Liberal Democrat MP, Harvard politics professor, inspiration, trailblazer and First Woman: the Rt. Hon. Baroness Shirley Williams of Crosby CH PC sadly passed away aged 90 on Monday April 12th 2021. Anita remembers this inspiring woman…
‘In 1950, Baroness Williams (pictured centre left above) became the First Woman to chair the Oxford University Labour Club. She was also the First Person to become an Social Democrat Party MP, a party she cofounded in 1981.
It was an honour not only to have met her but also to photograph her for my 100 First Women Portraits, an image taken at her Alma Mater, Somerville College, Oxford in May 2011.
I chose to photograph Baroness Williams in the dining hall of Somerville College, in order to take her back to her university days and to place her in a setting where she would have spent much time as a student. The dining hall is a beautifully proportioned room, the atmosphere is timeless and many great women have sat at those tables debating over formal suppers, including scientist Dorothy Hodgkin and prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Baroness Thatcher.
The light flooding in through the windows and grand ceiling lights served to highlight Baroness Williams’ open and approachable nature. Her stance is balanced and her hands on the back of the chair give a feeling of stability and reassurance. A lifelong champion of equality – especially equality in education – Baroness Williams stands in line with the ‘salt’ neither below nor above it. Behind her on the panelled wall is a portrait of Lady Somerville who founded this women’s college in 1879.
After attending the launch party of my Exhibition in 2018 I received a handwritten letter from Baroness Williams, supporting First Women UK, wishing me well, adding, ‘it was great fun, as well as impressive and I am grateful to you for inviting us all.’