Mothers of industry

Lady Charlotte Guest

Last updated: 04 March 2011

Most of the professions women take for granted today were completely male-dominated in the 19th century. Here are some exceptions.

Most positions of power were staffed by men, but several women showed their ability to make an impact and became trailblazers in their fields.

Lucy Thomas

Known as 'the mother of the coal industry', Lucy Thomas took over the running of her husband's business when he died in 1833, leaving her with an estate of under £1,000. He had discovered a rich coal seam in Merthyr and it became one of the most successful mines in Wales.

Women bosses were all but unheard of, but it was seen as acceptable for a widow to continue her husband's business. Although Lucy couldn't read or write, she had a great head for business. By the time of her death in 1847, she'd increased the worth of the business to over £11,000.

Lady Charlotte Guest

Born into the English aristocracy, Lady Charlotte Guest (pictured above) wasn't an obvious candidate as a translator of medieval Welsh. But, within 13 years of marrying John Josiah Guest in 1833, she had 10 children and had translated the Mabinogion folk tales.

Her husband was the owner of the world's largest ironworks, in Dowlais, and when he died in 1852, Charlotte took control of the business. She is best remembered for her philanthropic concerns for the workers in the area. Charlotte continued to run the works until she remarried in 1855.

Amy Dilwyn

Swansea's Amy Dillwyn inherited a zinc factory in Llansamlet when her father died. Badly in debt, she turned the business around.

Although she was viewed as quite an eccentric and a maverick, Amy had amassed a fortune of over £100,000 when she died in 1935.

Frances Hoggan

Born in Brecon in 1843, Frances Hoggan became the first British woman, and only the second in Europe, to be awarded a degree in medicine. She completed the course in three years, instead of the usual six.

What wasn't widely known at the time was that she had given birth to an illegitimate child when she was about 17, and this baby was brought up by her mother, as Frances' sister. Having a child outside of marriage carried such a stigma at the time that it would have spelt the end of any career she might have had.


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