Skip to main content
Leicester Special Collections

First Female Presidents of the Students’ Union – Nellie Bonsor (appointed 1923) and Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith (appointed 1975)


The first students and staff, with Nellie Bonsor middle row far right.

Alongside Rhoda Bennett, Nellie Bonsor was also part of the first cohort of students to study at the University College and served as the first President of the Students’ Union between 1923-26.

Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith became the next woman to take up the office fifty years later in 1975 and the first since the University gained independence. Having served as Vice President for a term she stood unopposed (to her dissatisfaction) and was elected President. In a Leicester Mercury article she made clear her concerns were student grants, the anti-apartheid movement, women’s issues and equal opportunities. Lasting testimony to her efforts was the opening of a day nursery for the children of mature students (the Stanhope House Nursery in Regent Road) in the autumn of 1975.

Special Collections_0005.tif

Interview with the first female President of the Students' Union at the University of Leicester, 1975.

The Leicester Mercury caught up with her two years into a VSO post teaching English at a remote Tanzanian technical school. Whilst her ambition to become Secretary General of the United Nations revealed tongue in cheek to the Leicester Mercury journalist shortly after her election, wasn’t realised, she was right that activism and human rights would become her career. Esua was a member of the UK Government delegation to the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, a former Commissioner for the Women’s National Commission, and former Chair of the Fawcett Society, and the Gender and Development Network. She was also Vice-chair of ActionAid UK, a Trustee of VSO and a member of the Equality and Diversity Forum. Despite her 30 years of experience as an activist on women’s human rights internationally, her consultancy work for over 100 voluntary organisations, and her role as Queen of Development for her village in Ghana Esua maintained during her acceptance of her Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws, in 2015, that:


“Maybe the most courageous thing I did was to address a meeting of nearly 1,000 rabble-rousing students in Leicester University Students Union when I was only 19 way back in 1971, proposing the motion “This House is against Sexism”.

Female Firsts
First Female Presidents of the Students’ Union – Nellie Bonsor (appointed 1923) and Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith (appointed 1975)