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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“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 

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.

 

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.

handmaid

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… 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.

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.