To celebrate International Women's Day, we look back at some of the notable women who have helped to make ROSL the organisation it is today. Our founder's principals of egality and equality have echoed through the decades and are still reflected today in our 50/50 membership split between men and women.
Hylda Henrietta Brooke; born in 1879 and married to Sir Frederick Des Voeux in 1899. She began working for the Over-Seas Club 1914, first as the Chairman of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Fund and Honorary Director of Correspondence, before being appointed Honorary Controller. During a visit to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough in 1916, Lady Des Voeux was taken on a flight in the first plane donated to the RFC by the Over-Seas Club, making her one of the first women in England to fly in a military aircraft. In May 1937, after the death of her first husband, Lady Des Voeux and Sir Evelyn Wrench married. She remained an active part of the club for many years and accompanied Wrench on his Commonwealth tours. She died in 1955.
Lady Willingdon was the first woman Chairman of the Over-Seas League. When she and her husband, Freeman Freeman-Thomas, 1st Marquess of Willingdon, returned from India to the UK in 1936 they took an enthusiastic interest in the club. In 1941, Lord Willingdon was appointed Chairman but died later that year. Lady Willingdon succeeded him from 1941-1946. She was committed to her role and visited the clubhouse almost daily. She regularly hosted events for members and had the honour of welcoming King George IV, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth, and Princess Margaret to Over-Seas House when they visited in May 1946. She was very popular with the members and when her term as Chairman ended she was unanimously elected Vice-President by the Central Council. The Members' Drawing Room on the first floor of Vernon House is named in her honour.
Doreen Knatchbull, Baroness Brabourne was a long-standing member of the Central Council from 1943-1979. She took a keen interest in the club's activities and regularly attended events at Over-Seas House, welcoming dignitaries and VIPs from all over the world. She was related to Lord Mountbatten through her son's marriage to his daughter and was with her family when the bomb planted in Lord Mountbatten's fishing boat exploded in Donegal Bay. She died the next day. The Brabourne Room brasserie restaurant is named after her, in recognition of her many years of service to ROSL.
Today, Dr Diana Owen serves as Director-General, having joined ROSL in December 2017. You can read all about her early life and career here. Our patron, HM The Queen is joined by HRH Princess Alexandra as Vice-Patron, who takes a keen interest in the long-running ROSL ARTS Annual Music Competition, which was itself founded by a woman. It was Jessica, Lady Forres, who founded ROSL's Music Circle in the 1940s, which then went on to become the Annual Music Competition. Over the years, many women have played a central role in growing the scope and stature of the competition, including Lady Evelyn Barbirolli, who served as the Chair of Adjudication panel for many years, as did world-renowned dramatic Soprano Dame Eva Turner. You can read all about their contributions to club life here, turning to page 15.
This evening we will play host to Deeba Syed, trainee lawyer and member of the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme; Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party; Helen Pankhurst; author of Deeds Not Words, and descendant of Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst; and Akeela Ahmed, political activist and organiser of the London Women's March, for our International Women's Day Debate: A Woman's Place is in Politics. For more information on the debate and to attend this evening, sign up here.