Formidable Fitzrovia Women – Historical Figures

We celebrate Fitzrovian women who have led the way in the past, working through adversity to pursue their ambition, and highlight the achievements of today’s Fitzrovian women who have picked up the baton and lead from the front.

Formidable Fitzrovia Women – Historical Figures

We celebrate Fitzrovian women who have led the way in the past, working through adversity to pursue their ambition, and highlight the achievements of today’s Fitzrovian women who have picked up the baton and lead from the front.


NANCY CUNARD (1896 – 1965)

Nancy was a literary muse who was committed to the cause of Black rights. She lived on Fitzroy Street. She was brisk and bold and known for her striking features, charisma and unique 1920s look. She travelled extensively and was also on board the HMT Empire Windrush from Jamaica to the UK in 1948. Her longest relationship was with Henry Crowder, a Black jazz pianist. Cunard was disinherited and estranged from her family because of this relationship. With Henry, she compiled an anthology of Black Culture in 1934. She devoted many years to tackling racism and fascism.




Lady Ottoline Morrell was an English aristocrat, patron of the arts, and society hostess who lived in Fitzrovia. She was a host to many writers such as Virginia Woolf and T.S Eliot. She was parodied in many 21st century books by the writers who she had befriended and housed, such as Hermione Roddice in D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, and the character Lady Chatterley was said to be based on her too. She was well known for her decadent parties in Fitzrovia.






Agnes was dubbed ‘Queen of Ices’ for her frozen dessert creations and expertise. She invented the first edible ice cream cornets in 1888. The cones were designed to hold ice cream and be as delicious as the ice cream scoop. She founded a cookery school with her husband Alfred, Marshalls School of Cookery, at 31 Mortimer Street in 1883, which was a huge success. Agnes was also one of the first to use liquid nitrogen for making ice cream; a method now used in top restaurants. She also created an early refrigerator to keep the ice cream. The Book of Ices (1885) was one of her many cookery books.



Elizabeth was the first English woman to qualify as a physician and trained at Middlesex Hospital (the former site of Fitzroy Place. In 1860, she enrolled at Middlesex hospital as a nurse and would attend doctoral classes until others complained. After numerous refusals to UK medical schools, Elizabeth moved to Paris and self-taught French to gain her medical degree, and became the first female doctor in France in 1870. In 1872, she opened the London School of Medicine for Women and after many years of campaigning, an act was passed in 1876 allowing women to enter the medical profession in the UK. Along with her sister, Millicent Fawcett, she was also a suffragist, campaigning for women’s right to vote in the UK.



Florence worked on Mortimer Street, Fitzrovia at Middlesex hospital (former site of Fitzroy Place) in 1854 during one of the four major epidemics of cholera that afflicted London in the 19th century. She also led a team of nurses during the Crimean war (October 1853–February 1856).  At this army hospital, she believed deaths could be reduced with improved sanitary conditions. Her nursing efforts in the war were noticed, and she received thanks from Queen Victoria. She reformed healthcare, and opened the Nightingale school for nurses in 1860. In 1907 she received an order of merit for her life-long contribution to healthcare.


VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882– 1941)

Virginia Woolf (nee. Stephen) is considered to be one of the most influential modernist and feminist writers from the 20th century. Some of her critically acclaimed works are’Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘To the Lighthouse’. She had a very comfortable upbringing in Kensington, with a well connected family. She moved to 29 Fitzroy Square in 1907.The square was dilapidated at the time, but she was captivated by its charm. At 29 Fitzroy Square she started her first novel,’The Voyage Out’ published in 1915. She held literary gatherings on Thursday evenings, where she and her literary guests would have long dramatic discussions for hours. They challenged conventions and had no inhibitions on what was discussed. Virginia married Leonard Woolf in August 1912, and continued to write thought provoking essays throughout her life.


ELEANOR MARX (1855 – 1898)

Eleanor was a social activist, labour organiser, trade unionist, translator, actor, writer and feminist. She was the youngest daughter of Karl Marx.
She first lived in Fitzrovia at 30 Dean Street with her family. Eleanor usually complainedof working hard but was always poor. She joined the Social Democratic Federation in 1884, and during her work there she met Edward Aveling. She later lived on Newman Street with Aveling, defying traditional convention as they were not married.


CAITLIN THOMAS (1913 – 1994)

Caitlin was a writer and wife of poet Dylan Thomas. Aged 22, she met Dylan Thomas in a pub, The Wheatsheaf on Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia in 1936. They married in 1937. Caitlin was known to be a belligerent and rebellious character, and Dylan was known for his harsh character and treatment of Caitlin too. They had a tempestuous life and marriage, fuelled by drink but they did have three children and remained together until Dylan passed away. After Dylan passed in 1953, Caitlin spent most of her later years distressed ands eeking treatment for mental health issues and alcoholism. In 1957, she published an account of her later life and life with Dylan,’Leftover Life to Kill’. Caitlin has been portrayed many times in popular culture.


FANNY HEAL (1782 – 1859)

Fanny became the first female of Heal’s 1833 after her husband, John Harris Heal died. Heal’s is a world-renowned furniture store in Fitzrovia founded in 1810 as Heal and Son. When she became CEO, the business was renamed Fanny Heal and Son and the store moved from Rathbone Place, to its current site Tottenham Court Road. With her son, they implemented the, then innovative, use of print advertising on serialised novels to reach a larger audience. At the time Heal’s focussed on making French style feather-filled mattresses. Fanny built a mattress factory behind the store with her son John Harris Heal Junior. Over the years Heal’s has transformed to encompass more homeware designs such as lighting, furniture and accessories, and has always championed innovative designers to keep the store at the forefront of homeware design.