Getting out there

We are delighted with the feedback we’ve had from the first ‘stop’ of the travelling exhibition. Next stop is the Museum of power – you can find details here 

The travelling exhibition

Snapping the Stiletto traveling exhibition at Epping Forest District Museum

Now we want to get the stories of these amazing Essex Women out to more people, so we’ve been looking for events, festivals and other places to have a stand.

Our first excursion is to the seaside!

Resorting to the coast website

We’ll be at Resorting to the Coast’s Seaside Revival Day in Clacton on May 26th This looks great fun but hopefully people will have time to fit in a visit to us on the Greensward.

 

 

 

The next trip out will be to Cressing Temple Barns for their Planet Essex Festival on June 22nd

Grace Chappelow campaigning

This event is a celebration of everything environmentally friendly, sustainable and local and will include a diverse range of talks, demonstrations and workshops- we’ll be there celebrating local women including suffragette Grace Chappelow.

Later in the year we’ll be at High Chelmer shopping centre chatting to shoppers (September 19th and 20th ) and we’re looking for other Essex venues and events. If you are running an event and would like us there do get in touch (pippa.smith@essex.gov.uk) and we may be able to p bring a stand, send you information to display or provide a display board with information about women local to you if they have featured in the project.

As we’re a small team this project has relied very heavily on volunteers and we’re asking for help again. If you’d like to come and help us at these events have a look at our festival and events challenge on Volunteer Makers and sign up. It will be a great way to help us spread the word that Essex women are amazing!

 

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It Isn’t Over…

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North East Essex Girl Guiding at the Snapping the Stiletto: Essex Women’s History Festival

Today marks the end of Women’s History Month for 2019. Our festival took place earlier in the month, we ran two guided tours of Colchester and our touring exhibition in the process of moving from Epping Forest District Museum to the Museum of Power.

You would be forgiven for thinking that Snapping the Stiletto is winding down. In fact, we’re really excited about our remaining months’ work.

New opportunities for researching local women’s history with our museums continue to come up, and current opportunities can be found here. We have just launched our “Wikipedian” opportunities and have already received some great responses.

Our project manager, Pippa Smith, is in the process of arranging events and “pop up” displays to help share all of the exciting opportunities we’ve uncovered and we’ll post details here as soon as possible.

Great things are coming, so please do by sign up to our newsletter or follow us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram to stay in the loop.

This project has been very much steered and delivered by the people of Essex, who have advised us in shaping the programme, done the research, written the exhibition and helped with our events. We are incredibly grateful to all of you.

We were therefore delighted to receive these two poems, written by attendees of poet-in-residence Elelia Ferro’s session at our Snapping the Stiletto: Essex Women’s History Festival. The first is by Wendy Constance, and the second is by Juliet Townsend, Chairwoman of the Essex Women’s Advisory Group.

 

Unpaid work                            Unjust disparity                       Undermined lives

Hidden women

Cruel anti-suffrage                 Fearless campaigning                         Women’s rights

Hidden stories

Printed propaganda                Seditious stitches                    Dangerous coats

Hidden pockets

 

A new century arrived

under fresh skies

women gathered, raised awareness

inspired each other to

seek liberation – but

injustices continue

still much to do

 

Women’s resilience                Shared stories                         Snapped stilettos

Voices heard

Wendy Constance 2019

 

 

Folk devil                               Dumb blonde                                    Reject reclaim                                                                                    Rock bitch                                                                                         Bereaved mothers               Brave stance                                      Subtleprose

Pacifist

In a progressive place                                                                                                                                    progressive women

meet and talk,                                                                                                                                                   storytelling lights                                                                                                                                                 new ideas

Blood red                             Think hard                         Share tales

Free the period

 Juliet Townsend 2019

Strong Essex Women: A Celebration in Poetry

Last year we put a call out for a poet-in-residence. We had a fantastic response and, after a tough selection process, appointed Wivenhoe-based poet Lelia Ferro.

If you attended Lelia’s session at our festival earlier in the month, you will have heard about how she uses words and phrases to create a sense of place. Using phrases she overheard during the day, and others supplied by festival attendees, she has written two poems, shared below.

Some of the attendees at Lelia’s festival session were inspired to create their own poems and have kindly agreed to share them with us. Check back on Sunday, when we’ll be using them to make the end of Women’s History Month 2019.

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Phrases donated by attendees of the Snapping the Stiletto Women’s History Festival. Image courtesy of Lelia Ferro

 

Anti-suffrage                         Factory acts               Male curators                                                                                                Hidden histories

Station rollers                       Tax resistance          Family ties                                                                                                     Women’s history

 

Our life achievements

will no longer be sidelined.

Essex girls, deeply dissent

uncover traces

of powerful treasure –

trailblazing their way

into the hawken sky.

 

Dangerous pockets            Propaganda kimono                        Red threads

Brave new sparks

 

 

Lelia Ferro 2019

 

 

Women’s refuge                  Witch hunts                         Sexual politics

Violent patriarchy

Handkerchief messages    Suburban neurosis             Minding the baby

Period poverty

 

With confident eyes                                                                                                                                   we weave new connections

with the everyday extraordinary –

revealing sisterly secrets

for rebellious bad-arse

young feminists

to take forward

 

Raised fists                          Free nipples              Reclaimed bodies                                                                                        Fight back

 

 

Lelia Ferro 2019

Folk Devils, Free Nipples and Mary Whitehouse

Ahead of the Snapping the Stiletto: Essex Women’s History Festival, we put out a call for volunteer bloggers to come along and then share their experiences of the day. This post was written by volunteer Claire Kibble. All images are courtesy of Claire.

Claire Pitt-Kibble Free the Nipple Selfie

 

When I saw the event page on Facebook for the Snapping the Stiletto festival, I was excited! Being a fierce feminist I always make sure to celebrate International Women’s Day. Usually I do this by sharing pictures and some information on social media about the famous strong women that inspire me. This year, however, seeing that there was this amazing local women’s history festival going on in the town I live in, it inspired me to talk about the women I know or have known personally and the important part they have played in my history. I shared pictures and wrote about people like my great granny who used to tell me stories about how liberating it was for her during World War II when most of the men where away fighting the war. So, as you can see, Snapping the Stiletto inspired me before I even got there and it didn’t disappoint once we were there!

 

The tone for the day was set up brilliantly by Pam Cox giving us some context with a talk on the invention of the Essex girl and her place in culture. The thing I found most interesting about her talk was that she described the Essex Girl as a ‘folk devil’. By this she meant that the Essex Girl had been created to be a cultural place holder for a rebel woman, one that can’t be shut up and that doesn’t fit in because she is sneered at by everyone, different classes, political leanings, and people from all over the world. I’d never thought about the Essex Girl in this way before and it actually made me relate to her, which surprised me. I’ve never owned a pair of white stilettos or even slightly fit in with the aesthetic forced upon her but I relate to the rebellious side of her, the side that doesn’t care what people think and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. This part of her that is also an enormous part of me is what made me choose the craftivism activity that I chose.

 

claire-pitt-kibble-felt-nipple-e1552924815524.jpgMe and my husband went along to the Free the Nipple craftivism activity run by Stitch and Bitch. During this activity, we made felt nipple brooches of all colours, sizes, textures and levels of hairiness! It was fun and I’m definitely making more at home. The Free the Nipple campaign is something that I am onboard with because women are judged so harshly on their looks and their bodies when they shouldn’t be. Everyone has a body and that should be good enough. If you want to bare all of it or none of it then you shouldn’t be judged on that. I carried on this philosophy when I went to the drop in rosette making workshop where I made a ‘Riots not Diets’ rosette instead of a ‘Votes for Women’ one. Obviously, this was intended to bring highlight the plight of the suffragettes and I did think about them when I was making mine. It brought to mind groups of women huddled around together making their rosettes and we were doing the same thing, not for as an important cause like getting the vote for women but for fun and sharing the experience of the women who came before us.

 

Claire Pitt-Kibble RosetteI also enjoyed learning more about Mary Whitehouse. She isn’t someone that I relate to in terms of politics or ideology; but it was interesting finding out more about someone who had views that were oppressive but the way she went about expressing those was actually really rebellious and almost in conflict with what she was campaigning for. It has inspired me to find out more about the history of local women even those that I might not completely agree with!

International Women’s Day – Preserving Women’s Voices

This International Women’s Day, Sound Archivist Sarah-Joy Maddeaux shares snippets from just a few of the hundreds of oral history interviews with women held in the Essex Sound and Video Archive.  The numbers in brackets are the recordings’ record numbers, and you can request those recordings at the Essex Record Office if you would like to hear more.

Oral history cassettesWomen’s history is one of the areas where oral history can make a great contribution. From telling the stories of notable women who have had a significant impact in their field, to telling the equally significant stories of ‘everyday’ women who made an impact just by their daily routine, first-hand accounts can reveal subject areas that do not always make it into written records. Furthermore, they can reveal the ‘whys’ of history – motivations that prompted women to take the actions they did.

The Essex Sound and Video Archive at the Essex Record Office is one resource for accessing such sources for women’s history. A substantial number of the oral history interviews in our recollection were recorded with women – and many were recorded by women (a discussion topic for another time – what difference does the gender of the interviewer make to the recording?).

Let’s start with some headliners. We have an interview with Elfrida Johns, who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War (Acc. SA580). Eva Hart, a Titanic survivor, recorded her memories on a number of occasions which have made it into the Archive (Acc. SA318, Acc. SA398, SA 1/323/1, and SA 19/1/14/1). Helen Welburn was the first female Superintendent of the Essex Police, on her appointment in 1970, and spoke about the major improvements she made for other women in the police force (SA 25/1/10/1). We even have the reminiscences of a Suffragette, Helena Taylor, from an edition of the Sounds of Brentwood talking magazine (SA 2/1/12/1). We feel privileged to have the reminiscences of such accomplished women in our archives.

But we also feel privileged to have the reminiscences of so many other Essex women in our archives. Perhaps their lives did not figure in newspaper headlines; perhaps they were never known outside their village; perhaps they did not feel they had a story worth telling. However, it does not take long to get hooked into each woman’s story, no matter how mundane it seems at first, as her life unfolds over the course of the interview.

Take, for example, the many ‘New-Towners’ who have been recorded for posterity. At a young age, these women left their families and homes in East London to settle in relatively rural locations and establish their own homes, away from familial support networks. Dr Judy Attfield’s collection of interviews with Harlow residents is particularly rich in women’s accounts, fully exploring their experiences and emotions on moving to these remote locations (SA 22). For example, Mrs Summers in 1986 described her feelings when she and her husband moved to Harlow New Town in 1952 (SA 22/1364/1).

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Carole Sydney, image courtesy of the Evewright Foundation

We have recently received the recollections of women who moved even further to forge new lives for themselves. The Evewright Arts Foundation recorded a number of Windrush generation immigrants about their experiences of moving to Britain. Some already had family here; some left their family behind until they had established a new home for their children. Most commented on the cold; most admitted to encountering racist attitudes. But they persevered until, like Carole Sydney, they could claim to have made a success of their life in Britain (SA 69/1/5/1).

Life could also be a struggle for those who stayed in the same place. One of our favourites is Edie Brown, who was born in Kelvedon in 1895 and spent most of her life in Witham. She worked hard from the day she left school in her teens: working in domestic service and local industry before her marriage, then contributing to the household economy by going pea-picking or fruit-picking, sometimes before her children woke, or sometimes taking them with her. But she was never subservient: she would rather lose a job than put up with wrongful accusations or excessive demands in service (SA 59/1/7/1).

In the same collection, Elsie Hammond recalls female workers at Pinkham’s glove factory striking for more pay (SA 59/1/16/1).

Sometimes it is precisely the ‘normal’, everyday nature of an interviewee’s life that is useful to the researcher. Where else could you find detailed descriptions of household chores explained by the women who did them? Memories of helping mothers with household work allow us to reach back into the nineteenth century for the methods of housekeeping common in Essex. As technological advancements reduce domestic chores to button-pressing, without these interviews the former way of life of women kept busy full-time cooking and cleaning would otherwise be lost. With cultural change, it is also important to preserve the stories of mothers struggling to run their households on the limited budget provided by their husbands, as Connie Robinson shared about women she knew (SA 26/61/1).

Oral history interviews even give us the chance to look back on areas of private life that were formerly taboo. In later life, women were often happy to speak about their experiences of puberty or childbirth that they would not have discussed at the time.

But. There is still much about women’s experiences that is lacking in the historical record. We were intrigued by the Rebellious Sounds Archive, which captured the stories of activist women in south-west England. What more can you do to preserve the significant contributions of the women you know? Please do get in touch if you want to discuss an idea for an oral history project.

Many of these topics and more will be discussed at the Essex Women’s History Festival at the University of Essex tomorrow. You will also have an opportunity to listen to these and other recordings of women from the Essex Sound and Video Archive, or to chat to Sound Archivist Sarah-Joy Maddeaux about our collections. If you were fortunate enough to get tickets, we look forward to seeing you there.

If you cannot make it to the Festival, some of these recordings can be played online from the comfort of your own home. Look up the reference numbers on Essex Archives to check. Some will have a play feature; some will allow you to order the material to listen in the Playback Room at the Essex Record Office; and others will advise you to contact us to arrange to hear the material.

An exciting year ahead

Happy New year! Last year was an exciting year and you can’t have missed that it was a year when we celebrated 100 years of some women getting the vote. Teams of Snapping the Stiletto volunteers worked with our partner museums throughout the year to uncover stories of Essex women and their achievements over the last 100 years.

 

 

This year we are telling these stories across Essex starting with an exhibition at Epping Forest District Museum opening this Saturday (12th  January) and staying there until March 16th. See our exhibition page for details of where else the exhibition will be over the coming year.

This exhibition contains stories both researched and told by Essex women. They chose the title ‘Essex Women; Adversity, Adventure and Aspiration’. Project volunteers and the Project Team consulted local groups to steer the research and volunteers worked hard with our partners to find these stories. A team of volunteers have written much of the text, chosen images and come up with interactive ideas all designed to celebrate 100 years of change for women.

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Volunteers attending a text writing workshop

Come along and find out what it has been like for women serving in the police and Fire services, working the land during wartime and moving here to support our health services.

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Women Police Officers. Image courtesy of the Essex Police Museum

 

Discover Essex businesswomen and engineers.

Women worker at a machine

A worker at the EKCO factory in Southend. Image courtesy of Southend Museums

 

Grace Chappelow campaigning. Image courtesy of Chelmsford museum

Find out more about Essex women who campaigned for lots of different causes and let us know who is your strong Essex Women!

 

(The exhibition will be on display at Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey from Saturday 12th January until Saturday 16th March. It will then visit other venues around the county – dates and details can be found here).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Volunteers’ week

June 1st to 7th is Volunteers’ week – a time to say thank you for the fantastic contribution volunteers make across the country. We’ve talked about our volunteers before but can’t miss this chance to celebrate the work they have been doing – and have signed up to do- again.

We launched our volunteering programme in International Woman’s Day (March 8th) using the Volunteer Makers platform. Through this we have recruited 113 volunteers who are supporting our 12 partner museums with research, by transcribing oral histories, decoding 100-year-old handwriting in a police notebook and sharing information across social media.

 

Some volunteers have enjoyed the fact that they can fit volunteering around busy lives and have taken up challenges that means they can work from home when they get a minute (and every minute adds up). Others find that they enjoy being part of a team and there is a very active group in Southend working with the Museum service there.

The research stage of the project is going well – although we’d really like to find out more about the women who worked in various engineering firms across Essex- can you help?

There are also opportunities to visit various libraries and record offices to explore what information they hold– we can help with travel expenses so don’t let that put you off. Braintree museum would love more help in researching Katherine Mina Courtauld and Redbridge Museum would like volunteers to look through the newspaper archive at the Heritage centre for stories of local suffragettes.

The next stage is to start to put all of this research together so we can tell the stories of strong Essex women over the last 100 years. Volunteers are signing up to help design an exhibition, to work on an engagement programme and to help take these stories out to events across the county. There are still spaces on these teams if you’d like to sign up.

We are lucky that we have an experienced museum curator who has volunteered her time to support the project (thank you Becky!) but you don’t need any experience of working in museums, exploring archives or designing exhibitions to get involved as we will provide any training and support you need. You just need enthusiasm and an interest in celebrating the lives and achievement of strong Essex women over the last 100 years.

Finally- THANK YOU to all of you who have taken part so far