International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on 8 March and has been observed since the early 1900s - a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. IWD is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy, and action at a global level, and the day is not country, group, or organisation specific – belonging to all groups collectively.

Lightbox Heritage volunteer, Jenny Mukerji, has undertaken extensive research to share the stories of some of the wonderful women of Woking, which you can read below.

Marguerite Reed (1884-1969)

Photograph taken by Marguerite Reed in Woking

Margaret Emma Reed was the youngest of three daughters of postal worker Thomas Reed (1855-1924) and his wife Elizabeth, nee Wilson (c1856-1929) of Stone House, 2 Sandy Lane, Maybury, Woking. Marguerite had taken over the studio, formerly run by Alfred Wildman (1867-1916) at 88 Maybury Road, Woking in April 1917, advertising in the well-known Woking News & Mail that she specialised in photographing children. On Saturday 2 June 1917 she married Thomas Hendra (1889-1972) at the Guildford Registry Office. Their professions were given as Army Pensioner and Photographer respectively. Both gave their age as 28.

Thomas was born in Truro, Cornwall on 4 November 1889, the son of Henry Hendra (1863-1894) and his wife Elizabeth, nee Clemens, and was the youngest of their four children. After spending time in America, he returned to England and enlisted in the 7th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert's) on 18 November 1914. This was a battalion of volunteers in the Second (Kitchener's) New Army and had been formed in Taunton on 13 September 1914. It may have been during his original time in Woking in 1914 or as a possible patient in a Woking Military Hospital, that he met the Woking photographer Marguerite Reed.

One of Marguerite's studio prints that will be on show in our Women's History Month Object in Focus display

Marguerite had left the 88 Maybury Road studio by 1924, when Sidney Francis took it over, and it is rumoured that many of his credited photographs were actually taken by Marguerite. She carried on her photography business from her parents’ former home in Maybury until her retirement and contributed photographs to the local newspapers for many years.

The (September) 1939 Register lists Thomas and Marguerite living at Stone House, Sandy Lane, and both of them as photographers. Thomas was also an ARP Warden. Marguerite died in 1969 and Thomas was still at Stone House when he died on 9 March 1972.

Mairi Lambert Gooden-Chisholm, MM (1896-1981)

Knocker and Chisholm in their converted Wolseley Ambulance, Pervyse, Belgium, c. 1916

Mairi Chisholm was born in Datchet, near Windsor, to Scottish parents. She was a pupil at St Katharine's School on Hook Heath, Woking, which took boarders, convenient by train to both her Bournemouth and London home addresses.

By the end of the First World War, Mairi and her colleague Elsie Knocker (1884-1978) had become known as ‘the Madonnas of Pervyse’.

The two women had met quite coincidentally through their common interest in motorcycles at a time when only 30 women in the entire country were riding them.

As soon as the war broke out, they volunteered to join Dr Hector Munro's Flying Ambulance Corps which had been accepted by the Belgian Red Cross to tend French, Belgian, and German casualties.

Raising their own funds, the two ladies left for Belgium on 25 September 1914, and during their time at the Front in Belgium they rescued the wounded by motorcycle and motorised ambulances.

Knocker and Chisholm on the cover of "Home Chat" magazine, 11 April 1918

They ran a First Aid Post in a cellar at Pervyse by day and at night, took soup and hot chocolate to the men in the trenches as well as searching for the wounded in No-Man's-Land.

Mairi and Elsie were awarded the Military Medal in 1917 and Mairi also received the Belgian Queen Elizabeth Medal with Red Cross. Later they were recruited into the newly formed Women's Royal Air Force to train women as lorry drivers.

After the war, their paths never crossed again, and Mairi returned to Scotland where she successfully bred and showed poultry; one of the few professions considered to be respectable for a lady at that time.

Florence Bigland (c.1880 - 1960)

When Woking resident Florence Bigland sailed to Canada via New York in 1919, she described herself as an authoress. However, this was just one of her many talents. She was also a singer, painter, and aviator with a serious interest in horticulture and had been a nurse in France during the Great War. In 1934, she was chosen to be Woking's Carnival Queen.

In her youth she had taken violin and singing lessons, travelling all over the world to France, Egypt, India, Canada, and New York. She was a passenger on Henry Farman's biplane, piloted by Claude Grahame-White in 1910 and this has given rise to the misconception that she was the first woman to fly a plane. However, it did lead to a life-long interest in aviation. Florence lived with her husband Ernest at Scote Howe (now Allen Lodge) on Hook Heath and died on 24 October 1960.

Florence Bigland is a previous Local Hero, a display in Woking's Story which shines a light on the inspiring and fascinating people of Woking. Currently, in celebration of Women's History Month, our Local Hero is Margaret Popham, one of England's foremost educationalists and Principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College from 1937 to 1953.

Find out more about Woking's town history by delving into Woking's Story and our Heritage Collection.