by Sarah Jackson – co-founder and coordinator of the East End Women’s Museum.
When the hoardings came down on what was supposed to be a women’s history museum in east London three years ago, they revealed a black and red, faux Victorian shop front, featuring an image of a man in a top hat standing in a pool of blood.
The ‘women’s museum’ turned out in fact to be a tourist attraction cashing in on the popularity of misogynist serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Lots of people were angry, including myself and my friend Sara Huws. Looking for a positive, creative way to protest, we decided to make the missing women’s history museum a reality, and turned to Twitter to seek support. The East End Women’s Museum was born.
East London has an incredibly rich social, political, and cultural history, and women were part of all of it although their voices are seldom heard. Those are the stories we want to tell; stories that illuminate the lives of East End women, not only their deaths.
Through our work we aim to challenge gender stereotypes and offer new role models for girls and young women; create opportunities for women and girls to gain new skills and the confidence to tell their own stories; inspire and encourage civic participation; and support teachers, researchers, and other museums to uncover and include women’s stories.
Now, through exhibitions, events, and online resources, we record and represent the histories of boxers and writers; suffragettes, queens, and thieves; scientists, seamstresses, dancers, and activists. Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters.
We want to tell the extraordinary stories but we’re interested in everyday life too. One of our recent exhibitions, Women at Watney: Stories from an East End market, captures women’s memories of Watney Market in Shadwell past and present, which were recorded by volunteers from a stall in the market.
Right now, we are a ‘kitchen table museum’ without an office or a building, but we’re delighted to have found a permanent home in Barking and Dagenham, in a new development close to Barking Abbey ruins. Thanks to the support of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, developer Be Living, and our local partner Eastside Community Heritage, we hope to open there in 2020.
There’s also a lot of work to do before we open our doors: fundraising and building up a collection, as well as talking to women and girls across east London about what they’d like to see in their museum. But thanks to our brilliant supporters, we’re confident we can do it. In the meantime, we have a packed programme of events and exhibitions coming up this year, exploring women’s activism.
What’s on in 2018
Of course, this year marks 100 years some women won the vote and 90 years since all women did, but it’s also 50 years since the Ford Dagenham strike that inspired the Equal Pay Act. Our programme links 1918 and 2018, and focuses on the experiences of working class women in east London and their fight for equality.
Making Her Mark: 100 years of women-led activism in Hackney
6 February–19 May 2018, Hackney Museum, 1 Reading Ln, London E8 1GQ
Our Making Her Mark exhibition was created in collaboration with Hackney Museum and takes 1918 as the starting point in a look back at 100 years of women-led activism in the borough, on issues ranging from education, workers’ rights, and healthcare to domestic violence, the peace movement, and police relations.
Making Her Mark explores how local women have brought about change in their community and in wider society through political campaigns, industrial action, peaceful protest, direct action, and the arts.
Working For Equality: the fight for fair pay and equal rights
April–November 2018, various venues in Barking & Dagenham
Our Working For Equality project takes 1918 as the starting point in the story of 50 critical years in the struggle for working women’s rights, and connects the dots between the suffragettes’ equal pay campaigns during WWI and the Ford Dagenham strikers.
Women factory workers in Barking & Dagenham are at the heart of the story. We’ll be collecting their histories and sharing them through a mobile exhibition and a series of free events, including a Votes for Women garden party and a family day celebrating strong women, from the suffragettes who learnt jujitsu to early women boxers.
Developed in partnership with Eastside Community Heritage and funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Women’s Hall: celebrating the east London suffragettes
We are exploring some lesser-known suffrage stories in Tower Hamlets this year. The East London Federation of the Suffragettes were a radical group who split from the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1914 and fought for working women’s rights throughout the First World War.
The Women’s Hall at 400 Old Ford Road in Bow was their headquarters from 1914-1924, a women’s social centre, and the home of their leader, Sylvia Pankhurst and her friend and fellow suffragette Norah Smyth.
Project developed in partnership with Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, Four Corners, and Alternative Arts, and funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Women’s Hall
29 May-20 October 2018, Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, 277 Bancroft Rd, London E1 4DQ
This exhibition will evoke the interior of the original Women’s Hall. Visitors will be able to learn about the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) and the First World War in the East End, view original materials, handle replicas, and attend events and workshops. A pop up community kitchen will serve hot meals for the public at set times throughout the exhibition’s run, and a crèche facility will be available one day per week.
East End Suffragettes: the photography of Norah Smyth
26 October-26 January 2019, Four Corners Gallery, 121 Roman Rd, London E2 0QN
A unique exhibition of the photographs of suffragette Norah Smyth which provide an intimate documentation of the ELFS’ activities. The exhibition will be accompanied by gallery talks and local history walks that explore Norah’s story and the work of the East End suffragettes in more depth.
If you’d like to find out more about the East End Women’s Museum, our events, exhibitions, and volunteering opportunities, or to join our email list for updates about the project, please visit www.eastendwomensmuseum.org