Volunteering- Essex celebrates Essex Women!

I’m sure everyone running projects like ours says at some point ’we couldn’t have done this without our volunteers’- in this case it is so true! This week we are joining the the celebrations for National Volunteers’ Week to say a big Thank You to our volunteers

Five of the volunteers

Some of the many volunteers who made the Festival happen

 

The Festival in March could only happen because people volunteered to speak, brought stands and activities and acted as stewards. Thanks also to the great student volunteers who joined us for that day. Without volunteers we couldn’t have spent the day celebrating #StrongEssexWomen

 

 

The travelling exhibition

Snapping the Stiletto traveling exhibition at Epping Forest District Museum

The stories told in our travelling exhibition were researched by volunteers across Essex who uncovered photographs, dug around in museum archives, hunted out newspaper clippings, tracked family records, visited record offices and helped transcribe oral histories and notebooks. The exhibition itself was created by volunteers who took the time to come along to training to help with this and then put this training in action by writing the panels you can see at some of our partner museums.

In the last two weeks we have managed to get a stand out at events and spoken to nearly 400 people – this wouldn’t have happened without Jo and Lily- so thank you! Jo and Yvonne will be at the Planet Essex Festival at Cressing Temple Barns on June 22nd– come along and chat to them.

Lily and Jo running our stand at the Seaside Revival day in Clacton

We also have a large group of volunteers who regularly spend a few minutes online sharing stories and news about the project and our partner museums. Every minute counts and we estimate that this team of social media champions have contributed 28 hours to the project and helped us spread news and stories much more widely than we could have without them.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @snapthestiletto

Have a look at the variety of volunteer challenges still live – even if you can only spare us a few minutes every contribution is valuable and valued

So far, we have been helped and supported by more than 200 volunteers and we are proud to be able to say that the success of this project is largely due to the people of Essex joining us to celebrate the amazing achievements of Essex women over the last 100 years.

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Strong Essex Women: A Celebration in Poetry

Last year we put a call out for a poet-in-residence. We had a fantastic response and, after a tough selection process, appointed Wivenhoe-based poet Lelia Ferro.

If you attended Lelia’s session at our festival earlier in the month, you will have heard about how she uses words and phrases to create a sense of place. Using phrases she overheard during the day, and others supplied by festival attendees, she has written two poems, shared below.

Some of the attendees at Lelia’s festival session were inspired to create their own poems and have kindly agreed to share them with us. Check back on Sunday, when we’ll be using them to make the end of Women’s History Month 2019.

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Phrases donated by attendees of the Snapping the Stiletto Women’s History Festival. Image courtesy of Lelia Ferro

 

Anti-suffrage                         Factory acts               Male curators                                                                                                Hidden histories

Station rollers                       Tax resistance          Family ties                                                                                                     Women’s history

 

Our life achievements

will no longer be sidelined.

Essex girls, deeply dissent

uncover traces

of powerful treasure –

trailblazing their way

into the hawken sky.

 

Dangerous pockets            Propaganda kimono                        Red threads

Brave new sparks

 

 

Lelia Ferro 2019

 

 

Women’s refuge                  Witch hunts                         Sexual politics

Violent patriarchy

Handkerchief messages    Suburban neurosis             Minding the baby

Period poverty

 

With confident eyes                                                                                                                                   we weave new connections

with the everyday extraordinary –

revealing sisterly secrets

for rebellious bad-arse

young feminists

to take forward

 

Raised fists                          Free nipples              Reclaimed bodies                                                                                        Fight back

 

 

Lelia Ferro 2019

Folk Devils, Free Nipples and Mary Whitehouse

Ahead of the Snapping the Stiletto: Essex Women’s History Festival, we put out a call for volunteer bloggers to come along and then share their experiences of the day. This post was written by volunteer Claire Kibble. All images are courtesy of Claire.

Claire Pitt-Kibble Free the Nipple Selfie

 

When I saw the event page on Facebook for the Snapping the Stiletto festival, I was excited! Being a fierce feminist I always make sure to celebrate International Women’s Day. Usually I do this by sharing pictures and some information on social media about the famous strong women that inspire me. This year, however, seeing that there was this amazing local women’s history festival going on in the town I live in, it inspired me to talk about the women I know or have known personally and the important part they have played in my history. I shared pictures and wrote about people like my great granny who used to tell me stories about how liberating it was for her during World War II when most of the men where away fighting the war. So, as you can see, Snapping the Stiletto inspired me before I even got there and it didn’t disappoint once we were there!

 

The tone for the day was set up brilliantly by Pam Cox giving us some context with a talk on the invention of the Essex girl and her place in culture. The thing I found most interesting about her talk was that she described the Essex Girl as a ‘folk devil’. By this she meant that the Essex Girl had been created to be a cultural place holder for a rebel woman, one that can’t be shut up and that doesn’t fit in because she is sneered at by everyone, different classes, political leanings, and people from all over the world. I’d never thought about the Essex Girl in this way before and it actually made me relate to her, which surprised me. I’ve never owned a pair of white stilettos or even slightly fit in with the aesthetic forced upon her but I relate to the rebellious side of her, the side that doesn’t care what people think and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. This part of her that is also an enormous part of me is what made me choose the craftivism activity that I chose.

 

claire-pitt-kibble-felt-nipple-e1552924815524.jpgMe and my husband went along to the Free the Nipple craftivism activity run by Stitch and Bitch. During this activity, we made felt nipple brooches of all colours, sizes, textures and levels of hairiness! It was fun and I’m definitely making more at home. The Free the Nipple campaign is something that I am onboard with because women are judged so harshly on their looks and their bodies when they shouldn’t be. Everyone has a body and that should be good enough. If you want to bare all of it or none of it then you shouldn’t be judged on that. I carried on this philosophy when I went to the drop in rosette making workshop where I made a ‘Riots not Diets’ rosette instead of a ‘Votes for Women’ one. Obviously, this was intended to bring highlight the plight of the suffragettes and I did think about them when I was making mine. It brought to mind groups of women huddled around together making their rosettes and we were doing the same thing, not for as an important cause like getting the vote for women but for fun and sharing the experience of the women who came before us.

 

Claire Pitt-Kibble RosetteI also enjoyed learning more about Mary Whitehouse. She isn’t someone that I relate to in terms of politics or ideology; but it was interesting finding out more about someone who had views that were oppressive but the way she went about expressing those was actually really rebellious and almost in conflict with what she was campaigning for. It has inspired me to find out more about the history of local women even those that I might not completely agree with!

“We Can Make A Difference”

Ahead of the Snapping the Stiletto: Essex Women’s History Festival, we put out a call for volunteer bloggers to come along and then share their experiences of the day. This post was written by blogger Laura Kerry, and is also available on her own website.

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Professor Pamela Cox from the University of Essex spoke about the origin of the term “Essex Girl”

To mark International Women’s Day, Snapping the Stiletto swapped glass ceilings for the grass roof of Essex Business School to explore the lives of Essex women. The festival largely explored the decades prior to the early 1990s, when I was born; I imagined these women marching for their rights while I was learning to walk, aspiring one day to follow in their footsteps.

We couldn’t celebrate Essex women without acknowledging the ‘Essex girl’ stereotype, which was bred in broadsheets and pop culture and remains popular today with the rise of shows like TOWIE. By showcasing Essex women, Snapping the Stiletto reclaims and redistributes this stereotype. I also learnt how the everyday woman felt about the Representation of the People Act (which, amusingly, was used to promote clothing sales) and how they were affected by high maternal and childhood mortality rates before we had the NHS, an incredibly precious resource which could now be undone in my lifetime.

Seeing Red

The post Laura made during the Seeing Red workshop. Courtesy Laura Kerry.

I was surprised, but not shocked, at how buying sanitary items was once as covert as buying class A drugs, as this ‘shame’ continues presently. I saw reflections of today’s often poor education surrounding periods and bodily knowledge. While a great deal can be learnt from magazines, these often become our enemies as we enter adulthood.  It was interesting to see that, despite attitudes changing vastly, advertising for sanitary products has changed little through the ages, with decades-old adverts showing women engaging in physical activity during their period. During the Seeing Red craftivism session, we looked again at this advertising as well as the evolution of the products themselves – sanitary belt, anyone? I was perplexed that menstrual cups were introduced in the 1930s, yet are scarcely seen in adverts. It left me questioning why this is; no doubt linked to a lack of ongoing profit.

Accounts of domestic violence were met with a murmur of appalled familiarity and empathy. Another familiar tale was the initial shock that refuges for women were even needed in the first place, until statistics were recorded and shared. I enjoyed hearing of the persistence from the women running the refuges, who became key decision makers through their roles; the physical progression of the first run-down refuges to the more visually appealing spaces we have today was also encouraging. One of my favourite parts of the day was hearing stories from celebrant Katie Deverell about everyday working women in Essex; there was something comforting in hearing about their passion and determination and the impact this had on the lives around them.

The main thing I took away from the festival was the sense that we can make a difference to the world around us through our everyday lives. It’s easy to worry that we’re not taking big enough actions to influence the world, but these strong Essex women influenced the world around them with their various skills and qualities along with their warmth and wit, both at work and at home. We may not have the time to start a revolution, but we can donate items to charities like the Red Box Project or help paint a women’s refuge; we can all identify something we feel passionately about, get involved in our community, and take small steps to change the world.

International Women’s Day – Preserving Women’s Voices

This International Women’s Day, Sound Archivist Sarah-Joy Maddeaux shares snippets from just a few of the hundreds of oral history interviews with women held in the Essex Sound and Video Archive.  The numbers in brackets are the recordings’ record numbers, and you can request those recordings at the Essex Record Office if you would like to hear more.

Oral history cassettesWomen’s history is one of the areas where oral history can make a great contribution. From telling the stories of notable women who have had a significant impact in their field, to telling the equally significant stories of ‘everyday’ women who made an impact just by their daily routine, first-hand accounts can reveal subject areas that do not always make it into written records. Furthermore, they can reveal the ‘whys’ of history – motivations that prompted women to take the actions they did.

The Essex Sound and Video Archive at the Essex Record Office is one resource for accessing such sources for women’s history. A substantial number of the oral history interviews in our recollection were recorded with women – and many were recorded by women (a discussion topic for another time – what difference does the gender of the interviewer make to the recording?).

Let’s start with some headliners. We have an interview with Elfrida Johns, who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War (Acc. SA580). Eva Hart, a Titanic survivor, recorded her memories on a number of occasions which have made it into the Archive (Acc. SA318, Acc. SA398, SA 1/323/1, and SA 19/1/14/1). Helen Welburn was the first female Superintendent of the Essex Police, on her appointment in 1970, and spoke about the major improvements she made for other women in the police force (SA 25/1/10/1). We even have the reminiscences of a Suffragette, Helena Taylor, from an edition of the Sounds of Brentwood talking magazine (SA 2/1/12/1). We feel privileged to have the reminiscences of such accomplished women in our archives.

But we also feel privileged to have the reminiscences of so many other Essex women in our archives. Perhaps their lives did not figure in newspaper headlines; perhaps they were never known outside their village; perhaps they did not feel they had a story worth telling. However, it does not take long to get hooked into each woman’s story, no matter how mundane it seems at first, as her life unfolds over the course of the interview.

Take, for example, the many ‘New-Towners’ who have been recorded for posterity. At a young age, these women left their families and homes in East London to settle in relatively rural locations and establish their own homes, away from familial support networks. Dr Judy Attfield’s collection of interviews with Harlow residents is particularly rich in women’s accounts, fully exploring their experiences and emotions on moving to these remote locations (SA 22). For example, Mrs Summers in 1986 described her feelings when she and her husband moved to Harlow New Town in 1952 (SA 22/1364/1).

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Carole Sydney, image courtesy of the Evewright Foundation

We have recently received the recollections of women who moved even further to forge new lives for themselves. The Evewright Arts Foundation recorded a number of Windrush generation immigrants about their experiences of moving to Britain. Some already had family here; some left their family behind until they had established a new home for their children. Most commented on the cold; most admitted to encountering racist attitudes. But they persevered until, like Carole Sydney, they could claim to have made a success of their life in Britain (SA 69/1/5/1).

Life could also be a struggle for those who stayed in the same place. One of our favourites is Edie Brown, who was born in Kelvedon in 1895 and spent most of her life in Witham. She worked hard from the day she left school in her teens: working in domestic service and local industry before her marriage, then contributing to the household economy by going pea-picking or fruit-picking, sometimes before her children woke, or sometimes taking them with her. But she was never subservient: she would rather lose a job than put up with wrongful accusations or excessive demands in service (SA 59/1/7/1).

In the same collection, Elsie Hammond recalls female workers at Pinkham’s glove factory striking for more pay (SA 59/1/16/1).

Sometimes it is precisely the ‘normal’, everyday nature of an interviewee’s life that is useful to the researcher. Where else could you find detailed descriptions of household chores explained by the women who did them? Memories of helping mothers with household work allow us to reach back into the nineteenth century for the methods of housekeeping common in Essex. As technological advancements reduce domestic chores to button-pressing, without these interviews the former way of life of women kept busy full-time cooking and cleaning would otherwise be lost. With cultural change, it is also important to preserve the stories of mothers struggling to run their households on the limited budget provided by their husbands, as Connie Robinson shared about women she knew (SA 26/61/1).

Oral history interviews even give us the chance to look back on areas of private life that were formerly taboo. In later life, women were often happy to speak about their experiences of puberty or childbirth that they would not have discussed at the time.

But. There is still much about women’s experiences that is lacking in the historical record. We were intrigued by the Rebellious Sounds Archive, which captured the stories of activist women in south-west England. What more can you do to preserve the significant contributions of the women you know? Please do get in touch if you want to discuss an idea for an oral history project.

Many of these topics and more will be discussed at the Essex Women’s History Festival at the University of Essex tomorrow. You will also have an opportunity to listen to these and other recordings of women from the Essex Sound and Video Archive, or to chat to Sound Archivist Sarah-Joy Maddeaux about our collections. If you were fortunate enough to get tickets, we look forward to seeing you there.

If you cannot make it to the Festival, some of these recordings can be played online from the comfort of your own home. Look up the reference numbers on Essex Archives to check. Some will have a play feature; some will allow you to order the material to listen in the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office; and others will advise you to contact us to arrange to hear the material.

Body, Self and Family

The Snapping the Stiletto: Essex Women’s History Festival on Saturday 9th March 2019 is being organised in partnership with the Body, Self and Family Project. In this guest post, the BSF project team tell us about their work.

body self family bannerThe Body, Self and Family project at the University of Essex is researching women’s psychological, emotional and bodily health in Britain between the 1960s and 1990s. We want to find out more about the everyday health experiences of women in a period when the pattern of women’s lives changed almost beyond recognition. Across these decades, women entered the workforce in larger numbers, became involved in feminist activism, limited their families, and increasingly chose to marry later (or not at all).  By the end of these decades, women expected to lead very different lives to those of their own mothers and grandmothers.

 

This project asks: How did women experience these sweeping social and cultural changes? What did these shifts mean for women’s own emotional wellbeing, and for their traditional roles as carers? How did women of different ages, social classes, ethnicities and sexual orientations experience these social changes differently? To find answers to these questions, we are interviewing women born between 1940-1970, including 25 women from around Essex. Our talk at the Snapping the Stiletto Festival will present the team’s initial findings for the first time, focusing especially on the experiences of girls growing up in Essex in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Another part of the project is work with community groups, Girl Guides and schools to develop toolkits that draw on historical resources to improve the emotional health and wellbeing of adolescents today. You can get a taste of some of these activities at our two craftivism sessions at the Festival, on ‘Body Image’ and ‘Seeing Red: Periods, Poverty and Protest’.

 

To find out more about the Body, Self and Family Project, see our website

Tracey Loughran

Daisy Payling

Kate Mahoney

Hannah Froom

The Festival is now fully booked but please do join the waiting list if you are still interested in attending. We will offer out any returned tickets as soon as possible.

Snapping the Stiletto Festival – Can You Help?

HMS Westcliff Cooks - courtesy of Southend Museums

HMS Westcliff Cooks – courtesy of Southend Museums

It’s just under a month until our Women’s History Festival at the University of Essex Business School and we’re really excited. We’ve got a great range of contributors, who’ll we be talking about over the next few weeks, and tickets have been going so fast we’ve shuffled things around so we can add 100 extra seats.

We are currently recruiting volunteers to help us in the run up and on the day. Please can you help by signing up to one (or more) of the “volunteer challenges” below?

Social Media

Can you help spread the word about the festival amongst your friends, family and colleagues? We’re asking people to sign us as social media volunteers, who’ll keep an eye out for our posts on Twitter, Facebook and on our blog and share them on their own accounts. Click here to learn more or sign up.

Stewarding

We want everyone coming to our festival to have a great time, so we need some extra people to help us welcome attendees, show them where the different events are taking place and to assist with the evaluation. Click here if you’d like to help.

Donate

On the day, we’re going to be collecting items on behalf of two important causes. The Red Box Project battles period poverty by distributing sanitary products to young women via schools. Beauty Banks collect beauty and hygiene products and pass them on to those who need them via foodbanks and shelters. Click the links to find out more.