A series of events at Cambridge’s Folk Museum this summer will draw attention to the struggle for equality for women in education and at work. Among the speakers are Cambridge academics Lucy Delap, Phil Howell and Deborah Thom.
My talk will consider what it was to be a servant, and who had rights to leisure and liberty in the NUWW world-view."—Dr Lucy Delap
With women outperforming men in a number of spheres, it’s easy to forget that equality (though still imperfect) was a hard-won process - and that many of the major social and political struggles that gradually put women on the same footing as men took place only recently.
The women’s suffrage movement began in 1872 but women finally won the right to vote on the same terms as men only in 1928. Girton College was established in 1869 especially to give women a chance to study at university but they had to ask permission to attend lectures and were not allowed to take exams. It was not until 1947 that female students became full members of the university.
Changes in legislation on a national level reflected a groundswell of opinion that challenged attitudes locally.† In Cambridge, as elsewhere in the country, the struggles for parity between the sexes was played out at every strata of society - from the comfortable drawing rooms of well-heeled reformers to the dingy back kitchens where many working class women laboured largely unseen and for precious little pay.
A series of events staged by Cambridge Folk Museum starting on 9 May and continuing to the end of July will celebrate the part played by women in Cambridge in bringing about equal rights for women in the workplace and beyond. In particular Cambridge Women and Work marks the centenary of the Cambridge Branch of the National Union of Women Workers – an organisation that was concerned with a number of issues including employment, housing and social problems as well as suffrage.†
As Tasmin Wimhurst, Education Officer at the Folk Museum, explained: "The Cambridge branch of the NUWW brought together more than 400 Cambridge women and 39 voluntary organisations.† It was the result of 25 years work by a group of ’ladies’ dedicated to improving social provision for the poor in a world with few safety nets and meagre public welfare support. Many of these ’ladies’ were well educated, upper middle class and married to university dons."
The programme of talks and discussions draws on expertise from the institutions at the heart of Cambridge - and looks at the roles played by Cambridge women in the past.† The names of some of these women are incorporated into the geography of the city. Rackham Road takes its name from the political activist Clara Rackham. Ida Darwin Hospital carries the name of its founder, a social reformer who was Charles Darwin’s daughter-in-law. Keynes Road is named after Florence Ada, mother of John Maynard and a respected member of Cambridge civic life as the first local female councillor in 1914 and later mayor.
A range of speakers from across the University of Cambridge will contribute talks to the programme which aims to reveal the inside story of town and gown in a time of social tensions and radical transition that was sometimes highly public - as in the 1897 protests in Cambridge against women being admitted to the university – but for the most part took place in the private settings of hearth and home where men and women began to re-negotiate their relationships.