Emily Shepperson is the Exhibition and Interpretation Officer at Suffolk Archives. As a new women’s history exhibition opens today at The Hold in Ipswich, she explains the story behind its legendary title
From today (February 4), you have a chance to step back in time and walk in the footsteps of Suffolk women past and present who have broken down barriers in their communities, careers and countries throughout history. ‘Women Don’t Do Such Things!’ is the new free exhibition at The Hold in Ipswich, telling the stories of pioneering Suffolk women, and opens on Friday 4 February 2022.
From activists to doctors, archaeologists to pilots, visitors to the exhibition will be able to experience these and many more moving and poignant stories of women who have challenged expectations and led change.
Emily Shepperson, Exhibition and Interpretation Officer at Suffolk Archives, explains: ‘The title of the exhibition is taken from a phrase allegedly said by Queen Victoria. In 1885 the Criminal Law Amendment Act was passed which included measures to criminalise same sex activity between men, but there was no mention of women. According to legend this is because when the draft legislation was shown to Queen Victoria she refused to sign unless all mention of women was removed, as ‘Women Don’t Do Such Things!’
‘Although this exchange is highly unlikely to have ever happened, the phrase lives on as an example of attitudes towards the long lived, rigid expectations of women’s behaviour, characters, and the lives they could live.’
Cllr Andrew Reid, Cabinet Member for Heritage at Suffolk County Council, adds: ‘The ‘Women Don’t Do Such Things!’ exhibition offers a fascinating insight into the lives and experiences of some inspiring women from Suffolk.
‘Suffolk Archives have put together a full programme of events to support the exhibition including curator tours and craft workshops, as well as talks from our archivists and local historians. This is a great chance to find out more about local history, and to come and visit The Hold, and bring that history to life.’
The exhibition includes ‘Women Like You’: a photo mosaic portrait of the leader of the suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, produced by Suffolk artist Charlotte Newson. On loan from Manchester Town Hall, the portrait work is made up of photos representing what women of today want in comparison to the suffragette movement over 100 years ago.
Displays exploring the Women’s Land Army in Suffolk during World War Two have been compiled by local historian Nicky Reynolds, and will include original Women’s Land Army uniform, documents, and photographs.
A special event will also be held at The Hold to launch a new film by documentary maker Holly Brega about the Women’s Land Army in Suffolk about The Land Girls and Horses of Suffolk.
The exhibition includes contemporary artworks and displays telling women’s stories. A selection of works produced by members of the More than Mum group run by the Future Female Society, reflects the women in the group and their own personal journeys supported by the society.
It will also showcase female leaders in Suffolk’s community today. Franstine Jones was awarded a BEM in the New Year’s Honours list for her work as a volunteer and trustee at the National Black Police Association and for her services to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in Suffolk.
Placards from the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 will also be on display as part of the exhibition. The placards were part of the peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Woodbridge and were tied to the outside of the Shire Hall in the town – they have been donated to Suffolk Archives as part of their contemporary collecting.
In the lead up to International Women’s Day, an ‘Inspiring Suffolk Women Day’ will be held at The Hold on Saturday 5 March. The event includes a free day of talks, workshops and more led by community and support groups to inspire, motivate and engage.
The Hold is also hosting an International Women’s Day conference on Tuesday March 8 in collaboration with University of Suffolk, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and the Epicentre, which will bring together women speakers from different spheres to share their knowledge and experience.
The exhibition is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, as part of the activity plan to support the building and opening of The Hold.
Robyn Llewellyn, Director, England, Midlands & East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund says: ‘We are delighted to support The Hold with this ambitious and important exhibition. It’s thanks to National Lottery players that the people of Ipswich and further afield will be able to celebrate the stories of these inspiring women, past and present.’
‘Women Don’t Do Such Things!’ runs from today (Friday February 4) to Sunday June 19 at The Hold on Ipswich Waterfront. Admission is free, you can book in advance online at www.suffolkarchives.co.uk or tickets are available on the door.
Featured image: Emily Shepperson (picture credit Suffolk Archives)