📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament, Westminster Hall

Hi all, happy Friday!

In light of the progressive movement in American politics this week regarding the historical milestones made by women in the midterm elections, I thought I would share an insight into the wonderful Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition I visited last month. 🗣🗳  When I left the British Museum earlier this year, I was kindly gifted membership to the Women’s Library as part of my leaving present (alongside tickets to see my idol, Stacey Dooley and an array of feminist goodies!). The Women’s Library LSE, based at London School of Economics, holds 500 archive collections and a significant museum collection of over 5000 objects, much of which dates from the late 19th century.

My first Women’s Library event was a trip to Westminster to visit the ‘Voice & VoteWomen’s Place in Parliament’ exhibition. The tour was lead by Mari Takayanagi, Joint Project Manager of Vote 100 and a fellow Women’s Library member. The major exhibition displayed at Westminster Hall was created to give visitors a better understanding of the campaign for votes for women in the UK and the representation of women in UK Parliament and politics.

The exhibition was split into 4 main sections: The Ventilator, The Cage, The Tomb and The Chamber. All 4 settings were significant in the ways that women could engage with and influence UK politics; from being secret observers in the 19th century to being active and present Member’s of Parliament in the present day.

  1. The Ventilator, 1818-1834:

The opening section of the exhibition introduced the octagonal structure known as The Ventilator which was originally designed to ventilate the Chamber in the House of Commons. 200 years ago, before it was acceptable for women to be actively involved in politics, a group of feisty, politically-minded middle class women found a secret attic space above the Ventilator and would clamber inside to listen to the debates going on below. This not only gave women a space to socialise but also the chance to listen to political discussions and gain an insight into policy-making like never before.

A partial recreation of the Ventilator was on display in the exhibition – visitors were invited to put their heads into the small window spaces and listen to reenactments of Parliamentary debates like the women of the 19th century would have done. 
  1. The Cage, 1834 – 1918:

In 1834, a large fire demolished the original Westminster building leading to a new Palace being built between 1840 – 1876. The new Palace of Westminster included a purpose-built ‘Ladies Gallery’ which meant that women could officially listen and watch debates in the Houses of Common rather than hiding in the Ventilator. The Ladies Gallery was nicknamed ‘The Cage’ because it had large, heavy metal grilles covering the windows, both restricting the women’s view and ensuring they didn’t ‘distract’ men in the Public Gallery. In the 20th century the space became known for protests by suffragettes campaigning for change and the metal grilles were eventually removed in 1917.

A reconstruction of the Ladies Gallery in the exhibition gave a sense of the rules, space and views that women would have experienced whilst listening to parliamentary debates from their newly designated area. The cream paneling represents where the heavy grilles would have been. 
  1. The Tomb, 1918 – 1963:

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons. When she joined as a MP there were no spaces reserved solely for women except for the Ladies’ Members’ Room. During the 20th century, more women were elected into Parliament resulting in women from Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties sharing the small Members’ Room. The cramped space soon became known as ‘The Tomb’.

Left: Quote from Ellen Wilkinson, 1928. Right: Barbara CastleMargaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams
  1. The Chamber, 1963 – Present Day:

As women’s voices and voting rights in the UK have increased, so has their role in Parliament and there have now been 491 female Members of Parliament in Britain; all of which were displayed on a large celebration wall in the final part of the exhibition.

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Visitors were invited to watch videos and listen to oral histories, collected from The British Library, of current female MP’s talking about their political role and their continuing fights for equality. The space highlights both how far we’ve come in terms of female representation in Parliament and voting patterns versus how far we’ve still got to go (a third of UK women didn’t vote in the 2017 UK General Election!) The exhibition ended with a pledging station where visitors could reflect on their place in politics and decide how they could get more involved in UK Parliament in the future.

As usual, I will follow this post up with another blog highlighting my favourite objects from the exhibition so keep an eye out for fabulous feminist content related to Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

 

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British Museum traineeship

Last week I wrote my first post about the first job role I had in museums which was as a Training Museum Trainee (TMT) Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service (CIMS). So this week I’m going to focus on my second. One that I still can’t actually believe happened…

In March last year I was job-hunting and came across a entry level role within the Development Department at the British Museum. It was a role centred around Fundraising which I have experience in; formally volunteering at the NSPCC and UNICEF UK as a Community Fundraising intern and then carrying out a fundraising placement at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester whilst at CIMS. The job was everything I had wanted as it seemed like the only aspect of museums not covered in my TMT. I honestly thought the interview had gone dreadfully; I remember phoning my mum and just cringing at how bad it was but laughing it off by saying at least I wouldn’t have to face the interviewers again! But somehow, on a sunny day in May, I got a phone-call offering me the role… I have never been so shocked in my life!

Fast forward 1 month and I was living in London, commuting on the grossly hot Central line and walking in to this magnificent view on my first day! What a dream! I still pinch myself thinking about how quickly my career in museums has excelled in 3 years.

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My role at the BM was within the Major Gifts team of Development; with main responsibilities including writing donor reports, carrying out research projects, maintaining the donor database, sending communications to ensure high quality stewardship and any ad-hoc administrative tasks. I also had the opportunity to attend training sessions, conferences and staff events which really shaped my understanding of a large, international museum. Over the year I also supported a number of donor events including Private Exhibition Viewings, Young Friends Sleepovers and gallery openings which were all very exciting.

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I am truly grateful that I have been able to work at one of the BIGGEST museums in the world so early on in my museum career. And although I have decided not to pursue a career in Fundraising, the people I have worked with, skills I have gained and lessons I have learnt along the way have taught me so much. I am most happy working with objects and engaging visitors though interpretation, events and outreach so I am looking for more Learning and Collections roles (but before then I plan to do an museum tour around Europe!) It has been a marvellous, challenging but invaluable experience and I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Here’s to the ‘Museum of the world, for the world’ giving me my biggest museum opportunity yet!

Em x

Museum beginnings…

Hi, I’m Emily, an early museum professional, documentary enthusiast, proud feminist and David Attenborough lover.

Museum Musings is my first solo blogging project and I’m excited to document the museum experiences I have, the stories I learn through exhibitions, events and programming as well as the challenges I have seen within the heritage sector. As an EMP I am on an exciting journey, developing my skills in the heritage sector, learning a lot of new ways of thinking (and reinforcing how not to!), as well as allowing me to see some of the most beautiful, inspiring and thought-provoking exhibits and places I have ever seen.

My first few entries will look at my museum journey so far and some of the exciting projects I have been involved with over the past 3 years.

Training Museum

My museum journey began in 2015 when I joined Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service (CIMS) as part of the first cohort of the Training Museum; a programme funded by Arts Council England with the primary aim of diversifying the CIMS workforce.

Rewind to October 2015, I was unemployed after deciding not to return to university to do my Teaching degree. It was a massive decision to make as I’d wanted to be a teacher for such a long time and all work experience, employment and volunteering I had done up until then had been with the aim with pursuing a teaching career. So deciding not to continue this career was a tough one but I’m so bloomin’ glad I did!

The interview process for the traineeship was a strenuous one but after submitting a written application, doing a video interview and participating in a group assessment day, I somehow got one of the 6 positions available. The traineeship was a way to diversify the the museum services workforce, with the trainees there to bring new ideas, different experiences and a variety of skillsets to the team, an idea that is something that needs to be rolled out throughout the whole sector. Over the year was based at Ipswich Museums, working across their 3 sites: Ipswich Museum, Christchurch Mansion and Ipswich Art Gallery.

Throughout the traineeship I worked on some incredible projects including reinterpreting the Victorian Gallery,  co-curating a Battle of the Somme display and re-designing a museum trail alongside delivering a Supplementary Schools programme, presenting at two major conferences and working visitor service shifts at the 3 museum sites.

F0ED2377-B209-4056-BF1B-E5327FFA7EE3Each week I also attended in-house training with taught me fundamental museum skills including object handling & packing, documentation essentials, marking & labelling, fundraising, museum audiences,

My year on the Training Museum taught me so much and I am so proud that I was part of the first cohort that (I hope) helped to shape the way that CIMS recruits its staff, the programming they plan and potentially influence the ways that different skills are viewed within the museum sector.

I am looking forward to developing my career in the heritage sector, particularly museums and documenting the exhibitions, events and buildings I visit along the way!

Ciao for now.

Em x