In celebration of International Women’s Day, we’re raising our hands in praise to those behind the East End Women’s Museum, pushing towards a permanent space in the community to recognise, celebrate and remember the women that achieved so much for the East End and for society as we know it.
East London has an incredibly rich social, political, and cultural history – with women at the heart of much of its action. The stories of women like Annie Besant have been allowed to fade, but they certainly haven’t been forgotten. At least not by the team behind the East End Women’s Museum.
Sarah Jackson (museum co-ordinator and co author of Voices from History: East London Suffragettes) and Sara Huws (curator and researcher) began on their mission to create an East End Women’s Museum in 2015, juggling this and their full-time jobs until funding began to slowly but surely pour in to the project last year. Community heritage expert Judith Garfield joined the board of directors in 2017 and Sarah now works part time coordinating the project with the help of volunteers and project staff.
The decision to embark on setting up a museum for women of the East End came about after a proposed women’s history museum on Cable Street in East London turned out to be a Jack the Ripper museum – glorifying the serial killer who committed abhorrent crimes against the real women of East London. ‘We originally started this project as a protest against the Ripper Museum, because the people behind it originally promised it would be a women’s history museum. Instead the local people got a tourist attraction about the Ripper. Like a lot of people, we were angry, so we decided to make the missing museum and talk about women’s lives, not just their deaths!’ says Jackson.
With the help of the community and volunteers, Sarah, Sara and Judith are working towards opening a permanent home for the East End Women’s Museum in 2019/20. Until then, the museum is without an office or a building but isn’t to say that we can’t experience the East End Women’s Museum until it has a permanent space.
Ultimately, the aims of the East End Women’s museum are to research, record, and represent women’s histories from across east London. ‘As well as helping to balance the history books and challenge gender stereotypes we’ll create new opportunities for people to learn about (and tell us about!) their local history through fun and engaging activities, events, and exhibitions. Our volunteering programme will give people a chance to access training, learn new skills and gain work experience. And girls and young women will get to know some new, positive role models from their local history and hear inspiring stories of women’s strength and resourcefulness.’ says Jackson.
This year the team behind the museum have come together to create a huge roster of events for 2018, all celebrating the women that have contributed to the history of our beloved East End. The Women’s Hall Exhibition at Tower Hamlets library, for example, will recreate the interior of the original Women’s Hall at 400 Old Ford Road in Bow, the headquarters of the East London Federation of Suffragettes from 1914 to 1924 – complete with a pop up community kitchen serving hot meals for the public at set times throughout the exhibition’s run, and a crèche facility.