Getting out there

We are delighted with the feedback we’ve had from the first ‘stop’ of the travelling exhibition. Next stop is the Museum of power – you can find details here 

The travelling exhibition

Snapping the Stiletto traveling exhibition at Epping Forest District Museum

Now we want to get the stories of these amazing Essex Women out to more people, so we’ve been looking for events, festivals and other places to have a stand.

Our first excursion is to the seaside!

Resorting to the coast website

We’ll be at Resorting to the Coast’s Seaside Revival Day in Clacton on May 26th This looks great fun but hopefully people will have time to fit in a visit to us on the Greensward.

 

 

 

The next trip out will be to Cressing Temple Barns for their Planet Essex Festival on June 22nd

Grace Chappelow campaigning

This event is a celebration of everything environmentally friendly, sustainable and local and will include a diverse range of talks, demonstrations and workshops- we’ll be there celebrating local women including suffragette Grace Chappelow.

Later in the year we’ll be at High Chelmer shopping centre chatting to shoppers (September 19th and 20th ) and we’re looking for other Essex venues and events. If you are running an event and would like us there do get in touch (pippa.smith@essex.gov.uk) and we may be able to p bring a stand, send you information to display or provide a display board with information about women local to you if they have featured in the project.

As we’re a small team this project has relied very heavily on volunteers and we’re asking for help again. If you’d like to come and help us at these events have a look at our festival and events challenge on Volunteer Makers and sign up. It will be a great way to help us spread the word that Essex women are amazing!

 

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Secret Suffragette Stories: The Goat Lady of Ramsden Heath

University of Essex student Ben Davey has been researching the story of Grace Chappelow, known locally in later life as the Goat Lady of Ramsden Heath. As Ben discovered, Grace was an avid campaigner for the vote and an inspiring Essex Woman.

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Grace Chappelow campaigning

 

 

Grace Chappelow, a woman who had been dubbed the ‘goat lady’ to her locals had an unsuspecting past. You, the reader, wouldn’t imagine that this ‘Goat Lady’ had been imprisoned alongside the famous Rock sisters of Essex in 1911, for her involvement with the terrorist organisation the Women’s Social Political Union, or more commonly known, The Suffragettes.

Grace was born in Islington in 1884 and she enjoyed a wealthy upbringing, being able to attend school and growing up with a female role model in her head mistress Dr Sophie Bryant. This is suggested by some to be an early influencer of her interest to female suffrage.

Fast forward to her 20’s, It is agreed that she joined by 1910 after her move to Hatfield Peverell.  This is due to finding of a report in the Essex Weekly News explain her involvement in a planned raid of the Houses of Commons.

 

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Pins like these were presented to suffragettes who had been imprisoned in Holloway.  This one belonged to Grace Chappelow and is now in Chelmsford Museum

But what was she arrested for, and what did she have in common with the Rock sisters? In 1911, Grace was amongst 200 other women who decided to smash the windows of Mansion House. All to aid the effort for women to gain the vote. She along with 4 others, was imprisoned for 4 months in Holloway prison where she also took part in hunger strikes, maintaining her resistance to the patriarchy.

The tenure at Holloway prison was not the only time Grace found herself imprisoned. In 1910 she had disrupted a meeting in Leicester by the home secretary at the time Winston Churchill. During this disruption she exclaimed ‘Why don’t they secure the vote of the women in the country? How dare you stand on a democratic platform?’. She was escorted out and imprisoned for five days. Her story can be found on the ‘Vote for Women’ newspaper article on 25th November 1910

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Presented to Grace Chappelow by the WSPU and signed by Emmeline Pankhurst. Courtesy of Chelmsford Museum.

Grace Chappelow however militant she was in the years of 1910-1912 pursued a quieter role after her time in prison. She sold the ‘Votes for Women’ Newspaper, she still attended suffrage meetings in Chelmsford, she also spoke at one showing her belief in the progress of the movement. But it is apparent that after her time in prison, her radical behaviour had subsided, and she was more active behind the lines.

Her past did not leave her when she left the front lines though. She was arrested once again by Witham police after her dog had attacked a political agent and refused to pay the 5 shillings fine. She was taken to prison for a fortnight. What I think is telling of the context of this arrest is the news report from the Essex Newsman on her arrest. She is constantly related to her involvement with the suffragette movement and there is no dialogue of the actual crime. Therefore, this could have alienated the public away from her and made her look irrational. The Chelmsford Chronicle had also covered this story in a similar light but had not mentioned the actual offence, leaving the crime to the imagination of the audience.

So, what happened to this suffragette? She had purchased a house in Ramsden heath and decided to sell goats milk on a bike. Her house had no telephone or television, but she was an avid nature lover and was pleased to move into a house cut off from the noise of the cities. After doing this for many years she had gained her reputation as the Goat Lady and continued to live in Ramsden Heath until she died in 1971.

This women’s journey through life is one of inspiration. At an early age she felt it upon herself to make a change in the world, to question the inequality that society had set upon her, and to fight for her rights as a citizen of England. Her and many women amongst her took up the militant action to further their cause and in 1918 some women were allowed the vote. Votes for all women were achieved in 1928.

This once ‘Caged’ Goat Lady had lived through the Suffragette movement, witnessed the hunger strikes and imprisonment first hand and outlived the patriarchal society of which she endured. Stories like Graces’ are not often televised or taught in our schools, this must change. The stories of individual women like Grace show the reach and impact that the Suffrage movement had. It also is important, in my opinion, to educating further generations of the importance of equal rights.

 

Bibliography

  • Chelmsford Museum, Suffragettes and Chelmsford, Chelmsford Library (2018)

https://www.chelmsford.gov.uk/museums/news/suffragettes-and-chelmsford/

http://www.essexrecordofficeblog.co.uk/the-smashing-rock-sisters-dorothea-and-madeleine-rock-essex-suffragettes/

  • Gazette News, How Essex Suffragettes fought the ‘freaks and frumps’ jibes in push for the vote, Gazette Newspaper Online (2017)

https://www.gazette-news.co.uk/history/15337301.How_Essex_Suffragettes_fought_the____freaks_and_frumps____jibes_in_push_for_the_vote/

  • Newspaper Articles on Grace Chappelow

Available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/results?basicsearch=grace%20chappelow&retrievecountrycounts=false

 

 

 

 

 

‘She lived a woman-centred life’: modern recognition of lesbian and bisexual suffragettes.

As part of Snapping the Stiletto’ Project Manager, Pippa worked with students at the University of Essex who were taking a module ‘Votes for Women’. As part of this some researched themes and individuals which particularly interested them and wrote these up as blog posts.

As we move from LGBT History Month to Women’s History Month this post from M Borrowdale looking at the role of ‘invisible’ women in the fight for equality which ends with a call for historians to look further into these stories seems particularly apt.

When we read histories of the British women’s suffrage movement, the aims and methods of campaigners are often at the forefront. Images of women chaining themselves to the railings outside Number 10, or Emily Davison’s actions at the Epsom Derby are well-known and written about. However, who were these women? And how did their personal relationships shape their experiences in society and within the movement? Katharine Cockin researched the life of Edith Craig, saying that ‘she lived a woman-centred life’: Craig was a suffragette and theatre director who was in a number of relationships with other women. These woman-centred experiences shaped her perspective on her theatre performances, and on her activism within the suffragette movement.

Minorities in general are not well documented in history, however historians have begun to uncover the often untold experiences of women of colour who fought for the women’s suffrage movement. For instance, Anita Anand researched into Sophia Duleep Singh, an Indian-born British suffragette. In Edwardian British society, women of colour from imperial colonies had different and unique experiences from white women, but still fought for equal suffrage alongside them. Queer women were in a similar position, where their legitimacy within relationships or as individuals was not recognised, and they were expected to be married to men. A popular modern representation of the suffragette movement, the 2015 film ‘Suffragette’, blatantly leaves out the more nuanced stories of women of colour, and of queer women.

It is important to consider the women in the movement whose romantic and personal lives followed a path which was different from the social norms of the time. It is now coming out (pardon the pun) that many suffragette leaders may have entered into romantic and sexual relationships with other women. Hilary McCollom’s 2017 talk for the National Archives discusses the possibility that within the suffragette movement, there were ‘invisible’ women in same-sex relationships, and it is important to recognise the layered element of their fight. If these women were in fact bisexual or lesbians, they were not only facing arrest for resisting the police and the government at protests and during hunger strikes, but they also ran the risk of facing further prosecution and/or social alienation for the nature of their relationships. This social view has been investigated by historians: McCollum argues that there is some evidence that the Women’s Freedom League (a group which broke away from the Women’s Social and Political Union) may have been created because of the perception that some female members had formed strong emotional bonds with each other which were seen as ‘unbalanced, primitive and dangerous to the movement’.

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst of the WSPU are widely believed to have had a close relationship with one another, with many other women also writing letters of admiration about both of them. Kenney wrote: “the changed life into which most of us entered was a revolution in itself. No home life, no-one to say what we should do or what we should not do.”

Researching historical personal lives is a difficult task. It often relies on the analysis of private documentation, as same-sex relationships were deemed illegal and socially unacceptable. Such research requires documents of personal admittance, and the historian’s knowledge of specific and often undercover social circles in order to confirm such thoughts and relationships. The National Archives have begun to highlight the importance of researching the history of LGBTQ+ people. In a 2012 speech about researching hidden histories, Jenni Orme likens such ‘non-mainstream histories’ to the exercise of ‘digging for diamonds’. The complication with researching people in same-sex relationships is that much of the written evidence would have been destroyed, or not recorded in the first place. For example, one of Edith Craig’s long-term female partners, Christopher St John, is believed to have ‘destroyed Craig’s papers after her death’. These remaining papers and records are fragmentary, and they display to historians only the information which these women saw as acceptable to leave behind, to represent their lives and relationship. Many other women simply did not keep diaries or personal letters, and therefore much of it is speculative based on the writings of other women in their circles.

Sometimes, proving the personal private thoughts and actions of individuals in history is simply not possible. However, this doesn’t mean that we should disregard the possibility that some women were in sapphic relationships, or the evidence that we have to support this claim. When researching the centenary of the 1918 Act, it is important to acknowledge that women from all walks of life were involved in fighting for their right to a democratic vote – including LGBTQ+ women. Their stories are coming to the forefront as modern society becomes more accepting of these people and their relationships, and it may be time for us as historians to look further into their stories.

An exciting year ahead

Happy New year! Last year was an exciting year and you can’t have missed that it was a year when we celebrated 100 years of some women getting the vote. Teams of Snapping the Stiletto volunteers worked with our partner museums throughout the year to uncover stories of Essex women and their achievements over the last 100 years.

 

 

This year we are telling these stories across Essex starting with an exhibition at Epping Forest District Museum opening this Saturday (12th  January) and staying there until March 16th. See our exhibition page for details of where else the exhibition will be over the coming year.

This exhibition contains stories both researched and told by Essex women. They chose the title ‘Essex Women; Adversity, Adventure and Aspiration’. Project volunteers and the Project Team consulted local groups to steer the research and volunteers worked hard with our partners to find these stories. A team of volunteers have written much of the text, chosen images and come up with interactive ideas all designed to celebrate 100 years of change for women.

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Volunteers attending a text writing workshop

Come along and find out what it has been like for women serving in the police and Fire services, working the land during wartime and moving here to support our health services.

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Women Police Officers. Image courtesy of the Essex Police Museum

 

Discover Essex businesswomen and engineers.

Women worker at a machine

A worker at the EKCO factory in Southend. Image courtesy of Southend Museums

 

Grace Chappelow campaigning. Image courtesy of Chelmsford museum

Find out more about Essex women who campaigned for lots of different causes and let us know who is your strong Essex Women!

 

(The exhibition will be on display at Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey from Saturday 12th January until Saturday 16th March. It will then visit other venues around the county – dates and details can be found here).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wonder Women: 100 Years of Women’s Lives in Redbridge

Today we are hosting a blog from written by Alex Lyons from one of our partner museums talking about their current exhibition

Come back here soon for details of the  exhibition designed by Snapping the Stiletto volunteers which will launch at Epping Forest District Museum on January 12th- in the meantime do visit our partners at Redbridge.

Redbridge Museum invites you to visit their new exhibition ‘Wonder Women: 100 Years of Women’s Lives in Redbridge’

Redbridge Museum is one of 11 partner museums involved with Snapping the Stiletto. Today Redbridge is a London Borough but historically Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford were all part of Essex.

To celebrate 100 years since some women in the UK won the right to vote, ‘Wonder Woman’, focuses on the lives of women in Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford over the past century. The exhibition explores the campaign to get the vote, the impact of two world wars, leisure, love, working life and sisterhood, all told by local women in their own words.

Preparing for this major exhibition ran parallel to Snapping the Stiletto and much of the research has been shared with the project team at Snapping the Stiletto.

Volunteers worked both in-house, researching local women’s organisations and externally, transcribing oral history interviews. The Snapping the Stiletto volunteers helped delve into Redbridge Museum’s collection and uncover hidden women’s stories.

 

Dee Ramlal of Ilford is one such ‘Wonder Woman’. Dee was born in Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean and came to England in 1971, aged 21, to train as a nurse.

Dee says:

“I come from a line of strong women. My Mum started off as a teacher but had to leave her job when she got pregnant without being married. She said don’t let that happen to you. And I listened. She said, you go to England and you get yourself a career in nursing and you’re going to live a good life.

Those days it was very hard for foreign nurses, very, very difficult. We went through a lot of racism, a lot of prejudice, but we stuck it out.

For me, the best part of my career was when I became a community nurse. I felt as if I was giving one-to-one care, there was no rushing without giving of your best. You know that when you organise their care and you see the patient recover, that’s what nursing is all about. It’s not about the money. Nursing to me is life.”

To find out more about Dee’s story and other Redbridge ‘Wonder Women’ visit the exhibition at Redbridge Museum, Central Library, Ilford open until 27 April 2019 (Tuesday – Friday 10-5, Saturday 10-4)

www.redbridge.gov.uk/museum

 

Ask her to stand- One hundred years of voting

One hundred years ago today women in the UK voted for the first time in a General Election. Two-thirds of women in the UK (8.5 million) were eligible to vote at this first election. One woman – Constance Markiewicz – was elected to the House of Commons in 1918 although, as a member of Sinn Fein, she didn’t take her seat and it wasn’t until the following year that Nancy Astor became the first woman to sit in the House.

In the last election (2017) 208 women were elected as MPs – 32% of the total. Essex roughly follows this pattern with six women and 12 men serving the 18 constituencies.

 

The campaign 50:50 Parliament has been working toward more equal representation

https://5050parliament.co.uk/

50:50 Parliament’s Mission

To achieve an inclusive gender-balanced parliament, that draws upon the widest possible pools of talent, including men and women equally, incorporating their full range of diversity and experience.

50:50 Parliament drives this mission by encouraging, inspiring and supporting political engagement, particularly from women. In addition, 50:50 Parliament lobbies Parliament and the political parties to be more inclusive of women.’

Do you know someone who would be a great MP? Has a friend always said she’d love to be involved but doesn’t know where to start? 50:50 Parliament has a campaign #askhertostand looking for women who may be interested in standing and working with them to support and mentor them. If we want to be represented then some of us need to take a deep breath and think ‘I’ll give it a go!’

If you need inspiration just think of all the amazing Essex women who campaigned for us to get the vote- today we say thank you to them all!

Rosina Sky protesting ‘No Vote, No tax’ after her goods were seized.

Grace Chappelow campaigning

International Day of the Girl

One of the aims of our project is to dispel the negative stereotype of the Essex girl and the girls and young women I’ve met through this work certainly confirm that the horrible and sexist stereotype of ‘dim’ Essex girls couldn’t be farther from the truth!

Early on I met with members of the Guides and Girls Brigade to ask for their help in steering the direction we were going in and setting our themes.

They came back with a range of ideas for us and it was clear that today’s Essex girls are interested in human rights, women scientists and engineers, women in the services, women who served in wartime, and those who worked undercover.

Planning themes for the project

The girls and young women have a strong sense of fairness and want to know WHY women couldn’t be treated as equals to men both now and in the past. The idea of women doing the same jobs as men and getting paid less amazed them and the continuing gender pay gap infuriates them. They admire women who stand up for women’s rights and want to find out more about them.

 

Photographs from the Essex Police Museum prompted an interesting discussion around the uniforms worn by the WPCs. The girls pointed out how restrictive the clothes would have been and how far they would have limited the women – ‘they couldn’t chase anyone wearing that!’ This led to a conversation about how clothes and fashions had limited girls and women and they came up with some great ideas for practical activities for people to try at our events to show how it would have felt to wear the clothes that women were expected to live and work in over the years.

Women Police Officers. Image courtesy of the Essex Police Museum

Photo courtesy of the Essex Police Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stereotyping angers these girls and although some of them like pink they want to make it clear that pink is not always a girls’ colour! They want choice and they want to challenge prejudice and stereotypes and are interested in talking to women who have fought for their rights.

These girls and young women have a strong sense of pride in the place they live and want to celebrate women who are important in their local communities.

You can hear their own voices on the GENE radio show- I was interviewed for the latest programme.

Pippa being interviewed by the GENE Radio team

These girls are proud to be Essex Girls