The Diversity Project of the Dictionary of Welsh Biography

Collections - Posted 27-10-2023

Thanks to new funding through the Anti-Racist Wales Action Plan, the Dictionary of Welsh Biography (DWB) is undertaking a new project to enhance the quality and range of its contents. Over this year and the next, the Diversity Project will particularly focus on ethnicity and gender equality in newly commissioned articles to improve the representation of Wales’s diverse history.

New names to be added

We will update, correct and rewrite existing articles. We will also commission new articles about previously overlooked people. The DWB has already published a list of names in need of an article. Since the start of the project, we have identified further historical people from all walks of life.

Rufus Elster Fennell (1887–1974)

Among the names newly included on our list is US-born Rufus Elster Fennell (1887–1974). As a witness of the 1919 Race Riots in Cardiff, he was arrested by the police. After his release, he called out the south Wales police’s racial prejudice and brutality in dealing with the riots. A decade later, he took a turn as an actor for stage and film, sharing the screen with Paul Robeson in Jericho. Eventually, Fennel returned to the US where he died in a care home in 1874.

Peter Jones, Kahkewāquonāby (1802-1856)

Searching through the Library’s Portrait Archive on Wikimedia Commons, we encountered the picture of Kahkewāquonāby (1802-1856) who later took the name Peter Jones. Of mixed Welsh and native American parentage, Jones was raised by his mother in the culture, religion and language of the Mississauga Ojibwa.

As a teenager, he joined his estranged father and eventually became a Methodist missionary. As a trusted community leader, Jones later represented the political interests of the Mississaugas before the Canadian government. He visited Britain on three separate occasions to raise funds for his work. While his journey never took him into Wales, the Welsh newspapers enthusiastically reported about his public lectures.

Where are the women?

It is more difficult to trace the biographies of historical women because in the past their lives and achievements were often overlooked and so went unrecorded. However, we have identified several women whose life we want to commemorate through articles in the DWB. Among them are Jamaican-born Justina Jeffreys (1787-1869) later of Glandyfi Castle, the Aberystwyth student Irish de Freytas (1896-1989) who became the first woman to practise law in the Caribbean, or Mahala Davis, the first Black person to sing in Welsh on television in the 1960s.

Support our work

As ever, this selection is just the tip of the iceberg and we greatly rely on people’s knowledge and enthusiasm in helping the DWB grow, expand and properly reflect the diversity of Wales. Our list of names is now publicly available on the website of the DWB. If you notice a missing name or would like to write an article about the people we have identified already, please get in touch.

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