History Festival: Call For Content

EKCO works. c.1930s

We are excited to announce the Snapping the Stiletto: Essex Women’s History Festival. The FREE event will take place on Saturday 9th March 2019 at the University of Essex Business School, Wivenhoe.

The event, organised in partnership with the University of Essex, will bring together stories of inspirational women from around the county, as well as including a range of hands-on activities. Like the rest of the project, the festival is focussing on the hundred years since the Representation of the People Act 1918.

We would like to include as many people as possible in the event, so have launched our call for content. We are looking for:

  • 20 minute presentations about individuals or groups of Essex women
  • 8 minute “lightning” presentations
  • “Craftivism” art or craft activities
  • Introductory digital “maker” demonstrations
  • Films
  • Display stands/exhibits for relevant organisations
  • Other – if you have an exciting idea that’s not included above, we still want to hear from you

More information and an application form can be found here.

If you want to hear more about the festival, including when tickets become available, you can sign up to our mailing list.

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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

A Volunteer’s Perspective

In honour of National Volunteers’ Week, Jan Whitelaw tells us about her experience volunteering at Southend Museum.

I came to be involved with the ‘Snapping the Stiletto’ project through a rather circuitous route. I am the Chairlady of the Prittlewell Victoria Townswomen’s Guild in Southend. All branches of the Guild had been tasked with producing a commemorative plaque of a notable local lady to display at the National AGM in Brighton. A google search helped me to find Rosina Sky, a Suffragist who had lived in Southend c1900. This was of particular interest to us as the Townswomen’s Guild grew out of the Women’s Suffrage movement. We were very keen to portray Rosina on our plaque. Unable to find a picture if her I e-mailed Southend Museums asking if they had one in their archives, which was the very best thing I could have done. Very soon I had a reply from Iona saying that they didn’t have any pictures of her, but would we be interested in carrying out research on Rosina for the ‘Snapping the Stiletto’ project, and inviting us to a training session. Yes – we would! This generated a great deal of interest amongst our members and five of us volunteered. At the training session we also heard for the first time about Councillor Adelaide Hawkins, the lady responsible for founding the very first Mother and Baby Clinic in Southend. So often the achievements of women (particularly those born Essex) are sidelined, so having the opportunity to help smash that negative ‘Essex girl’ image really appealed to us.

 

We have discovered so much about Rosina – a very strong woman who not only fought for women’s suffrage but managed to bring up four children, completely on her own, whilst running her own tobacconist and fancy goods shop. What a wonderful role model. We also found that elusive photograph for our plaque! The added bonus was hearing about Adelaide. One of the volunteers even managed to track down Adelaide’s granddaughter and had tea with her.

 

There is still much research to do, and we’re hoping that we can discover information about other, perhaps more recent, notable ladies of Southend whose stories have been lost in the annals of time.

 

If you are interested in getting involved, have a look at out current volunteering opportunities 

Focus on… Southend Museums

Votes for WomenSouthend Museums consists of four unique venues spread across the town:

  • Southend Central Museum and Planetarium
  • Beecroft Art Gallery
  • Southchurch Hall
  • Prittlewell Priory

 

The museum has been working very closely with Snapping the Stiletto volunteers to research women at the start of our hundred year period. In addition to trying to discover the identity of this mystery suffragette, stories being researched include that of Adelaide Hawken, who set up Southend’s first mother and baby clinic and Rosina Sky, a suffrage leader who ran a tobacconist shop in the town who refused to pay her business rates as she couldn’t vote on how they were spent.

 

Click here to find out how to get involved in this and other opportunities across the county.

 

We are particularly keen to highlight our events team, who will be helping to share stories like these at a range of displays and celebratory events over the coming year and a half. Monday 4th June is our first training day for events volunteers, although others will be scheduled soon if you can’t make it (including at least one on a weekend). For more information, click here.

 

Focus On… Colchester Museums

colchester-castle

Colchester Borough Council runs three museums in the town, Colchester Castle, which focuses on archaeology, Hollytrees which contains their social history collections and the Natural History Museum, which focuses on the science wildlife habitats, biodiversity and climate change.

 

As part of Snapping the Stiletto, Colchester Museums want to learn more about Mrs Bertha Mason. Bertha, along with her husband and sons, set up the E. N Mason & Sons printing company. Their factory was situated in the Arclight works on Maidenburgh St in Colchester between 1921 and 1938 when it moved to Cowdray Avenue. It made some of Britain’s very first photocopiers amongst other copying technologies.

The museum holds an archive of material relating to the Mason family, including photographs of and letters from/to Bertha. They are looking for a volunteer to help by scanning this material and adding to the information about each piece. The volunteer can also spend a day at the Essex Record Office as there are a variety of documents and oral history recordings in their archive relating to the Mason family and the Arclight printing works.

To volunteer to help with the research, or to find out more, click here. 

 

The museum is also looking for volunteers to share their posts on social media, promoting the museum and the work it does. You can sign up here to help and follow their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Uncovering the Past at Essex Record Office

One of our key partners in this project is the Essex Record Office who are helping us with advice, research and training.

The ERO holds archives that take up nearly eight miles of shelves and the items they care for include parish registers, diaries, letters, court records, wartime records, manorial records and school records. It’s also home to the Essex Sound and Video Archive.

To mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act the ERO blog has celebrated Essex women such as suffrage campaigners, WWI Nurse Kate Luard  and Matron of Black Notley Hospital Mary Ellen Ruck.

Josephine Culling

Several of our volunteer challenges suggest that you could visit the ERO to look for more information about a particular person such as Katherine Mina Courtuald and Josephine Culling.

Other challenges ask people to look for stories of women working in engineering at different companies such as Ford, Paxman, Bentalls and Marconi and the ERO holds many different company newsletters which could be a great starting point for this.

 

 

If you have never visited a Record Office before it may feel a bit daunting but staff are there to help and you can find a useful guide here.

The Record Office looks after unique, irreplaceable historic material so there are a few key things to remember as these are all to minimise the risk of damage.

It is worth being aware before you visit that they ask-

  • Please bring as little as possible into the Searchroom
  • store your bags in the locker room (free to use and located next to the Searchroom)
  • Please use a pencil rather than a pen
  • You can use laptops and tablets, but cases must be left in the locker room
  • They provide transparent wallets for holding notes and small items

It’s a good idea to bring a warm layer to wear as the searchroom is kept cool (22°C) to help preserve documents (a good place to visit in a heatwave!)

If you’d like a tour of the searchroom there is one coming up on May 30th and you can book here

Just be warned- Record Offices are full of fascinating documents- I’ve lost hours in them!

100 volunteers and counting

I missed the actual moment when our 100th volunteer actually signed up but last weekend we passed the 100 mark and now have 104 people signed up on our Volunteer Makers site to help with the project.

Since we launched the volunteering programme on March 8th (International Women’s day) there have been 30 challenges offered by our 12 partner museums and we estimate that volunteers have given us 227 hours of their time.

It’s really interesting to see how the minutes add up. Our Just a Minute challenges have been popular and people who have signed up to share information on social media have spent around 16 hours on this- it may not feel like you are doing much at the time but every tweet or Facebook share really adds up! We could do with some more help on this, particularly for our own Social Media accounts so please sign up to help us spread the word about the project.

Some of the Hour or Two challenges have been very popular and the most popular of these saw people deciphering 100-year-old handwriting in a Police Pocketbook- trickier than I first thought!

Alice Wilson’s Pocketbook from the Essex Police Museum

We were surprised by how many of you were keen to transcribe oral histories and have paused this while we work out how to convert more old recordings on tape so we can email them out to you. Lots of volunteers are looking online for stories of women who worked at various engineering companies across Essex and we are particularly keen to get more help looking for stories of women who worked at Fords, Paxman or Bentalls.

Spare a Day challenges have seen people sign up to research stories at the Essex Record Office, look at a collection at the Essex Fire Museum and research untold stories for Epping Forest District Museum. Brightlingsea and Braintree museum would both like some help with research so have a look here if you think you could spare some time.

Volunteers who have a little more free time have been signing up to the Regular Help Challenges. A team in Southend have made great progress researching Rosina Sky- a local suffragette and are also exploring the work of Adelaide Hawken who set up one of the first mother and baby clinics in Southend. Other volunteers are working with museums to investigate their collections or are spending time researching a specific story. If you’d like to help a museum out then the Museum of Power would really like your help to create a Museum of power party

A mother and baby clinic in Southend

We are just launching some team challenges and if you’d like to help us out at events please have a look at this challenge and see whether it’s the sort of thing you’d enjoy.

Thanks to all of our volunteers- the project wouldn’t work without you are we are grateful for every minute of the time you give us!