Ladies of Quality and Distinction📍Foundling Museum, London

Hey all, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you had a wonderful festive season and are enjoying your 2019 so far.

This week I visited the magnificent Ladies of Quality & Distinction exhibition at the fantastic Foundling Museum in London. The exhibition, part of a vast programme of displays marking 100 years of the Representation of the People’s Act 1918 in the UK, reveals stories about the incredible women that established, worked at and lived in the hospital. Like much of history, the role of women has been excluded from the Hospital’s narratives, until now. The exhibition, curated by Kathleen Palmer, highlights the vital role that women played as nurses, teachers, cooks, artists, carers and supporters of the institution.

Highlight objects and stories:

1. ) Frances Flint (1839? – 1944?)

Frances Flint was, according to the 1891 census records, a foster mother who took care of some of the children from the Foundling Hospital. Records also suggest that Frances may have been illegitimate, much like the foundling children she fostered. This photograph shows Frances with children, may be some of those that she had in her care.

fullsizeoutput_d19Frances Flint, archive photograph, c.1900, courtesy Coram.

2.) Servant’s register, 1925

This servant’s register records the reasons that staff at the Hospital gave for leaving. It also includes brief descriptions of the work the women carried out in their roles. This kind of register would have been used to give character references for new jobs.

s6%vt39+qpslibqjlmp9qa© Coram, 1925

3.) Instructions to Wet Nurses, 1861

Jane Fisher was given these notes when she took foundling, John Harvey, into her care in 1861. It sets out the allowance that Fisher will be issued to look after the child as well as outlining the expectations of the Inspector.

fgxtebcgq62jc6usfe+dzqInstructions to Wet Nurses, 4th February 1861, Coram/City of London, London Metropolitan Archives

4.) Letter written by Hannah Johnson, 1812

On 1st April 1812, as she entered her 20th year of service as the Foundling Hospital, Hannah Johnson wrote to the Governors of the Hospital requesting a (well deserved) pay rise. She was successful and her wages were increased to match those of the Steward, who headed the Boy’s Wing.

mkhhszwtqi+n7s8glxnclqLetter, Hannah Johnson, 1st April 1812, © Coram

5.) Blanche Thetford (1758 – 1833)

Blanche Thetford lived at Foundling Hospital and although she was “incurably blind in both eyes” she was incredibly talented in needlework. Whilst at the Hospital she trained in music alongside another blind girl named Mercy Draper and became an incredibly talented musician. Aged 21, the Hospital employed Blanche as a singer in the Chapel, paying her 6 guineas a year to do so. As well as being a singer, she was given 10 guineas a year for “the care and assiduity of teaching music” to younger foundlings. In 1813, she was gifted £25 (the equivalent of £1,721.93 in 2019), on top of a silver teapot for her teaching work. Blanche lived at the Foundling Hospital her whole life and when she died in 1833, aged 77, she was buried in the Hospital’s Chapel.

fullsizeoutput_d2cFoundling Hospital: The Chapel, 1808, John Bluck, after Pugin & Rowlandson. Aquatint, hand-coloured.

The exhibition shines a light on some of the marvellous, hard working and life changing women who played a vital role in the running of the Foundling Hospital and the care of the children living there between 1741 – 1951. It closes on the 20th January so you only have a few more days to view it so hurry if you don’t want to miss out on these stories.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo



📍Poster Girls: A century of art and design, London Transport Museum

Poster Girls: A century of Art and Design at the London Transport Museum celebrates a century of exceptional poster art created by women. The exhibition shines a light on the incredible contribution that female designers and artists made to the world of poster design, with over 150 colourful, fun and unique pieces of artwork on display.

As you would expect from an exhibition at the London Transport Museum, the majority of the posters on display were designed for use on the London Underground, with many of the artists commissioning pieces for London Transport and Transport for London.

Posters are displayed chronologically from 1910’s to the present day; with a focus on how each new era offered changing styles, approaches and designs which are reflected in the artworks. The display also focuses on the positive impact London Transport had in showcasing female talent in an industry that was, like many others, predominantly male.

Creative minds such as Ella Coates, Nancy Smith, “Herry” Perry and Dora Batty created bold, colourful, eye-catching posters to advertise the London Underground as quick and cheap transport choice. Many of the posters would market the Capital’s main attractions, like the ones below.

Foxgloves; Kew Gardens by Dora M Batty, 1924 (1983/4/1639), Country Joys from Camden Town Station by Herry Perry, 1930 (1983/4/2940), Bluebell time in Kew Gardens by Margaret Calkin James, 1931 (1983/4/9210), Travels in time on your doorstep by Clifford Ellis and Rosemary Ellis, 1937 (1983/4/4963) and Regents Park Zoo by Arnrid Banniza Johnston, 1930 (1983/4/3038) 

The exhibition continues downstairs; documenting posters from the 1950’s to the modern day. The first thing you see is a wall covered in miniature versions of underground posters which was truly sensational.


As you look closer you can pick out posters marketing everything from London Zoo to Borough Market, Hampton Court to London Museums. Below are a few of my favourites:

Top left: Hampton Court by Hanna Weil, 1963 (1983/4/7458), Bottom left: London’s museums by Carol Barker, 1979 (1983/341), Right: We Londoners by Dorrit Dekk, 1961 (1983/4/7270)

Although there was a lull in female representation during the 1940’s-50’s (possibly due to World War II), in the 1980’s, London Transport ran 2 major campaigns to reignite the fire for women in the Poster design market. Art on the Underground and the Simply series was influenced a lot by women and they play a major role in poster art and design. My 3 favourite contemporary posters were: Simply East London by Tube and bus by Sarah McMenemy, 2000 (2000/14610), Borough Market by Ruth Hydes, 2010 (2017/444) and Winter fun – shopping by Anna Hymas, 2016 (2017/380)

Aside from the #Vote100 Suffragette displays that keep popping up across the UK to celebrate 100 since the Representation Act 1918 was passed, Poster Girls is the first exhibition I’ve been to that it is solely dedicated to the work, perspectives and successes of women. Isn’t that absurd?! I felt pretty overwhelmed walking around & taking notes knowing that everything I was seeing was created by a woman, every name I wrote down belonged to a woman.

I think the sector could learn a lot from the London Transport Museum in terms of how to create exhibitions focused on underrepresented groups in society. From writing more inclusive interpretation, doing more in-depth research into collections, looking at how exhibition content is developed, who/what is represented and ultimately, who at the top of the organisation, is making the decisions about what is exhibited…

Poster girls: A century of art and design, located in the Exterion Media Gallery, is on display until January 2019.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

📍Museum of Prostitution, Amsterdam

On my first day in Amsterdam I headed straight for the Tourist Information Centre and got my ticket to the Red Lights Secrets: Museum of Prostitution– which is included in the Top 5 Amsterdam Museums (pretty good considering there are over 75 in the capital!) 🏛🇳🇱

The Museum is located along the bank of a beautiful canal in the Red Light District, the oldest part of Amsterdam where sailors used to stop off to find entertainment. It’s nestled in-between the Erotic Museum, famous red windows and Moulin Rouge-esque bars.


As well as entry, a booklet and audio guide are included in the price which is a real bonus! The audio book is narrated by a sex worker/therapist named Inga – arguably the most famous prostitute in the red light district! Her honest, thought-provoking and often comedic commentary is so intriguing and intimate; she’s the star of the show!

Set in a former brothel, the exhibits are housed in rooms that would have been inside when the brothel was still fully functioning. The first room, ‘The Office’ has been kept exactly how it was when the brothel closed – with a register of workers, an early noughties computer and the story of a woman named Chinese Annie who was murdered in the brothel before it was closed down. Along the back wall is an interactive piece with video viewpoints from prostitutes, landlords, clients and pimps which gives different POV’s of those involved and their individual reasons for being involved in the industry (of course the Pimp acted as the loving boyfriend supporting his girl and keeping her safe rather than an exploitative waste of space).


Upstairs the rooms were set out in the typical style of a red window room, a prostitutes bed sit and a ‘luxury room’. The first two were pretty simplistic but somehow felt very gritty: with lots of sex toys, mirrors and condoms waiting to be used. The luxury room or ‘workshop’ as Inga described it was very over the top with its salmon pink 2 (or more) person bath, champagne and lots of sexy slinky underwear. Rooms like these would be used by men willing to pay a lot more than the typical €30 – €50 usually given to Red Window Girls.


For me, the museum had two main overarching themes – one was the positive side to sex work that is never usually displayed. There was a real sense of female empowerment and strength, with the women’s work being celebrated rather than revered or dirty which is the typical stance taken. Many of the women’s stories told us how they had chosen to do this work, they enjoy how much money they make from it and how in control it makes them feel.

On the other hand there were constant reminders of the negative realities of sex work around the world. Alongside the liberation narrative, the displays covered issues such as the global sex trafficking industry, the role of “loverboys” – whose jobs are to make vulnerable women fall in love with them then take everything they earn from sex – & the overwhelming numbers of murdered sex workers by male clients, pimps or their partners. It really hit home how much danger these 4.5 million sex workers around the world are in at the hands of the men that solicit, traffick and use them.

A shrine in honour of some of the prostitutes murdered whilst at work in Amsterdam. Next to this is a wall documenting the names and stories of hundreds of other women murdered whilst working in the Dutch sex trade.

My top 3 facts:

1. In the past, red lights were used to obscure the traces of sexually transmitted diseases! Nowadays they are used as the red lighting makes the skin look smoother (and thus more attractive apparently…!)

2. To become a Prostitute in Amsterdam there are only 4 job specifications – you must be at least 21 y/o, hold a valid EU passport or Green Card, pass the ‘intake interview’ and be able to afford the €150 weekly rent of a red window room. Simple.

3. The average visit to a prostitute in the Red Light District lasts around 6-10 minutes… No comment 😅

To end there is a magnificent confessions wall covered in saucy, sexy and damn right shocking secrets from visitors which are as funny as they are uncomfortable but help to end your visit on a high!

10/10 would recommend. Potentially in the top 3 Museums I’ve ever visited… but don’t hold me to that!

Em 🇳🇱🚨🚲♥️

Votes for Women – Museum of London

Hi all, happy Tuesday!

Earlier this month, I spent the day exploring London with my Mum; looking around Borough Market, eating lots of Thai Food and visiting the Votes for Women display at Museum of London. My mum is undoubtedly the strongest, most hard-working and courageous woman I know and so I felt anything related to women’s rights and suffrage would be perfect.

The display focused on the 100 years since the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1918 was passed in the UK. The act granted women over the age of 30, who had property rights, the right to vote. (The act also gave all men over the age of 21 the right to vote but we won’t tackle that inequality today!) The women’s fight for the vote was won by the courageous and determined suffragettes/suffragists across the UK – fronted by my heroine and namesake, Emmeline Pankhurst. This year there have been lots of wonderful events, exhibitions and museum projects connected to the centenary and as a proud feminist I am excited to explore as many as possible.

I will start by saying, the Votes for Women display is a lot smaller than I’d imagined it would be… I think because I’d seen so much advertising and online marketing I was envisioning something a lot bigger and grander but what we found was a relatively small room (which was poorly signposted) and a handful of objects related to the 1918 campaign. Nevertheless, the objects that the Museum had selected to highlight, were powerful.

Along one side of the room there are cases exhibiting delicate, individual objects such as Emmeline Pankhurst’s Hunger Strike medal and a silver necklace commemorating Emily ‘Kitty’ Willoughby Marshall’s three terms of imprisonment in Holloway prison.

Right: Emily ‘Kitty’ Willoughby Marshall’s silver necklace Left: Emmeline Pankhurst’s Hunger Strike medal.

Projected on the opposite wall is a powerful film commissioned especially for the exhibition, which looks at how the Suffragette’s fight impacted Britain – both positively and negatively – and how their militant campaigns impact and influence fights for women’s rights in today’s society. Although Votes for Women wasn’t as fulfilling as we’d hoped, the Museum of London does also have an incredible permanent display of suffragette material in the People’s City gallery. This part of the Museum was by far our favourite and includes plenty of suffrage related objects to satisfy your needs!

My ‘People’s City Gallery’ highlights:

fullsizeoutput_3b9Suffragette panel, Janie Terrero, 1912, on display: Museum of London: People’s City: Suffragettes

This beautiful piece of tapestry is decorated in purple, white and green embroidery and was made in Holloway Prison by an inmate called Janie Terrero. It is embroidered with the names of hunger strikers imprisoned at Holloway with Terrero. The women had been arrested for their involvement in smashing windows as part of a suffragette campaign in March 1912.

IMG_5892Various suffragette pin badges, medals, photographs and event memorabilia on display in People’s City gallery, Museum of London

In the People’s City gallery, and briefly in the centenary exhibition, the Museum of London explores the Hunger Strike campaigns carried out by suffragettes in the early 20th Century.  The badges, medals and artwork are made using the recognisable green, purple and white colours associated with the Suffragettes.

Of course, the themes and stories shown in this display are incredibly important to exhibit in our museums as are the events being held throughout the year. 2018 seems to be shaping up as the year that we are telling local, national and international stories of courageous women who fought and continue to fights for women’s rights in the UK and around the world. I feel very lucky to be living in London right now to be able to participate in a variety of events, attend talks and visit centenary exhibitions to honour the incredible women who changed women’s lives in the UK.

However, I would agree with many others who argue that these kinds of displays and events should not be ‘special’ or ‘one-offs’ or curated just when an important date is impending. Instead, they need to become embedded in our museums, galleries, libraries and heritage spaces and we, as museum workers, collectors and heritage organisations should be documenting and collecting the work, stories and history of women to make it part of the norm. Uncovering stories that we are maybe not aware of, showcasing women that aren’t well-known and continuing to shine a light on women in fields that we have failed to do so up until now is just as important as having centenary exhibitions to celebrate famous women’s achievements.

Perhaps following the suffragette’s motto of ‘Deeds Not Words’ would be a good start for the sector…

Keep fighting!

Em xo