A Woman’s Place? opens at Kirkstall’s Abbey House Museum this weekend and marks the centenary of the first British women getting the right to vote as well as celebrating the quiet heroism of ordinary women.
Among the influential women whose stories the exhibition shines a light on is that of Leeds Suffragette Leonora Cohen, who became a famously passionate and militant campaigner in the early 20th Century. A true firebrand in the struggle for women’s rights, she was arrested in 1913 and jailed for hurling an iron bar through a showcase at the Tower of London in front of a crowd of startled schoolchildren.
Four other unsung Leeds heroines are also honoured as part of the exhibition, with the help of new ceramics, specially-created by Yorkshire-based artist Katch Skinner. The 1940s all-female jazz band leader Ivy Benson, who was born and bred in Holbeck, Morley cycling champion Beryl Burton, Leeds Suffragette Mary Gawthorpe, and Edith Pechey, one of the country’s first female doctors, who practised in Leeds during the 1870s-80s, have all been immortalised in the new ceramics, which will become a permanent fixture in the Leeds collection. Among the more modern exhibits on display are a boxing glove worn by the city’s Olympic gold medal winning boxer Nicola Adams and a Lego Women of Nasa set, which depicts prominent women astronomers, scientists and astronauts.
Kitty Ross, Leeds Museums and Galleries curator of social history, who has been putting the exhibition together, said: “Each of these women has played their own unique and important role in challenging and changing perceptions of what women can achieve, in turn helping to inspire subsequent generations. What also unites them is a refusal to accept gender-based boundaries or constraints and a determination to reach their goals in the face of adversity, societal pressure and even arrest.”
“Today the struggle for women’s rights and equality is more prominent than ever and, while we doubtless still have a long way to go, we have women like those we are celebrating here to thank for paving the way. We hope this exhibition and their stories will encourage women and girls who visit to believe in themselves and to never let their own ambitions and achievements be limited by their gender.”
Also on display as part of A Woman’s Place? are illustrations by Jacky Fleming and a series of photographs of contemporary Leeds women, each holding a sign saying what their job is to illustrate the breadth of industries in which modern women work. Younger visitors can also dress up as engineers, doctors and police officers.
The exhibition opens on Saturday and runs throughout 2018.