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Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 12:32 UK
Tyneside honours forgotten writer
Githa Sowerby c1900
Githa's family owned a glassworks in Gateshead

The life of a "forgotten" Gateshead author is being celebrated this autumn in a series of events on Tyneside.

Githa Sowerby, who was born in 1876, achieved massive success with her 1912 play Rutherford & Son.

It was performed in numerous countries, but almost 100 years later Githa's name has virtually disappeared from history.

Until now, that is. In September, a plaque will be unveiled in her memory and Northern Stage host the first Tyneside production of her famous play.

There will also be readings of two new plays inspired by Rutherford & Son and a new biography of Githa's life will be published by New Writing North.

Organisers hope these events will increase public awareness of the Edwardian writer's achievements.


Githa, who died in 1970 aged 93, wrote seven plays and more than 20 children's books during her lifetime.

But it was Rutherford & Son that made her name.

Sowerby family
Githa drew on personal experience in her writing

The play, an attack on the domestic tyranny of men, was acclaimed by critics.

It was highly unusual for a woman to step out of the domestic sphere at this time - even an educated woman like Githa, whose family owned a glassworks in Gateshead.

So, when it was revealed later that the author was a woman, Githa became a celebrity.

Pat Riley, the author of the new biography Looking for Githa, said she thought Githa's achievements were "extraordinary".

"I think Githa's incredible. To go completely against what people thought was the ordained right for women takes great personal courage," she said.

"Women were not considered capable of creating art. How could this woman write this play and get it produced?"

Detective work

Pat spent two years painstakingly gathering information about Githa for the biography.

Her job was made even harder than usual because Githa destroyed all her personal correspondence and family photos shortly before she died.

It's very like unravelling a detective story and if you come up against a brick wall in one direction you have to link about it laterally
Pat Riley

"I think she felt very hurt and like nobody was interested in her achievements or what she'd written," Pat explained.

With so little to go on, Pat started off by looking at birth, marriage and death records.

She also collected all Githa's books to look for clues in the stories and pictures, but her real break came when she was put in touch with Githa's daughter, Joan.

"It never occurred to me that she'd have a daughter that would be alive," Pat explained.

"It's very like unravelling a detective story and if you come up against a brick wall in one direction you have to link about it laterally. There were a few dead ends along the way."

With Joan's help, Pat tracked down another branch of the Sowerby family in Canada, which yielded the first photo of Githa's grandfather, John - and many more besides.

John Sowerby
A portrait photo of Githa's grandfather John Sowerby

It was a poignant moment. Pat said: "Two hundred emails [of photos] later I was able to give Joan and the English family their history back."

Elusive lady

Pat said the more information she uncovered about Githa the angrier she became that the work of this "elusive lady" had been "allowed to vanish".

She thinks gender played a big part in Githa becoming a "forgotten playwright" and said reading the "nauseatingly sexist" headlines of the time made her want to make more people aware of Githa's achievements.

Pat's book, and the other events planned for autumn 2009 in Newcastle and Gateshead, should do just that.

To find out more about the Githa Sowerby Festival visit the Northern Stage website.

Looking for Githa, by Pat Riley, will be available from Northern Stage, New Writing North and on the Amazon website.

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