WILLIAM Blake’s “dark satanic mills” could well have been a description of 19th century Bradford. Less well known than Blake as a critic of the damage the industrial revolution had done to lives of ordinary people was Githa Sowerby, the second edition of whose biography by local writer Pat Riley was published this year.

Says Pat: "Githa, (1876-1970) born on Tyneside into the wealthy Sowerby glass-making dynasty, had to learn all about work when her artist/designer father John George Sowerby was declared bankrupt in 1903. She moved to London with two sisters where she learned shorthand and typing so she could supplement their income until she and her artist sister Millicent were established as successful children’s book writers.

Githa joined the Fabian Society and in 1911 children’s book, My Birthday, she included the following poem, Tuesdays’ Child, in which her politics are clear: ‘Each morning as the clock strikes ten, The Wise Man came, with book and pen. “Your Majesty must learn,” he said, “How laws and prisoners are made. Who are your friends, and who are not, And how much money you have got. How some are high, and some are low, And how it always must be so.”The lesson over for the day, He shut his book and went away, And children came, with shining wings, And taught her many other things. They took her hand and led her down Into the hot and dusty town Where children had no time to play, And people worked the livelong day To guard and keep her free from ill, There – in her palace – on the hill. And that is how she came to be The wisest Queen in Arcady.’

The following year Githa’s most famous play, Rutherford & Son, was put on at the Royal Court theatre in London. At this time any play known beforehand to have been written by a woman was routinely panned by critics, so she was billed as KG Sowerby to hide her gender. The play is the story of a domestic tyrant to whom men are valuable only if they can help him make his glass-making factory profitable, and for whom women are invisible except as unpaid servants. The critics hailed it a masterpiece, the equivalent of works by Ibsen, Galsworthy and Pinero. Githa became, briefly, a celebrity.

At the time she wrote, everything was stacked against women who wanted an independent life. They didn’t have the vote. They could pass exams at the same level as men, but many universities refused them degrees. They were paid less than men. If they wanted to end an unhappy marriage, they had to prove two grounds for divorce; men only one. But Githa went on to write 24 children’s books, seven song lyrics, and five more plays. It is only now that her exceptional talent as a playwright is being fully acknowledged. Rutherford & Son is currently enjoying a National Theatre revival starring Roger Allam, Inspector Thursday in ITV’s Endeavour.

I admire Githa Sowerby very much. To aspire to a career outside the home in 1912 was widely considered unwomanly but she didn’t let that stop her. She took on the male-dominated world of British theatre and succeeded, despite massive prejudice."

Looking for Githa, published by Stairwell Books of York, £12. Visit stairwellbooks.co.uk