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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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.

Focus on… Brightlingsea Museum

Herrings smoking Mussons c1920

It’s an exciting time at Brightlingsea Museum. They are in the process of moving out of their current building and into a brand new, purpose built one and plan to re-open in 2019.

 

The museum are looking for volunteers to research some important women from Brightlingsea, both as part of Snapping the Stiletto and to inform the displays in their new museum.

 

Could you help research the women who worked in the Brightlingsea Fish Yards? While thought of as a “male” profession, photos like the one above (from the museum’s collection) show that women worked there too and we would love to know more about them, the work they did and lives they lead. We are recruiting volunteers to spend an hour or two searching online, finding information for us to follow up on later or people able to visit the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford and do in-depth research.

 

Crooks Reginald Josie nee Culling, Teacher UDC and BowlingAnother story that the project and museum are keen to know about is that of Josephine Culling, the first female Chair of Brightlingsea Urban Distrct Council, former teacher and National Bowls Champion. She was an influential woman in Brightlingsea during the mid-Twentieth Century but we know very little about her.

 

Brightlingsea Museum is also looking for people to help share their social media, promoting both our project and their move.

 

To find out more about all of our volunteering opportunities, click 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