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Stamp Collection - Women of Distinction

Six formidable women, from a pioneering campaigner for women's votes to Labour's "Red Queen", the late Barbara Castle, will be honoured today in a set of special stamps from Royal Mail.

When the issue, the first devoted to women, was announced, there were objections to the inclusion of Marie Stopes, author of Married Love in 1918, the first cheap book to inform women in plain language about family planning, and founder of the first free family planning clinic in 1921.

Anti-abortion organisations and feminists condemned the choice of a woman whose opinions - especially on eugenics - became increasingly eccentric in later life.

However, the Marie Stopes charity responded: "Controversy she may have courted, but it is difficult not to be astounded by Marie Stopes' achievements."

Claudia Jones, a less familiar name, was a journalist, socialist and campaigner for black rights who helped to launch the Notting Hill carnival in 1959 as a showcase for local African-Caribbean culture and talent.

The stamps also honour two sisters: Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who became president of the National Women's Suffrage Societies, and her elder sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first British woman to qualify as a doctor.

The set includes two politicians: Eleanor Rathbone, a campaigner for social reform who was elected an MP in 1929 and was a major player in the introduction of family allowances (now known as child benefit); and Barbara Castle, the former cabinet minister who died six years ago at the age of 92.

As transport minister under Harold Wilson, she was the fourth woman to enter cabinet. As Lady Castle of Blackburn she continued to harangue Labour conferences, latterly on pension reform, right to the end of her life.

Issued 14th October 2008 by Royal Mail

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