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

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


Guest Blog: Microfiche Training

pexels-photo-891059.jpegToday’s blog post is by project volunteer Emily Leonard.

I recently signed up as a volunteer for the, “Snapping the Stiletto” project and attended a session at Southend Library to learn more about the project, and how to use the available research tools. The training session was run by The Forum USO team and Iona Farrell (the Assistant Curator of Social History at Southend Museum). I, along with other volunteers learnt how to use the microfiche and microfilm scanners and the local history section of the library.

This enabled the group to help Iona research two pioneering Essex women, Rosina Sky and Councillor Adelaide Hawken.

We were shown how to use the library facilities which also included a comprehensive selection of PDFs of the “Southend and Westcliff Graphic”, an illustrated paper that gave a lot of interesting insights into the local area and attitudes in the early 20th Century.

Thanks to this training session and the background information supplied by Iona and Southend Museums I now feel prepared to delve into researching these two interesting figures further.

To find out more about our volunteering opportunities, click here.

Women’s History Month – Essex Campaigners

Every day during Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting a different inspirational Essex woman from the last 100 years. For the first week, we have focused on great campaigners.



Muriel Lester was twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize

We started the month with Muriel Lester. Born in Leyston, she was a pacifist who created a holiday home for poor children and toured with Mahatma Gandhi. She was also twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.


Grace Chappelow was a Suffragette and lived in Hatfield Peverel. She was arrested more than once for her activities while protesting. A volunteer at Chelmsford Museum recently wrote a Wikipedia article about her.

Another Suffragette was Ethel Haslam from Ilford. She was secretary of the local branch of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) and a teacher. Ethel was dismayed to find her pay as a teacher was cut after she married.

Many of the iconic posters used by the Suffrage movement were designed by Catherine Courtauld, who was based in Braintree.


From Southend, we highlighted several “campaigning women”. Rosina Sky was a single parent who ran a tobacconist shop while also being an active Suffragette. Councillor A H Hawken, who founded the first child welfare clinic in Southend in 1925. That year, she also became one of the first female Justices of the Peace. We also looked at Lady Gwendolen Guinness, who was elected as Southend’s first female MP in 1927.

Southend Museums are really keen to know more about these women, so please do get in touch if you’re able to help with the research.


Another MP was Leah Manning. She was elected MP for Epping in 1945, was a campaigner for education reform and rescued Basque women and children from Spanish Civil War

Ada Cole was born in Norfolk, but was instrumental in setting up a charity to care for animals in Roydon. She was upset by the state of horses returning from WWI and campaigned for animal welfare.

Joyce Baldwin who was born in Essex, but later moved to Nottingham. She was a biblical scholar and early campaigner for women’s ministry. She worked as a missionary in China during the 1940s and went on to become Principal of Dalton House Theological College.


Don’t forget, there are lots of ways to get involved with helping us celebrate Strong Essex Women. Find out more on our Volunteering page.

Hidden stories of Essex Women

One hundred years ago some women got the right to vote. How has life changed for women since this landmark change?

Snapping the Stiletto is working with museums, community groups and volunteers to uncover new stories taking the ‘Representation of the People Act’ (1918) as a starting point to explore 100 years of strong Essex Women.

The project is in its early days and Pippa (the Project Manager) is working with community groups and museums to look for these stories and to work out how to follow them up by exploring the various collections held in museums and the Essex Record Office. We’ll be inviting volunteers to help with this research and you’ll be able to find various ways to volunteer over the next couple of months as the project progresses.

So what stories are out there? What stories would people like us to tell? Who were the strong Essex women of the past 100 years who have contributed to this diverse county?

So far we are looking at telling the stories of little known suffragettes such as Grace Chappelow who lived in Hatfield Peverel and the key role of some of the women of the Courtauld family, with links to Braintree, in the campaign. The Combined Military Services Museum has some amazing stories of the undercover roles women have played in wartime. Elsewhere in the county groups have told us that they are interested in finding out more about ‘campaigning women’ such as Ada Cole, who founded ‘World Horse Welfare’ and Leah Manning, the MP for Epping in the 1940s who organised the evacuation of orphaned children during the Spanish civil war. A group in Harlow have told us of a National Front March that was turned away by a group of women and they’d like to find out more about this.

The Essex Police Museum and the Essex Fire Museum both have stories to uncover about the role women have played in these key services. Other stories that are emerging involve women in industry such as Marconi in Chelmsford and EKCO in Southend.

Women worker at a machine

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

Community groups have suggested other leads we could follow and are interested in women who were invited to move to Essex to support the NHS and the key role women have played in forging new communities and integrating new cultures into the life of the county.

We’d like to know what potential stories interest you? What do you think museums might have in their collections (objects, documents, photographs) that could tell some new stories about strong Essex women over the past 100 years? We can’t promise that every story can be told- it will depend on what we can find in museum collections- but it would be great to know what you’d like the project to look at to help steer our research.

Votes for Women- working with students from Essex University


Early on in the project Pippa and Eleanor Root (who was then the Essex MDO Maternity cover) worked with students from Essex University who were taking a ‘Votes for Women’ module.

To start the session we had asked the students to bring along an object which meant something to them and which they felt told a story about women – this got the students thinking about objects and threw up some fascinating stories including one which told of forced marriage only three generations ago.

Eleanor then explored how museums catalogue items with the groups and we looked together at some classification systems to see where objects associated with women would be found- overwhelmingly we decided that these objects would be classified as ’;domestic’ or possibly be found in the costume section. A search of various museum websites confirmed this.

We then looked at how museums think of their audiences and talked through how many divide their visitors into groups and what this might mean to exhibition and event planners

Pippa then took the students through the various ways museums are managed across the country and we looked at who was represented at a high level in national and regional museums and the make-up of some Boards of Trustees. We did find some senior women which was encouraging but decided that women were generally under-represented at a senior level across the board.

The session introduced one of the key themes of Snapping the Stiletto- that women’s’ history is held in museums but that the way objects have been collected and catalogued over the last 100 years has hidden these stories away. We hope that the project will support museums to uncover these stories and think about future collections

The students were great to work with – we were just a little disappointed that there were no male students as part of the group!

Students taking the Votes for Women module- notice anything?