Socialist Worker

A Woman’s Place doesn’t seem to know its purpose

by Rebecca Townesend
Issue No. 2590

Bramley Ladies Choir c.1920-30

Bramley Ladies Choir c.1920-30 (Pic: Leeds Museums and Galleries)


This exhibition seems to pose a question in its title, but offers no clear answers or analysis.

The stated aim of the exhibition is clear enough. “On the centenary of some women getting the vote to look at the struggles and progress of women in achieving equality and recognition,” we are told.

In a series of themed cabinets there are artefacts from the 19th to the 21st centuries, some of which are fascinating. There is a recording from the mid 1960s of a nurse talking about family planning.

And there are photos from the Barnbow Munitions Factory in Leeds. In 1916 35 women workers were killed there in an explosion.

It shares stories of women who deserve to be better known, such as Dr Edith Pechey, the first female doctor to practise medicine in Leeds.

But it is not clear what the point of it all is.

Exhibit

The context for the exhibits appears to be quite random. Each cabinet has a brief timeline and they vary hugely. The timeline for the Women’s Education cabinet starts in 1869 with the first women’s residential college at Cambridge.

It ends in 1905 with the first female graduates from the University of Leeds. For Women in Sport the timeline starts at the 1900 Olympics in Paris, at which women athletes were allowed to take part for the first time. Then it leaps forward to 2012 with the London Olympics, during which every country had female participants.

The Campaigning Women display is great and inspiring, but its timeline ends in 1977 and there is no reference to the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike.

Women played a central role in this enormous dispute, including in Yorkshire, and the omission is glaring.

I overheard some fascinating discussions. Without doubt this exhibition can inspire, educate and encourage debates about sexism—what has changed and what is still to change.

However, what appeared to be a lack of a a clear conclusion left me wanting more.

A Woman’s Place

Abbey House Museum, Abbey Walk, Leeds LS5 3EH

Until 31 December


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