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

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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

More mystery women

We have a great team of volunteers in Southend working with the museum service there and they are looking into the stories of two local women- Rosina Sky and Adelaide Hawken.

Rosina Sky was a suffragette who ran her own business (a tobacconist shop) and was active in the Tax resistance league. We know that she had goods and chattels sold at auction as she had refused to pay tax- ‘No Vote, No Tax’

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

The team at Southend have managed to make contact with some of Rosina’s descendants who have allowed us the use this photograph which shows Rosina (on the right of the photo) along with supporters. Apparently supporters went to the auction and bought many of Rosina’s goods back for her.

Supporters of Rosina Sky.
Thanks to Peggy Ditton the granddaughter of Rosina Sky for allowing us to use this image

Several well-known suffragettes were supporters of the League and of Mrs Sky.  Anne Cobden Sanderson was a founder member of the Tax Resistance League. She had progressive ideas for the time and when she married she and her husband combined their surnames (she was Anne Cobden and he Thomas James Sanderson). Anne was an active and well-known suffragette. She and her husband were also important figures in the Arts and Crafts movement and friends of William Morris. Anne started her political campaigning for the vote as a suffragist believing that change could come about by education and discussion but became frustrated by lack of change and joined the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) – one of the first well known suffragists to move to the more militant protest group.

Anne is reported to have travelled to Southend from London in September 1911 to ‘attend the sale of Rosina’s Sky’s chattels’. She wrote in a letter in 1912 that she wouldn’t be able to visit a woman just imprisoned as she had to go to an afternoon sale in Southend (again of Mrs Sky’s goods) (The Women’s Suffrage Movement- a reference Guide 1886-1928).

We also know that Margaret Kineton Parkes came to support Rosina at one sale along with members of the Southend and Westcliffe Branch of the WSPU. Margaret was the secretary of the Tax Resistance League and her home was also their office near to Covent Garden in London

We’d love to know if Anne Cobden Sanderson or Margaret Kineton Parkes are in the photograph above. We’d also love to identify any of the women in the photograph- many must have been local. One is intriguing us in particular as we wonder if our ‘mystery suffragette’ could be in there?

Could this be the same person?

Can you help? Is an ancestor of yours in there? Do you think our mystery suffragette is one of these women? Please get in touch if you can help!

Some mysteries we need help with

We have been a bit quiet recently as lots of our volunteers are busy researching stories and we are starting to get results back in. There are some really great stories coming in and it is clear that Essex women have been contributing to life in the county in a positive way for a long time!

One of the challenges we are facing is the low visibility of some of these women. We get tantalising glimpses of stories but because womens’ history hasn’t always been recorded and celebrated the project is coming across a number of ‘dead ends’.

We’ll be launching some appeals for help over the next few weeks to see if we can get more information to help us tell these stories.

Mrs Wilson in 1918 Image Courtsey of the Essex Police Museum

One thing that is puzzling me at the moment came from the transcripts a team of volunteers have completed of Alice Wilson’s Notebook from the Essex Police Museum. Alice was a patrol women working in Romford in 1918 and much of her notebook describes her dealing with domestic things such as ‘had a complaint about children knocking in doors in London Road’.

 

Two pages stand out a little and I can’t work out whether there are one or two stories here or whether Alice was being economical with space in her notebook and the two are mixed up!

‘Alice Roberts (Roberto?) will be sent to (Balsal ?) Heath as had a bad injury single Hospital  to X ray’

Where was Alice sent?

‘Police was asked by N.C.O to take notice of any girl wearing WAAC uniform without badge on front. Also badge on armbit. They are (unliked?)’

What does the comment about WAAC uniform mean?

Does anyone have an idea where Alice was sent?

What was the story behind women wearing WAAC uniforms without badges? Why were police asked to look out for them?

Any ideas or further information would be great to have!

Please email pippa.smith@essex.gov.uk or leave a comment below if you can help

Meeting the Exhibition Team

Today’s blog is written by Jo Gillam, one of the volunteers who has joined the project to help us create an exhibition. Jo advises museums on learning and access and she has her own blog – but today she is acting as guest blogger for Snapping the Stiletto.

 

On 13th July, one half of the exhibitions team for Snapping the Stiletto met for the first time in beautiful former Georgian mansion, Hollytrees Museum in Colchester. Seven volunteers from across Essex gathered with Project Manager, Pippa Smith and Interpretation Trainer, Stewart Alexander (@storylinestew). We were there to learn and discuss how to turn new research on local women who were active outside the home over the last century, into a meaningful, influential, accessible exhibition.

Hollytrees Museum Colchester

Pippa was a welcoming presence throughout the day. She was on hand to answer questions about the project such as timeframes and the different ways team members would be involved. Pippa stressed that it was the team’s exhibition with her role being to co-ordinate, organise, and “to act as a filter”.

Stewart guided us through good practice when writing interpretive text, giving us exercises involving the personal objects we’d all been asked to bring. I studied heritage interpretation post-degree and have a little experience of producing displays, so it was good to re-visit the theories of practitioners like Tilden. The group considered the use of intangibles and universal concepts, that people remember stories not facts, ways in which we might decide which stories or parts of them to tell, and how to get to the nub of a message. It was agreed that we should try to create pictures in the minds of readers, rather than simply writing summaries of facts, and to try to make emotional connections. Everyone was given practical writing guidelines which covered details such as word counts and sentence length. Towards the end of the day, we practised some of our learning using information on Southend worthy, Adelaide Hawken.

The third, important element of the day was the chance to get to know fellow volunteers. Apart from all being female, we were a varied group whose diverse ages, backgrounds, knowledge, skills and experiences should result in a team of many strengths. I’m certainly looking forward to working with such interesting women and building relationships with the remaining team members who will be getting together on 4th August.

Apart from meeting new people and finding out more about the structure of the exhibition project, what key point did I take away from the day? For me, it was that the messages we choose should meaningfully express the essence of what we wish to say and when combined should make complete stories. If the team can come up with clear messages of this nature, we’ll have a good basis for an excellent exhibition of stories audiences will leave caring about.

Jo Gillam @1accessforall

(Thanks to Hannah Salisbury for the photographs)

National Democracy Week

It’s been a while since we blogged as we have been busy moving the project forward by recruiting teams to help us create a travelling exhibition, and to come up with ideas for events to celebrate 100 years of change for Essex women. The first team is recruited and we will be kicking off with a couple of training session but there is still time to sign up to be part of the engagement team if you are interested.

We’ve also been working with our partner museums and meeting them to find out what stories volunteers are starting to uncover and it’s great to see examples of women’s stories coming to the forefront – watch this space!

Our Project Manager has been busy putting together a travelling stand and its first outing is this week in the atrium at County hall in Chelmsford. July 2nd sees the start of the inaugural National Democracy Week and the 100 year anniversary of some women getting the vote is going to be in sharp focus so we’ve been invited to help the council celebrate.

Pippa will be on the stand to chat to people on Wednesday 4th so if you live or work locally and would like to find out more then do come along and meet her between 11 and 3. The stand will be there all week and we’re the taking it to an event to celebrate the birthday of Emmeline Pankhurst on July 15th at an EqualiTea.

 

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.