Women in History

Library for Educators
8 min readJan 17, 2023

Stories from our archives to enrich your curriculum

[Intro video — brief summary of the Why Women’s Histories? Changing Narratives… sections, plus a mention of a few examples below]

[New to the John Rylands Research Institute and Library then read our post to understand our collections and what we do] — point out to a standing page?

Why Women’s Histories?

Often, our history books are reduced to a list of important people involved with important events. For as long as these books have been written, they have been written mostly by men, and as a result, focused mainly on men. Particularly, wealthy white men. Many of the events covered in these texts also took place in sexist societies in which women had fewer rights than men and fewer opportunities than men as well as facing discrimination, harassment and violence.

There are countless stories of women throughout history who overcame the societal sexism they faced and achieved extraordinary things in so many areas— STEM, healthcare, culture, education, literature, politics and so many more — yet too little ink has been spilled telling these stories. This sidelining is especially true for global majority women, LGBT+ women, women with disabilities, working class women and women within other marginalised groups.

We want to amplify these voices within the University of Manchester collections to help balance the history books, and put women’s histories at the forefront of our practice. We want you to use the Special Collections held at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre and the wider University of Manchester Library to help tell these extraordinary stories, as well as telling the ‘ordinary’ ones too, because history is more than just a series of ‘important’ individuals and events.

Challenging Narratives, Dismantling Stereotypes and Inspiring Activism

These resources can tell the stories of women through history but also to challenge idea that ‘this is how it has always been’. Exploring some of the hidden stories — particularly those from marginalised groups — and the shared female experience through history can help raise consciousness about systematic inequality and power structures that exist today. There isn’t a single shared female experience, but there are many threads that these experiences share, as well as differences, which can be just as illuminating.

For the young women you work with, it may be a powerful thing to discover that what you thought was an individual struggle, was actually a shared one and that the cause was systematic, rather than accidental. Not only this, but these stories can serve as a source of inspiration. Women are still underrepresented across many fields: politics, business, media, culture, arts, STEM and sport. Amongst these stories from history, there are so many role models to be found.

It is also intended that these resources are used with young men, to encourage recognition of women’s needs, perhaps leading to work on how they can actively take part in gender-equality activism. [Stolen shamelessly from one of Adam’s blogs]

[Link out to SC Medium here who present a curated package of materials?]

[This felt like the most natural space to navigate the resources and link out in a more concise way, as well as in the slightly more detailed sections outlining some of the stories and content further below — let me know what you think]

Women in History

This piece forms part of a series of posts spotlighting stories we think will inspire and challenge your thinking. Supporting contextual information on each of the people and topics is linked [bullet point list below/to the side?] as well as suggested teaching strategies [links to skills resources] for your learners.

  1. Health
  2. Culture
  3. Politics
  4. Education
  5. Literature
  6. Women’s Suffrage

From here we hope that you will leave inspired to develop your curriculum with our content. Use these resources as a ‘jumping off’ point to develop your lines of inquiry. We have highlighted further reading, key collections items and learning resources for you and your students to use.

Health

Catherine Chisholm (1878–1952) wrote her 1912 thesis on menstrual pain in school girls

Explore the achievements of the inspirational Catherine Chisholm [Link out to teaching piece] — a medical pioneer as well as a committed activist for women’s rights — through our extensive collections.

Chisholm was the first woman to graduate Manchester Medical School in 1904. She made huge contributions to the field of Paediatrics and later went on to open the Manchester Babies’ Hospital in 1914 — helping to save the lives of some of the most vulnerable children amongst Manchester’s communities. Your students could also delve into the Chisholm’s ground-breaking research around menstruation, at the time much of which was largely informed by male specialists who had clinical contact with a small proportion of ‘unwell’ women.

Ideas of menstrual ‘disability’ were successfully challenged by medical women like Catherine Chisholm, but notions of taboo and secrecy surrounding menstruation still persist. The primary sources in the our collections provide a window into the pervasive attitudes towards women’s health at the time, the challenges pioneers like Chisholm faced, and what this means for society today.

Louise Da Cocodia as a newly qualified nurse in 1958

Or Louise Da Cocodia — Assistant Superintendent of District Nurses — who was born in St. Catherine’s parish, Jamaica, and was invited to the UK to staff the new NHS. She arrived in 1955, qualifying as a Staff Qualified Nurse three years later and went onto be appointed as Assistant Superintendent of District Nurses, the first Black senior nursing officer in Manchester. Her experiences of racism from colleagues and patients created a desire to combat discrimination and tackle race equality issues.

Culture

Annie Horniman, 1910

Annie Horniman (1860–1937) [Link out to teaching piece]was a pioneer of the modern theatre movement. She defied many of the traditional and conventional Victorian restrictions placed upon women: wearing trousers, dressing eccentrically, smoking heavily, cycling over the Alps, campaigning for women’s suffrage and cultivating an interest in astrology and the occult.

Horniman’s impact on the theatre during that ten years and on Manchester itself cannot be underestimated. Her encouragement and support of local writers who formed what was became known as the Manchester School of dramatists, brought plays such as Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice to life. The Gaiety Theatre model was also adapted and capitalised upon by other cities, shaping regional modern theatre as we know it.

Locita Brandy

You could explore this in tandem with primary source material on the ‘Queen of The Moss Side Carnival’: Locita Brandy. After hearing from many Caribbean families that they missed carnivals from back home, she decided to organise a Moss Side carnival in Alexandra Park in 1970. Since then, Manchester carnival has brought Caribbean culture to the forefront every year — and is the north west’s largest celebration of Caribbean music and carnival arts.

Education

Mabel Tylecote fencing

Dame Mabel Tylecote, née Phythian [Link out to teaching piece] was an active member of the Labour Party and worked tirelessly for social reform, seeking to improve people’s lives through better schools, housing and healthcare. She studied and later lectured at the University of Manchester.

Mabel Tylecote was also passionate about increasing educational opportunities for women.

Ann Adeyemi at her graduation ceremony

Or perhaps your learners would be interested in hearing the oral history accounts of Ann Adeyemi — an inspirational teacher at the forefront of anti-racism education. Ann qualified as a teacher, and taught History, English and Drama across Wigan, Oldham, Manchester, Newcastle and Bolton before working on various anti-racism projects in London.

Literature — Isabella Banks

The acclaimed Manchester author, Isabella Banks (1821–1897) [Link out to teaching piece], was born two years after the Peterloo Massacre (1819) yet the tragic event captured her imagination. The massacre was dramatised in her best-selling novel The Manchester Man (1870) and a young Henry Hunt featured in her later novel Glory (1877). Like many female authors of the time, Isabella published under her married name: Mrs George Linnaeus Banks.

More recently, Qaisra Shahraz work has seen her become a prize-winning and critically acclaimed novelist and scriptwriter. Qaisra is also the founder, curator and executive director of Muslim Arts and Culture Festival (MACFEST), which aims to bring Muslim and non-Muslim communities together, promoting social inclusion and overcoming barriers.

Politics

Anwar Ditta addressing a crowd on Brighton beach outside the Labour party conference in the 1970s.

British born Anwar Ditta returned home from Pakistan in 1975, but her three children were denied entry. Anwar’s story is that of a woman in her twenties with little formal education who took on the Home Office and succeeded in reuniting her family. Anwar is one of the most powerful women in our collection, and her case is an example of self-organisation and determination in the face of racism, deportation, and the splitting up of families. Explore Anwar’s story through the newspaper articles written at the time, the Home Office and House of Commons letters showing a refusal to help, as well as the songs and badges created by people in support of Anwar’s fight.

Women’s Suffrage

Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in prison uniform, 1913

Emmeline, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst helped to launch the Women’s Social and Political Union in Manchester. They bravely threw herself into the battle to win the vote for women and were arrested on a number of occasions (the image above shows Emmeline and Christabel in prison uniforms — a powerful visual showing their commitment to the cause). Invite your students to delve into the correspondence with Emmeline Pankhurst with Guardian editor C.P. Scott and Winston Churchill to uncover the mastery with which they used the media to their advantage, or the heartfelt letters drawing attention to the plight of Emmeline’s imprisoned, Mary Jane Clarke, who had died shortly after being forced fed in prison.

Links to Archive Materials

Luna/MDC/SC Medium?

Links to Teaching Materials

Maybe a collection of the hyperlinks above and the TLS eLearning resources?

Further Reading

  • Beyond our own materials and collections?
  • Other Cultural Institutions? UoM only, city wide?

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