International Women’s Day (March 8th) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. To mark this day, we are sharing stories of three women who played an important role in our history.

Our founder Leonard Cheshire said himself that he could not have achieved what he did in his lifetime without the support of others. One significant woman, who set him on his path working towards a more equal world, was an Almoner called Frances Jeram. Almoners were a type of Social Worker; their main job was to find funding for patients in hospital. Frances had been working at the Portsmouth Chest Clinic, and in 1948 heard of the work Leonard Cheshire was doing at Le Court for people recovering from Tuberculosis (TB). She said:

That was just at the time of the new ‘wonder drugs’, when they were having great success with the young TB patients, and so after about six weeks or so of treatments, with proper convalescence they could then get back to real life. And there was just nothing provided for them, in the new National Health Service, at all. And a friend of mine … who was at Southampton, had the same trouble so we went up to Le Court. We’d heard [of] it through  St. Thomas’ Hospital… so we go up there and found this incredible place.

Frances was so inspired by what Leonard Cheshire was doing, that she volunteered two nights a week, eventually becoming the first ‘Warden’ or Service Manager from 1949-1952. Her most significant contribution was helping to get a grant from the Carnegie Foundation to build one of the first purpose-built residential buildings for disabled people at Le Court in 1954. You can read the article she wrote in the Institute of Medical Social Workers Journal that started this project here.

A group of people stood in the doorway of a large stone building

Frances Jeram, far left holding a white dog on a lead, with early residents of Le Court

In 1954, our founder left hospital after a 2 year stay recovering from TB. At this time he was involved with a community project in Leicestershire to establish a country house as a ‘Cheshire Home’. This was Staunton Harold Hall, and there he met Margot Mason (later Margot Gibb) who would help him to inspire local communities to build homes and services for disabled people across the world. Margot was a phenomenal administrator, and pioneered the work of the Leonard Cheshire Foundation in over 50 countries. After her marriage, she became CEO of charity Helping Hands (now Turning Point), returning to volunteer at the archive upon her retirement after a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease. We are privileged to have her correspondence charting her involvement with this period of social change at the archive.

two women wearing hats stood in a garden

Margot on the left, talking to a Trustee at a garden party

Barbara Lloyd Evans moved to Le Court Cheshire Home in 1958. She was integral to the development of community life at Le Court. She served on various committees, helped produce publications including The Cheshire Smile magazine and the monthly Le Court newsletter and gave lectures, including on social work teaching courses. These were vital tools in developing and maintaining relationships between the home and the wider community. She campaigned for greater representation of disabled people within the management structures of Le Court and raised awareness of the lives of disabled people through her involvement with the Le Court Film Unit.

A woman using a wheelchair sat in a room smiling

Barbara Lloyd Evans at Le Court. Photograph by Edwin L. Appleton.

Barbara’s contributions to life at Le Court and her contribution to debates about disabled people’s lives cannot be understated. A common theme throughout her work was her determination to change attitudes about the kinds of lives disabled people could lead. Her efforts to push the boundaries of what life in a residential home could be, and to confront society’s role in producing disability are significant contributions to disability history in the U.K.

Further information