“Singing” the Stiletto

“We’re brazen husseys and we don’t give a damn

We’re loud, we’re raucous and we’re fighting for our rights

And our sex and our need to be free”

(The Greenham Songbook)

 

Music is powerful. Patients with dementia often remember songs from their youth long after other memories have gone. The right melody can stir our emotions, moving us to tears or to the dancefloor. It is little wonder then that protest movements down the century have regularly used music as a call to action.

 

Probably the best known suffrage anthem is “March of the Women” by Ethel Smyth. She was a trained musician and a prolific composer, writing in a range of styles. Smyth was the first female composer ever to be made a Dame and, while serving two months in Holloway for breaking windows during the suffrage campaign, conducted a choir of her fellow inmates while using her toothbrush for a baton.

This performance is by Glasgow University Chapel Choir, but it is important to remember that it would have been sung by ordinary women as they protested, not just by formal choirs.

 

Ethel Smyth wasn’t the only woman writing suffrage songs, and the tradition of women writing and singing campaign songs didn’t end in 1918 with the vote. Music has been at the heart of campaigns including equal pay and nuclear disarmament. The handwritten Greenham Songbook, passed around between protesters, has been digitised and can be viewed online.

More recently, “Quiet” by Milck has been picked up by the anti-Trump women’s movement in America. This video shows her performing it with other women at the women’s march in Washington DC

 

We are really keen to incorporate music into the Snapping the Stiletto project. Do you know of any protest songs from the last 100 years which were written by an Essex woman? What were the Dagenham Ford workers singing as they campaigned for equal pay? Which lyrics filled the air at Brightlingsea as women campaigned against live exports? Are there any other “local” protest songs we should be singing? Please email pippa.smith@essex.gov.uk with your suggestions (and don’t worry, we know the lyrics may include a few swear words).

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Join a team

For the project we have been thinking about volunteering a little differently and have created challenges that you can do from home in a few minutes, challenges that we can send to you to do in your own time at home, challenges that ask you to visit a library or record office to do some research for us an challenges that get you into a museum to investigate their collections.

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We are now asking for people to sign up for spaces for some longer term team challenges to help the project communicate the results of all of this research and investigation which is being carried out by over 100 volunteers.

As part of the project we will be designing a travelling exhibition which will go to at least six museums and libraries later this year and next. We don’t want this to be just us deciding what stories we tell, what pictures we use and what the end result looks like- as so many people across Essex are working with us as volunteers to uncover stories of strong Essex women we want a team from across Essex to work with us to tell these stories.

http://snappingthestiletto.volunteermakers.org/get-involved/regular-help/help-us-design-an-exhibition/37/

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We are also being asked to go along to community events and talk to people about what we are uncovering so we’d like a group of people to help with this (our Events Team).

http://snappingthestiletto.volunteermakers.org/get-involved/work-as-a-team/become-part-of-snapping-the-stiletto-events-team/36/

Lastly as well as being invited to existing events we want to think hard about telling these stories outside of museums and libraries and are recruiting an ’Engagement Team’ to help us think about different places to go and different ways to celebrate the strong Essex women of the last 100 years.

http://snappingthestiletto.volunteermakers.org/get-involved/work-as-a-team/join-the-engagement-team/40/

All of these challenges will need a time commitment and this will include some training devised by the Snapping the Stiletto team along with different experts. The training won’t be sitting in a room listening to someone but will be hands-on, interactive and (we hope) fun! You may end up telling stories, improvising jokes, even singing songs or devising dance moves as well as learning about how people working in museums think about and plan for exhibitions and events.

There are limited spaces for these challenge and we probably won’t be able to fit in everyone who is keen so we’ll be doing our best to make sure that all of Essex is represented with a whole mix of people from across the county.