Focus on…Epping Forest District Museum

It has been an exciting time for Epping Forest District museum as they reopened this year with improved facilities and displays and an extension into the building next door which gives them more exhibition space and an activity room. The improvements were funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The museum is based in Waltham Abbey in a Tudor building which is now far more accessible to all thanks to the recent improvements. It tells the story of the Epping Forest district through its collections of art, archaeology, photographs, social history and documents and has over 50 000 object in its collection. You can get a flavour of the range of its collections by visiting a new gallery- the core gallery- which has a ‘cabinet of curiosities’. This gallery also lets visitors see what is happening behind the scenes and allow a peek into the art and costume stores.

The museum is keen to uncover the untold stories of the roles played by women at work over the last 100 years. They are looking for volunteers to help them research material both in the collection at the Museum in Waltham Abbey and in the community across the district. You could contribute to this by researching stories online, visiting libraries in the district or by visiting the Essex record Office to give the museum ideas of what stories might be hiding, untold, in their collection.

 

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Why Now?

Amy Cotterill, Museum Development Officer, explains why Snapping the Stiletto is looking back on the past hundred years and examines why the stories we’re uncovering are relevant today.

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Elizabeth Moss as Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale

Sunday saw the return of The Handmaids Tale to Channel 4. Based on the novel by Margaret Attwood, it depicts a future where American women’s rights have been thoroughly supressed. They are not allowed to read, have jobs or have bank accounts.

 

Over the weekend, I read this interview with Margaret Atwood, discussing how the book is frighteningly relevant today, arguably more so then when it was first published in the 1980s. It made me think about this project, why I instigated it and how much has changed for women (both positively and negatively) in just the last couple of years since I started working on it.

 

Relevance when it was originally written…

Things began back in 2016, when museums across Essex were taking part in a WW1 commemoration project entitled Now the Last Poppy Has Fallen. The project was coming to an end and several museums asked me to support them in running another countywide project. A quick Google search revealed that 2018 marks 100 years since the first UK women got the vote, 90 years since women were able to vote on equal terms with men and 50 years since women employed by Ford at Dagenham went on strike for equal pay. Given the local and national relevance, and the negative stereotype surrounding “Essex Girls”, a project celebrating the women of Essex was an obvious choice for all of us. We wanted to explore how women’s lives have changed during this last century and highlight stories of inspiring individuals to help shift perceptions of what it actually means to be an Essex woman.

 

As I worked with the museums to flesh out the project, the need for a project researching the history of women in the county became very clear. Most museums had very little knowledge of what was in their collection regarding women’s history. For most of the past hundred years, museum collections have been assembled and researched by men, often pursuing their own particular areas of interest. Women’s history has been very much neglected. We knew that the museum collections contained objects that could tell stories of many amazing women, but we lacked the information to know what those stories are.

 

While I was writing our application to the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund, the “period tax” and debates around equal pay were very much in the news, and this certainly informed how the project was developed.

Consulting with the museums, we were very clear that this project was about two things.

  1. Improving museum’s own understanding of Essex women’s history over the past hundred years and how that is reflected within their collections
  2. Sharing the stories we uncover with as many people as possible

 

Our definition of an “Essex woman” is very broad and we have always wanted to make sure that the stories include those of women who migrated to Essex from around the world.

It was also clear to us that we reach people who don’t usually visit museums with our project, we need to work with members of the public to help plan and deliver the project. Our Project Manager Pippa Smith has been conducting a lot of consultation to find out what themes to focus our research on and how we can present the information to reach as many people as possible.

 

Relevance now…

I always believed that in showing how much women’s lives have changes, we would highlight how much still needs to change, but I was unprepared for how much the news would be dominated by women’s rights during the last two years. The election of Donald Trump and the protest marches this sparked, #MeToo, Meghan Markle giving up her career as an actress when she got married and the Windrush Scandal at a time when we are trying to promote how much migrant women have done for our county. The gender pay gap and period poverty have not gone away and continue to be issues that need addressing.

 

Today is the Irish Referendum on the Eighth Amendment. Depending on the outcome, women there may gain the rights that Essex women have had since 1967 while in America, Trump’s administration is seeking to cut funding to family planning clinics if they provide “abortion related services”.

 

The research done by our incredible volunteers has uncovered so many parallels to these “modern” themes. The protests of the suffrage movement, women being sacked as teachers because they had married or finding that their pay had been cut when they returned from honeymoon because “their husband would be providing for them”, the first women’s clinics being founded in Essex during and after World War 1…

 

I am already proud of the work this project is doing, but I hope that when it ends in Autumn 2019, we can say that we have not only been relevant, but that we have led to positive changes for local women.

 

If you to be involved in Snapping the Stiletto, we have numerous volunteering opportunities, including helping with events and writing exhibition text. Find out more here. New opportunities are added regularly so do keep checking back.

Who is The Mystery Suffragette?

Guest post by Iona Farrell, Assistant Curator of Social History at Southend Museums.

At Southend Museums we are uncovering the hidden histories of campaigning Southend women. Through a team of fantastic volunteers we are discovering more about two inspiring women- Rosina Sky and Councillor Adelaide Hawken- who both campaigned for better lives for women within the town.

Rosina Sky fought for the enfranchisement of women alongside being an independent businesswoman whilst Councillor Hawken’s tireless efforts led to the founding of the first mother and baby clinic within the town.

We’ve found images relating to these women and other campaigners in the town but we want your help in finding out more.

Can you help us uncover more stories?

Who is this unknown Suffragette?

 

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This photograph shows a Suffragette believed to be taken in Southend yet we know little of who this woman is.

Can you help us discover her story? Can you help us give her a voice?

 

The women at the Westcliff Institute

ww1 baby clinic 2These images depict a mother and baby clinic believed to be located at the Westcliff Institute, now the Trinity Family Centre. Following research uncovered by Snapping the Stiletto volunteers this was the site of the clinic founded by Councillor Adelaide Hawken in 1915. It provided much needed support and advice for mothers and aimed to reduce infant mortality rates.

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We believe these photographs are of the Clinic, can you help us identify the women and children involved?

Can you help us learn more about these photos and the Westcliff Institute?

We want to hear your stories.

ww1 baby clinic 4

 

If you can help identify any of the women in these photographs or can share stories of the clinic, pleased contact  Southend Museums by emailing ionafarrell@southend.gov.uk

 

Want to become a volunteer?

If you want to help uncover more hidden histories, sign up as a Snapping the Stiletto volunteer

Focus On… Redbridge Museum

 

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Redbridge Museum is within the Central Library in Ilford. While Redbridge is now a London Borough, it was part of Essex until 1965 which is why the museum is taking part in our project.

 

The museum hosts a range of permanent displays and temporary exhibitions, runs an active schools programme and is open Tuesday to Saturday.

Red Mus EdwardianRm low res

There is a varied range of volunteering opportunities available with Redbridge Museum through Snapping the Stiletto. You could research local suffrage campaigners and the museum is offering training in the use of microfiche readers to find these stories hidden in old newspapers.

The museum is also helping Woodford County High School celebrate its centenary in 2019. They want to know what happened to the school’s first female graduates who went on to attended university in the 1920s.

They have several hours of oral history recordings which reveal local women’s stories in their own words that need to be transcribed. This can be done in your own home as the museum will send you a copy of the recording. Topics include moving from the Caribbean, nursing, the NHS, dating, sexism, racism and living in Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford.

Finally, there is also an opportunity to go behind the scenes at the museum and search their archive for information about local women’s groups and societies.

 

All of these and other volunteering opportunities can be found here.

Focus on… Chelmsford Museum

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Chelmsford Museum, Oarklands Park

Our first “Museum of the Week” is Chelmsford Museum.

Set in the beautiful Oaklands Park, just outside of the city centre, Chelmsford Museum is currently undergoing big changes!

The modern extension on the building is still open for visitors, but the original Victorian house is closed while the team work hard to update the displays to include different objects and stories as well as adding in a much-needed café.

You can read more about their plans for the future here and there is currently a display about what’s happening in the Meadows Shopping Centre in Chelmsford City Centre.

As part of Snapping the Stiletto, Chelmsford Museum is looking for volunteers to research lives of women working at the Marconi factory. Built in 1912, it was the first purpose-built radio factory in the world. They are looking for people to give a couple of hours to research online or, if you have more time to spare, to go into Essex Record Office and do research there. For more information about these, and other opportunities, have a look at our volunteering pages.​ 

If you are interested in doing research at Essex Record Office but are not sure how to go about it, we do have a few spaces left on out training session on Wednesday 25th April.

 

 

Creative Opportunity: Poet-in-Residence

pexels-photo-891674.jpeg“Snapping the Stiletto” is a two year project by Essex County Council, exploring how Essex women’s lives have changed since 1918. The project has received a £95 445 grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund to work with 11 local museums to explore their collections and discover hidden inspirational stories. The project aims to replace the outdated stereotype of ‘Essex Girls’ by highlighting stories of Strong Essex Women. The key themes that emerged through our community consultation are Campaigning Women, Working Women and Migrant Women.

More details about the project can be found at: www.snappingthestiletto.com

We are looking for a “Poet in Residence” to create 4 poems inspired by objects in the museums’ collections and to lead creative writing workshops for young people and community groups.

At the moment we have funding for two workshops from SHARE Museums East, but we may be able to extend this in the future.

The fee for the project is broken down like this:

  • Four poems – £1200
  • Workshop 1 – £300
  • Workshop 2 – £300
  • Expenses – £200

Total: £2000

The successful candidate will be required to deliver the workshops at yet-to-confirmed locations within Essex and travel costs are included within the project fee. They will also be expected to have Public Liability Insurance with an indemnity limit of £5 million.

To apply, please submit to amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk:

  • A 500 – 750 word personal statement describing your previous experience in leading creative workshops, your approach to the project and why you want to be involved in celebrating these Strong Essex Women
  • A portfolio of at least 5 previous poems
  • A CV
  • Details of 2 referees

Deadline: Thursday 22nd March, 23:59pm

For more information, email amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk

Construction: An Exhibition on Clothing, Image & Persona

Construction explores the ways we project identities and construct personas through the clothing we wear and how we wear it. Current obsessions and pressures regarding self-image and its documentation online make it a timely and highly relatable exhibition for visitors. Particularly for women, clothing has been a medium through which to express oneself but also to restrict, through societal expectations of body image and appearance.

Playful and bold fashion on display

The wide-ranging exhibition showcases pieces from the costume and fine art collection alongside designer fashion and specially commissioned photography. The display of garments breaks from traditional chronological formats through unexpected placements of contemporary fashion with historical garments and a range of mounting techniques.

Visitors will find a 1640’s slap-sole shoe placed next to a 1970s brothel creeper whilst Alexander McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 2009 fashion show is projected alongside formal 17th century portraiture. These jarring juxtapositions alongside bold colours and unusual displays create a modern, clashing effect and recreate how a designer approaches a collection through assimilating contrasting influences and inspirations. These clashes also reflect the ways we borrow from diverse influences when dressing and expressing our individual identities.

The exhibition considers how the physical construction of garments alters our bodies and enables us to embody new personas. For women especially their bodies have continually been shaped by fashion in order to fit in with societal expectations and pressures. This still continues today and on display is a waist trainer from 2017, a modern day corset.

The Construction Exhibition

Yet fashion can be a medium for positive expression. The contemporary designer items on display show fashion as a form of celebratory self-expression. Bold brash power suits from the 1980s show clothing as a way to project empowered identities, at a time when women were increasingly entering more executive positions in the workplace and had greater disposable incomes through which to spend on fashion.

Jean Paul Gaultier suit c.1990s

Ideas on how fashion can both empower and restrict women will be explored in a curator led tour of the exhibition on Friday the 16th of March from 12pm-12:45 pm. The tour will unpick the great social and political changes in women’s lives through fashion and discuss current developments within the fashion industry.

This talk arrives at time of increasing awareness of gender inequalities, in the wake of campaigns such as #MeToo and the BBC pay scandal. More so than ever fashion is a tool to protest and attendees at recent awards ceremonies have expressed solidarity with the Times Up movement by wearing black.

The talk will give the chance to explore in depth the pieces on display and gain insights into how fashion history can be used as a tool to document changes in women’s lives.

Tickets are free and can be booked online or collected from the Beecroft Reception desk

Beecroft Art Gallery
Victoria Avenue

Southend-on-Sea

SS2 6EX

Tuesday- Saturday 10am – 5pm