Despite all attempts to silence and misrepresent them, women have found radical ways to make themselves heard.

This section includes items that relate to:

  • Protest
  • Expression, whether it is through literature, art or poetry
  • Recovering lost or silenced women’s stories

Reclaim the Night, Leeds Other Paper
The first Reclaim the Night march in the UK took place in Leeds in 1977. It was partly in response to the ‘Ripper Murders’ that took place between 1975 and 1980. Women were angry that the police response seemed slow and that the attacks received little media attention when it was mainly sex workers who were the victims. It was only when a student was murdered that more notice was taken. The police advised women not to go out at night, effectively putting them under curfew.  The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group called for women to march in cities across the UK on the night of 12th November 1977 against rape and for a woman’s right to walk without fear at night.

The fight to protect sex workers and against victim blaming and violence against women continues. Reclaim the Night marches have seen a resurgence in response to these issues.

Leeds Women against Violence against Women, Leeds Other Paper (1980)
After the Yorkshire Ripper’s murder of Katherine Bell in November 1980 a curfew was to be introduced for the women of Yorkshire. On the weekend of 22nd/23rd November the National Women’s Liberation Conference was convened in Leeds organised by Women against Violence against Women. You can read more about this elsewhere on the blog.

Political Cartoon: Deputation to Messers Baines and Carter at the Mercury Office 1874
In 1874 a number of working women challenged the Nine Hours Factory Bill that proposed to limit the time women and children could work to nine hours a day. The opposition was not to the 9-hour day itself but that fact that it did not also apply to men.

On 1st February Miss Lucy Wilson, Mrs Scatcherd and Miss Holland, as well as, women from Leeds factories and workshops went to the Leeds Mercury office to discuss this issue with Mr Edward Baines and Mr Ald Carter who were candidates in the Leeds election. At the end of the interview Miss Wilson remarks ‘that the best way of arriving at a solution of such questions as they had pressed would be by giving women a voice and vote in the Government of the country’. (Leeds Mercury, 1874).

RIBBONS (2021) by Leeds artist Pippa Hale
Ribbons is a new, 7m high sculpture in Leeds that celebrates multiple women from a range of cultural backgrounds.

The project was initiated by Rachel Reeves (Member of Parliament for Leeds West) in partnership with Leeds Arts University and Leeds City Council to redress the gender imbalance of women in the public realm in Leeds. It will be sited at Quarry Hill and is due to be unveiled in 2021.

The sculpture comprises 5 corten steel ribbons that carry the names of over 200 women who have made a contribution to the city. They were nominated by the people of Leeds and include historical figures such as Isabella Ford, who helped to form the Leeds Women’s Suffrage Society in 1890 to community activists such as Veryl Harriott, who initiated the formation of the Chapeltown Citizens Advice Bureau.

It is part of a growing nationwide discourse on rethinking public sculpture with other cities putting up statues of key historic figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst by Hazel Reeves in Manchester.

By contrast, Ribbons is an abstract sculpture that builds upon the legacy of Leeds Arts University’s alumna Barbara Hepworth amongst other important twentieth century sculptors who trained in Leeds.

Ribbons is a sculpture by a woman, for women: from highflyers and glass-ceiling breakers in industry, education, healthcare, sport and media to those who operate beneath the radar in their communities; women born and bred in Leeds as well as those that have chosen to make the city their home. Their names are connected, tied together over space and time in a celebration of womanhood embedded in the very fabric of the city.

The project is supported by Leeds Arts University, Leeds City Council, Caddick, Leeds City College and Leeds Civic Trust.

Katherine Philips, Poems by the Most Deservedly Admired Mrs Katherine Philips, The Matchless Orinda (1667)
This collection of poems by Katherine Phillips (1631-1664) is the oldest item in this exhibition. Phillips is best known today for her poems on female friendship and she was one of the first women to become well known as a poet during her own lifetime.

In her poems about female friendships she uses language popular with seventeenth century love poets. Many of her poems are on the theme of absence and separation and the estrangement of friends.

Critics are divided about whether Philips can be described as a lesbian poet. Her poetry certainly describes passionate relationships with her female friends and even if purely platonic her poetry innovatively re-uses the language and imagery of traditional love poetry.

Mary De Morgan, The Necklace of Fiorimonde, and other stories (1880)
Mary de Morgan (1850 – 1907) is best known today for her fairytales which critiqued society and politics of the time. Her active, subversive heroines challenged traditional expectations for women. She was friends with William Morris and became part of the Arts and Craft circle, often telling stories to Morris and his family, as well as a young Rudyard Kipling.

Mary never married and had to earn her own money. Although relatively well known and respected as a writer she did not make much income from this work so was also employed in May Morris’s embroidery workshop and managed a typewriting office.

She still found time to be involved in social reform and was the secretary of the People’s Concert Society, who performed concerts for poorer families. Mary also ran a mothers’ groups in the East End of London as well as being a member of the Women’s Franchise League and signing the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage in 1889.

Margaret Storm Jameson, A Richer Dust (1917)
Jameson (1891-1986) studied at the University of Leeds, where she became a socialist and a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. She joined the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and in 1913 took part in the Women’s Pilgrimage to show the House of Commons how many women wanted the vote. Around 50,000 women reached Hyde Park in London and according to her autobiography she bit a policeman during the protest.

During the First World War Jameson’s brother was killed and father was taken prisoner.  She became a pacifist and joined the Women’s International League. In 1932 Storm Jameson became close friends with Vera Brittain, also a committed pacifist and in her review of Brittain’s Testament of Youth she says the story of WWI from a woman’s point of view ‘makes it unforgettable’.

On 7 July, 1934, the British Union of Fascists held a large rally. About 500 anti-fascists including Storm Jameson, Vera Brittain, and Aldous Huxley, managed to get inside the hall. When they began heckling Oswald Mosley they were attacked by 1,000 black-shirts.

Margaret Storm Jameson was the first female president of the International Association of Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) an organisation dedicated to promoting freedom of expression and literature.

Jameson wrote a number of poems, essays and novels, including a trilogy abut a family of Yorkshire shipbuilders. We have Jameson’s manuscript of A Richer Dust the third in the series.

Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Postcolonial Banter
Suhaiymah is an educator, writer and poet from West Yorkshire. She has lectured and performed her poetry nationally and internationally and was the runner-up of the Roundhouse National slam 2017 with her viral poem, This is Not a Humanising Poem. This gained 2 million views online and was short-listed for the Outspoken Prize for Poetry in 2018. Her work disrupts and interrupts questions of history, race, knowledge and power and interrogates the political purpose of narratives about Muslims, migrants, gender and violence.

Due to her lived experience, her duties as a Muslim, and a political education from her mother, grandmother, women of colour and radical thinkers from across the world, Suhaiymah is dedicated to the total transformation of society. Her continued work to challenge the damaging systems of white supremacy and imperialism demonstrates that the fight for equality is certainly unfinished business.

Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan is the author of poetry collection Postcolonial Banter, which will be available to borrow from Leeds Libraries soon ; Suhaiymah’s undergraduate dissertation on The Experience of First-Wave Female Immigrants from Pakistan to West Yorkshire, 1960-80 can be accessed in the Local and Family History Library.

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