Women who have made a difference locally

Illustration showing women holding a banner that says International Women's Day

Since 8th March 2023 is International Women’s Day, Chesham Museum decided to look back and tell you about some of the local women whom they think have risen to a challenge and made a difference to the standing of women, particularly those who managed to make their way in a men’s world. Our first contender is:

Margaret Mee

Photo of Margaret Mee

Margaret Mee was born Margaret Ursula Brown on May 22nd 1909 at The Crest, in Whitehill, Chesham.  In the 1930’s she met and married Reg Bartlett, a Trades Union member and a communist. Margaret joined the communist party too.

As the thirties rolled on, Margaret became deeply involved politically, especially with the Spanish Civil War and against the Fascist movement in Britain. Her risky travels to Berlin and France both before and during the Second World War also testify to her adventurous free-spirit.  After the war she went to the Camberwell School of Art where she met Greville Mee.  In 1952, Margaret and Greville went to live in Sao Paulo. It was here that Margaret was drawn to the challenge of the Amazon.  She was already 40 when she made her first trip in 1956. 

By 1960 exhibitions in Sao Paulo, Rio and London had established her as a brilliant new botanical artist. She and Greville moved to Rio and developed a deep concern for the Amerindian peoples, the Amazon forest and its wildlife. She lived among the tribal peoples of the forest and endured tremendous hardships.  She began her own crusade against the tragedy facing the forest and was determined that multi-national companies, banks and developers should be exposed. Subsequently she was awarded Brazil’s Order of The Southern Cross 

In November 1988, Mee’s Amazon Exhibition premiered at Kew and a collection of her diaries was published. She returned to England and was killed in a car accident in Leicester in 1989.  With major contributions to the world of both science and art, and an indomitable spirit for fighting causes, Margaret was surely one of Chesham’s greatest achievers.

Caroline Franklin

Black and white photo of Caroline Franklin sitting on a chair holding a book.
Caroline Franklin

Caroline Jacob was born in London in 1863; in 1883 she married Arthur Franklin. Caroline’s Jewish parents had seen to it that she had the best possible education and she studied at Bedford College for three years. She embarked upon a philanthropic life as soon as she left college. Amongst other good works, she was a prominent member of the Jewish Religious Education Board continuously from 1890 to 1926.

In 1899, Arthur Franklin bought Chartridge Lodge near Chesham and the family divided their time between their London and country lives. In 1902, Buckinghamshire Council formed their first Education Committee and despite opposition, the constitution decreed that two of the 35 committee members should be women.  Caroline was co-opted onto this committee along with Lady Verney, and she served on it until her death in 1935.  She became a member of the school management committee of Chesham and a governor of Amersham Grammar School. She took a special interest in domestic training in schools for girls and was Chairman for many years of the Bucks Association of Girl Guides.  

Her special care and concern was for the wellbeing of the children of Chesham and for all the residents of Chartridge. Thanks to the Franklin’s generosity, Chartridge came to possess a reading room and village library; it ran sports teams and flower shows. Chartridge formed a Nursing Association in partnership with The Lee and Caroline encouraged the setting up of the Women’s Institute.

Caroline worked quietly to give an equal chance to women in education and social life although she took no part in the women’s suffrage movement.  During her last years she gave a home to a number of Jewish refugees from Germany.  Caroline Franklin died in 1935.

Mildred Wheeler

Photo of Mildred Wheeler with another woman who is presenting her with framed document

Mildred Frances Wheeler was born in Salisbury in 1897. The family moved to Chesham and Mildred went to Townsend Road School and then to White Hill Girls School.  She trained as a teacher and was teaching at Townsend Road School by 1920. By this time, she was also an accomplished pianist, and she also taught at the St. Mary’s Sunday School in the Church Rooms.  

By 1924, she had joined the St. John Ambulance Brigade and from 1932 onwards she was on the Chesham Hospital Workers’ Committee until the NHS came into being in 1948.

In 1944, perceiving a need for such a service, she and Nancy Haslehurst obtained a grant for £10 from the Brigade headquarters and started the Chesham Medical Comforts Depot, designed to offer people the necessary equipment to nurse the severely ill in their own homes. This service was entirely funded from voluntary donations and operated for at least 60 years, offering the following equipment for a small rental fee:  bedpans, commodes, wheelchairs, walking sticks, crutches, zimmer frames, airbeds, hoists, etc.

In 1956 the Chesham depot became the County Depot for the St. John Ambulance Brigade In 1952, Mildred was made a Serving Sister of the Order of St. John, and in 1969 she was awarded the British Empire Medal “for service to the community, particularly with regard to the St. John Ambulance Brigade in Chesham”. 

Mildred was still teaching at Townsend Road School in 1954 and ran the Medical Comforts Depot until 1971, when she left Chesham and retired to Tiverton in Devon.  She died in 1986.

Chesham Museum news

Education update: It’s been a very busy start to 2023 for us. The Rotary Club of Chesham generously offered to fund eleven of our object loan boxes for local schools and community groups. Hawridge and Cholesbury School, Newtown School plus local Beaver and Cub groups have already benefitted from the funding, so please visit our website learning page to book a box or workshop. The Rotary Club have also given us funding to start a ‘Technology Through Time’ box too so we would love any donations of old technology you may have like a Sony Walkman, dictaphone , cassette players and old hand held electronic games please. 

Our partnership with Bucks Mind continues to flourish and we are busy making up more reminiscence boxes – our 1950s household box was so popular Chesham Leys Care Home said the residents didn’t want to give it back!

We had a great time at The Elgiva Open Day and we would like to say a big thank you to the families and Beaver Scouts who trialled our beautifully designed Chesham Eye Spy family trail. Free to download on the revamped website which is also well worth a visit. We are always looking for new volunteers to join our hard working team.

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