at Wincobank Hall, Mary was not as famous as high-profile figures like William Wilberforce, but played an important role in ending the slave trade, which involved people being exchanged for goods.
She founded the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society and later became secretary of the Sheffield Ladies Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery, both of which worked to liberate enslaved workers globally. In those days, women were not allowed to speak publicly on such matters – so Mary campaigned tirelessly from behind closed doors. She even raised funds for one of the first teacher training colleges, the Thompson Normal School in Jamaica.
Mary lived at Wincobank Hall nearly all of her life, and made a massive effort to improve the lives of her neighbours in Sheffield, as well as communities abroad. She set up a day school in a bid to help educate local children – then, later in life, she worked alongside her equally charitable daughter to open the first free bible school in Turin, Italy.
She had been helping others through education since she was a small child. Encouraged by her mother, Elizabeth Read, Mary and her sister helped to forge a Sunday school in the local coach house when they were still just children themselves.
Never afraid to challenge society’s norms, Mary was one of the UK’s first advocates of sobriety, arguing that domestic violence would be reduced and families’ finances would improve if people drank less. Mary also remained single after the death of her husband - to purposely remain a single mother, in a time where most women would have felt compelled to remarry, is a testament to her character and proves she was ahead of her time, in her personal life as well as her philanthropic work.
Anyone who knows a woman who either works in, or values, education with the same pioneering spirit as Mary Anne Rawson is invited to come forward and nominate them for an award. The Star is looking for women who are inspiring, intelligent and courageous in the name of education. Previous accolades do not count – just a passion for learning.
The Women of Sheffield awards will take place at Glide in Attercliffe on March 7, the day before International Women’s Day.
It is timed to link with a special edition of The Star that will be published on March 8 and delivered into Sheffield schools to show young girls what they can achieve and aspire towards.
To nominate somebody for Women of Sheffield, send her name, the category they are nominated for and why she deserves to win, to email@example.com. People can nominate themselves too.
Alternatively, post entries to Ann Holmes, Sheffield Newspapers, The Balance, Pinfold Street, Sheffield, S1 2GU.
The deadline for nominations is Monday, February 4.
This award is sponsored by Sheffield High School for Girls.