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

“We Can Make A Difference”

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 blogger Laura Kerry, and is also available on her own website.

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Professor Pamela Cox from the University of Essex spoke about the origin of the term “Essex Girl”

To mark International Women’s Day, Snapping the Stiletto swapped glass ceilings for the grass roof of Essex Business School to explore the lives of Essex women. The festival largely explored the decades prior to the early 1990s, when I was born; I imagined these women marching for their rights while I was learning to walk, aspiring one day to follow in their footsteps.

We couldn’t celebrate Essex women without acknowledging the ‘Essex girl’ stereotype, which was bred in broadsheets and pop culture and remains popular today with the rise of shows like TOWIE. By showcasing Essex women, Snapping the Stiletto reclaims and redistributes this stereotype. I also learnt how the everyday woman felt about the Representation of the People Act (which, amusingly, was used to promote clothing sales) and how they were affected by high maternal and childhood mortality rates before we had the NHS, an incredibly precious resource which could now be undone in my lifetime.

Seeing Red

The post Laura made during the Seeing Red workshop. Courtesy Laura Kerry.

I was surprised, but not shocked, at how buying sanitary items was once as covert as buying class A drugs, as this ‘shame’ continues presently. I saw reflections of today’s often poor education surrounding periods and bodily knowledge. While a great deal can be learnt from magazines, these often become our enemies as we enter adulthood.  It was interesting to see that, despite attitudes changing vastly, advertising for sanitary products has changed little through the ages, with decades-old adverts showing women engaging in physical activity during their period. During the Seeing Red craftivism session, we looked again at this advertising as well as the evolution of the products themselves – sanitary belt, anyone? I was perplexed that menstrual cups were introduced in the 1930s, yet are scarcely seen in adverts. It left me questioning why this is; no doubt linked to a lack of ongoing profit.

Accounts of domestic violence were met with a murmur of appalled familiarity and empathy. Another familiar tale was the initial shock that refuges for women were even needed in the first place, until statistics were recorded and shared. I enjoyed hearing of the persistence from the women running the refuges, who became key decision makers through their roles; the physical progression of the first run-down refuges to the more visually appealing spaces we have today was also encouraging. One of my favourite parts of the day was hearing stories from celebrant Katie Deverell about everyday working women in Essex; there was something comforting in hearing about their passion and determination and the impact this had on the lives around them.

The main thing I took away from the festival was the sense that we can make a difference to the world around us through our everyday lives. It’s easy to worry that we’re not taking big enough actions to influence the world, but these strong Essex women influenced the world around them with their various skills and qualities along with their warmth and wit, both at work and at home. We may not have the time to start a revolution, but we can donate items to charities like the Red Box Project or help paint a women’s refuge; we can all identify something we feel passionately about, get involved in our community, and take small steps to change the world.

Body, Self and Family

The Snapping the Stiletto: Essex Women’s History Festival on Saturday 9th March 2019 is being organised in partnership with the Body, Self and Family Project. In this guest post, the BSF project team tell us about their work.

body self family bannerThe Body, Self and Family project at the University of Essex is researching women’s psychological, emotional and bodily health in Britain between the 1960s and 1990s. We want to find out more about the everyday health experiences of women in a period when the pattern of women’s lives changed almost beyond recognition. Across these decades, women entered the workforce in larger numbers, became involved in feminist activism, limited their families, and increasingly chose to marry later (or not at all).  By the end of these decades, women expected to lead very different lives to those of their own mothers and grandmothers.

 

This project asks: How did women experience these sweeping social and cultural changes? What did these shifts mean for women’s own emotional wellbeing, and for their traditional roles as carers? How did women of different ages, social classes, ethnicities and sexual orientations experience these social changes differently? To find answers to these questions, we are interviewing women born between 1940-1970, including 25 women from around Essex. Our talk at the Snapping the Stiletto Festival will present the team’s initial findings for the first time, focusing especially on the experiences of girls growing up in Essex in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Another part of the project is work with community groups, Girl Guides and schools to develop toolkits that draw on historical resources to improve the emotional health and wellbeing of adolescents today. You can get a taste of some of these activities at our two craftivism sessions at the Festival, on ‘Body Image’ and ‘Seeing Red: Periods, Poverty and Protest’.

 

To find out more about the Body, Self and Family Project, see our website

Tracey Loughran

Daisy Payling

Kate Mahoney

Hannah Froom

The Festival is now fully booked but please do join the waiting list if you are still interested in attending. We will offer out any returned tickets as soon as possible.

Wonder Women: 100 Years of Women’s Lives in Redbridge

Today we are hosting a blog from written by Alex Lyons from one of our partner museums talking about their current exhibition

Come back here soon for details of the  exhibition designed by Snapping the Stiletto volunteers which will launch at Epping Forest District Museum on January 12th- in the meantime do visit our partners at Redbridge.

Redbridge Museum invites you to visit their new exhibition ‘Wonder Women: 100 Years of Women’s Lives in Redbridge’

Redbridge Museum is one of 11 partner museums involved with Snapping the Stiletto. Today Redbridge is a London Borough but historically Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford were all part of Essex.

To celebrate 100 years since some women in the UK won the right to vote, ‘Wonder Woman’, focuses on the lives of women in Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford over the past century. The exhibition explores the campaign to get the vote, the impact of two world wars, leisure, love, working life and sisterhood, all told by local women in their own words.

Preparing for this major exhibition ran parallel to Snapping the Stiletto and much of the research has been shared with the project team at Snapping the Stiletto.

Volunteers worked both in-house, researching local women’s organisations and externally, transcribing oral history interviews. The Snapping the Stiletto volunteers helped delve into Redbridge Museum’s collection and uncover hidden women’s stories.

 

Dee Ramlal of Ilford is one such ‘Wonder Woman’. Dee was born in Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean and came to England in 1971, aged 21, to train as a nurse.

Dee says:

“I come from a line of strong women. My Mum started off as a teacher but had to leave her job when she got pregnant without being married. She said don’t let that happen to you. And I listened. She said, you go to England and you get yourself a career in nursing and you’re going to live a good life.

Those days it was very hard for foreign nurses, very, very difficult. We went through a lot of racism, a lot of prejudice, but we stuck it out.

For me, the best part of my career was when I became a community nurse. I felt as if I was giving one-to-one care, there was no rushing without giving of your best. You know that when you organise their care and you see the patient recover, that’s what nursing is all about. It’s not about the money. Nursing to me is life.”

To find out more about Dee’s story and other Redbridge ‘Wonder Women’ visit the exhibition at Redbridge Museum, Central Library, Ilford open until 27 April 2019 (Tuesday – Friday 10-5, Saturday 10-4)

www.redbridge.gov.uk/museum

 

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.

“Singing” the Stiletto

“We’re brazen husseys and we don’t give a damn

We’re loud, we’re raucous and we’re fighting for our rights

And our sex and our need to be free”

(The Greenham Songbook)

 

Music is powerful. Patients with dementia often remember songs from their youth long after other memories have gone. The right melody can stir our emotions, moving us to tears or to the dancefloor. It is little wonder then that protest movements down the century have regularly used music as a call to action.

 

Probably the best known suffrage anthem is “March of the Women” by Ethel Smyth. She was a trained musician and a prolific composer, writing in a range of styles. Smyth was the first female composer ever to be made a Dame and, while serving two months in Holloway for breaking windows during the suffrage campaign, conducted a choir of her fellow inmates while using her toothbrush for a baton.

This performance is by Glasgow University Chapel Choir, but it is important to remember that it would have been sung by ordinary women as they protested, not just by formal choirs.

 

Ethel Smyth wasn’t the only woman writing suffrage songs, and the tradition of women writing and singing campaign songs didn’t end in 1918 with the vote. Music has been at the heart of campaigns including equal pay and nuclear disarmament. The handwritten Greenham Songbook, passed around between protesters, has been digitised and can be viewed online.

More recently, “Quiet” by Milck has been picked up by the anti-Trump women’s movement in America. This video shows her performing it with other women at the women’s march in Washington DC

 

We are really keen to incorporate music into the Snapping the Stiletto project. Do you know of any protest songs from the last 100 years which were written by an Essex woman? What were the Dagenham Ford workers singing as they campaigned for equal pay? Which lyrics filled the air at Brightlingsea as women campaigned against live exports? Are there any other “local” protest songs we should be singing? Please email pippa.smith@essex.gov.uk with your suggestions (and don’t worry, we know the lyrics may include a few swear words).

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