Women on Wikipedia: Addressing the Gender Gap

photo of woman using her laptop

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

As of October 2018, only 17.82% of biographies on Wikipedia are about women. This is not because there are a lack of notable women worthy of inclusion in the online encyclopaedia, but because the majority of their contributors are Western men who do it for fun, therefore writing about the subjects that interest them or that they already have good knowledge of. This is not to say that men don’t or can’t write about women, it is just that they are less likely to.

The Wikimedia Foundation, who runs the website, is aware of the problem and is taking steps to address it. They have set up projects to identify women who should be the subject of articles and to research them, which has led to an increase from only 15% of biographies being about women in 2014.

They are also looking at other ways gender bias presents on the site. For example, the word “divorce” occurs four times as often in articles about women, probably because they are more likely to be written about in terms of their relationships.

 

With Snapping the Stiletto, we have been researching the lives of Essex women represented in museum collections about whom little was known. We want their stories to reach as wide an audience as possible. This has so far led to out touring exhibition, events, posters in railway stations and our social media accounts. However, we want to share these stories even further and to have Strong Essex Women better represented on Wikipedia. Therefore, we are recruiting volunteer “Wikipedians” to help us update existing and create new articles to share these women’s incredible lives.

 

What’s involved?:

While it is not necessary for you to already be a contributor to Wikipedia to sign up to this volunteering opportunity, you will find it easier of you have good IT skills. There is a useful page on their website which explains how to do it. We would suggest that you familiarise yourself with this information, their policies and conventions if you are new to writing for Wikipedia. If you don’t already have one, you will need to set up an account on the site.

You can sign up as a volunteer oven on our VolunteerMakers page. You will then receive an automated response with a list of subjects to choose from and our contact details. Once you have let us know which article you are interested in contributing too, we will send you the research our volunteers have collected along with any relevant images which we have the rights to use.

You may find it useful to read this article on Grace Chappelow, which was updated by a volunteer at Chelmsford Museum.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s History Month – Essex Campaigners

Every day during Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting a different inspirational Essex woman from the last 100 years. For the first week, we have focused on great campaigners.

 

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Muriel Lester was twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize

We started the month with Muriel Lester. Born in Leyston, she was a pacifist who created a holiday home for poor children and toured with Mahatma Gandhi. She was also twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Grace Chappelow was a Suffragette and lived in Hatfield Peverel. She was arrested more than once for her activities while protesting. A volunteer at Chelmsford Museum recently wrote a Wikipedia article about her.

Another Suffragette was Ethel Haslam from Ilford. She was secretary of the local branch of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) and a teacher. Ethel was dismayed to find her pay as a teacher was cut after she married.

Many of the iconic posters used by the Suffrage movement were designed by Catherine Courtauld, who was based in Braintree.

 

From Southend, we highlighted several “campaigning women”. Rosina Sky was a single parent who ran a tobacconist shop while also being an active Suffragette. Councillor A H Hawken, who founded the first child welfare clinic in Southend in 1925. That year, she also became one of the first female Justices of the Peace. We also looked at Lady Gwendolen Guinness, who was elected as Southend’s first female MP in 1927.

Southend Museums are really keen to know more about these women, so please do get in touch if you’re able to help with the research.

 

Another MP was Leah Manning. She was elected MP for Epping in 1945, was a campaigner for education reform and rescued Basque women and children from Spanish Civil War

Ada Cole was born in Norfolk, but was instrumental in setting up a charity to care for animals in Roydon. She was upset by the state of horses returning from WWI and campaigned for animal welfare.

Joyce Baldwin who was born in Essex, but later moved to Nottingham. She was a biblical scholar and early campaigner for women’s ministry. She worked as a missionary in China during the 1940s and went on to become Principal of Dalton House Theological College.

 

Don’t forget, there are lots of ways to get involved with helping us celebrate Strong Essex Women. Find out more on our Volunteering page.