Cranogwen: The Welsh Trailblazer You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

Cranogwen: The Welsh Trailblazer You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

Cranogwen: The Welsh Trailblazer You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

Hello friends, recently I went camping and found myself on the beautiful beach of Llangrannog. For me personally, this place holds so much as my Grandparents spent many a holiday there and I can still feel their presence as I pass the adorable little cottage on my way down to the sand. I hadn't been in a few years and on my usual descent to the beach I came across a new statue. It was refreshing to see a female statue firstly, and to hear she was a poet and mariner too, what could be better?! So today, we dive into the life and legacy of one of Wales' most fascinating figures: Cranogwen. If you’re imagining a mythical creature or an ancient Welsh warrior, think again. Cranogwen, born Sarah Jane Rees, was a trailblazing poet, mariner, and advocate for women's rights. So, buckle up and get ready to be inspired by a woman who lived life on her own terms and left an indelible mark on Welsh culture.

A Poet from the Sea

Sarah Jane Rees was born in 1839 in the tiny village of Llangrannog, a place where the sea is as much a character as any of its residents. It’s no wonder that she grew up with a profound love for the ocean. At a time when the options for women were, shall we say, limited, Cranogwen decided to chart her own course—literally. She became a mariner, studying navigation and even captaining ships. Imagine the 19th-century Welsh version of Captain Jack Sparrow, but with less piracy and more poetry.

The Birth of Cranogwen

Sarah Jane Rees adopted the bardic name “Cranogwen” when she burst onto the Welsh literary scene. Her pseudonym, inspired by her coastal hometown (Cranog means "rocky promontory"), was a fitting tribute to her roots. Cranogwen’s poetry wasn’t just good—it was groundbreaking. In 1865, she won the top prize at the Aberystwyth Eisteddfod for her poem "Y Fodrwy Briodasal" ("The Wedding Ring"), beating out all the male competitors. Yes, you read that right. She out-poemed the men in an era when women weren’t even supposed to be writing poetry, let alone winning major competitions.

Teacher, Editor, and Advocate

Not content with just being a maritime marvel and a poetic powerhouse, Cranogwen also made her mark as an educator. She taught navigation and maritime studies, ensuring that future generations could also dream beyond the horizon. But her ambitions didn’t stop at the classroom door.

Cranogwen became the editor of "Y Frythones," the first Welsh-language magazine for women, where she championed women's education and empowerment. Through her writings and her editorial work, she tackled social issues head-on, advocating for women's rights and better opportunities. In a world where women were often expected to remain silent, Cranogwen’s voice was a clarion call for change.

An Unexpected Love Story

One of the lesser-known but profoundly touching aspects of Cranogwen’s life was her relationship with Jane Thomas. The two women shared a deep bond, living together for many years in what was known as a "Boston marriage"—a term used in the 19th century to describe a cohabiting relationship between two women. Their partnership, though not widely discussed in historical texts, speaks volumes about Cranogwen’s defiance of societal norms and her unwavering commitment to living authentically.

The Legacy of Cranogwen

Cranogwen passed away in 1916, but her legacy lives on. She paved the way for future generations of women to pursue their passions unapologetically. Today, her contributions are celebrated in Wales and beyond, though she remains a somewhat hidden gem in the broader tapestry of history.

So why should we care about Cranogwen in 2024? Because her story is a testament to the power of defying expectations and the importance of being true to oneself. Whether you’re a poet, a sailor, an activist, or just someone trying to make their way in the world, Cranogwen’s life offers a beacon of inspiration.

Here at Enough Already, we believe in celebrating the unsung heroes and the quirky trailblazers who make our world a richer, more colourful place. Cranogwen is one such hero—a woman who dared to dream, to write, to sail, and to love in a world that wasn’t quite ready for her. And for that, we salute her.

So, the next time you find yourself on the Welsh coast, with the sea breeze in your hair and the waves whispering secrets, take a moment to remember Cranogwen. Because sometimes, the most extraordinary stories are the ones that have been quietly waiting for us to discover them.

Back to blog

Leave a comment