By Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, 28 February 2018, 14:34PM
A poignant, free exhibition of 37 life-sized silhouettes of women has been installed on The Green at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, one of the 10 Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire, marking the centenary of women’s right to vote and the continued inequality that existed for a further 10 years. Whilst there has been much talk about women being given the right to vote 100 years ago, less attention has been given to the fact that the vote was not given to all women.
Sixth February 2018 marked 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which allowed women to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time. The Act was passed after hundreds of thousands of women joined the workforce to support the war effort during the WW1, and followed more than 50 years of campaigning by suffragists and suffragettes.
Whilst 1918 was a turning point in the fight for women’s rights, the Act that was passed was limited in its impact. Women could only vote if they were at least 30 years old and if they, or their husband, owned a certain amount of property. This meant that only 40% of women in the UK could vote in 1918, and these were mainly older, wealthier, married women.
This excluded millions of ordinary working women from voting, including most of those working in the Gorge’s industries. It also excluded the majority of women who had worked throughout the war, who had taken on men’s roles, had worked in dangerous munitions factories, and had kept the country running.
The silhouettes represent the 37 women who gained the right to vote in 1918, out of approximately 160 who were working in the ceramic and iron industries across The Gorge. The name and profession of each woman is poignantly written on the back of the silhouettes. These include Ada Burns, Tile Polisher; Martha Bryan, China Painter; May Taylor, Gold Burnisher; Harriet Jones, Tobacco Pipe Packer and Mary Thompson, Pipe Maker. They are all positioned in front of the Old Furnace where Abraham Darby started the Industrial Revolution 300 years ago.
Ultimately, this installation will serve as a reminder that 1918 was a landmark moment in British history, but that it was not the end of the story. It was another 10 years before women gained voting rights on equal terms with men, and the fight for social and political equality in Britain continues today, for the right to live free from discrimination, harassment and violence, and to earn a fair and equal wage.
The exhibition is housed outdoors on The Green at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron. It is free to view and will close at the end of the summer. An online exhibition accompanies the installation and is available on www.ironbridge.org.uk.
For details about visiting the 10 Ironbridge Gorge Museums visit www.ironbridge.org.uk or call 01952 433424. The Gorge is easily reached via the M54 motorway exiting at Telford junction 4 or 6.