My social history research began with an exercise to try out some new mapping software: pinpointing the sites of chapels in a single Yorkshire valley. This turned into the book Valley of a Hundred Chapels, which in turn led to papers on women’s pageants as a form of feminist revisionist history.
The Noble Women research was also presented as a week long Tate Exchange programme in April 2019 together with research by Liverpool John Moores lecturer Hana Leaper and ceramics produced by University of Central Lancashire students. This exhibition demonstrated how women chose a new pantheon of heroines to reflect their new status after winning the vote. It was an invitation to the audience to pick their own heroes and heroines, and to consider how societies choose role models. It included examples from a recently rediscovered “Famous Women” dinner service, created by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in 1932, featuring portraits of queens, beauties, writers, artists and actresses, and illustrations of working class “Pageants of Noble Women”.
We invited nominations for a new dinner service to portray living British heroines. The Girls Guides, the Fawcett Society, and other women’s groups took part in choosing the nominees, using social media and polling. Students painted portraits of the nominees on plates, which were displayed alongside the Bell/Grant examples. Visitors painted their own heroes on paper plates. These were hung on a “wall of nobility” in the gallery. We had several hundred visitors off all ages, including the local MP Dame Louise Ellman.
A further chapter by Amy Binns on women’s pageants will be included in the new book by editors Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Alexander Hutton and Paul Readman, Restaging the Past: Historical Pageants, Culture and Society in Modern Britain (London: UCL Press, forthcoming; gold open-access).