Sheffield Hallam’s first female professor has received an honorary doctorate for her pioneering research. 

Judy Simons, who was born and raised in Sheffield, spoke to us about facing sexism in the workplace, her work championing the forgotten voices of women and her latest book highlighting her family’s stories of persecution and immigration. 

Judy’s first job was as a lecturer at what is now called Sheffield Hallam University and, after 15 years, she became their first female professor. 

Judy said: “There certainly was discrimination, I know that I was passed over for promotion in favour of male colleagues in circumstances that were wrong. 

“I experienced harassment in what would now be a case for complaint.  

“Im talking about the 70s and the 80’s when people just didn’t complain. The culture is so different now.”

Ever since, Judy has been a pioneer for empowering women and girls. She is a trustee of the Girls Day School Trust, which funds 25 girls schools across the country, and she also works closely with a career development company, specialising in helping women smash the glass ceiling. 

On her latest book, ‘The Northern Line’, Judy said: “It’s not a straightforward history book, it’s a book of stories. 

“I discovered this box of papers at the back of my mother’s wardrobe. I found secrets that no one in my family had ever talked about.”

One of the first things she found was an exit visa her Grandmother used to leave Ukraine when she was 12. 

Judy said: “She never went to school. She travelled when she did because she’d be old enough to work. 

“When I got birthday cards they were always signed by my grandfather, my grandmother had never learnt to write her name. “ 

From there, Judy could trace the rest of her extended family, some of whom were killed in the Holocaust or faced other forms of persecution. 

She said: “ I found there was another sister, she had a broken engagement and, in 1916, she had a mental breakdown and was put in what was called a ‘lunatic asylum’. She stayed there for 60 years, she never came out. 

“Her name had never been mentioned until by the time I was in my 30’s. Nobody spoke about her because mental illness was something to be ashamed of.” 

“There were a lot of stories, some of them celebratory, some of them quite sad. A lot of women victims really.”