Help us care for and share some of the most significant collections in Cornwall with an annual membership. Find Out More

The UK’s Greatest Museum for Cornish Art and Culture | Free For Under 18s

Women in History: IWD 2018

International Women’s Day: Women in History as picked by the Women who work at the Royal Cornwall Museum.

International women’s day is a fantastic way of shining a light on the oft forgotten role women have played in the history of Cornwall, Britain and the world. While researching for this celebration it became clear to me that women’s experiences are too wide-ranging for just one person to decide who to feature. How do you whittle down a list of amazing and inspiring women?

I decided it was necessary to widen the ask and to get the women who work at the Royal Cornwall Museum to each nominate someone, or someone’s who have inspired them. A sort of ‘women in history’ from women who work in history. From local women such as Emily Hobhouse, ancient women Hapshetsut, to modern trailblazers the electic mix is a fantastic, if small, snapshot of the rich heritage of women.

Women’s history is multifarious, while it is not possible to represent all women in these few selections, we hope our picks inspire our readers to explore the wide-ranging and significant role women have played over the centuries.

We hope you enjoy our selection and we would love for you to share a women in history who YOU find inspirational in the comments.

1. Emily Hobhouse (1860-1926) Sufferage Campaigner
“Unlike many suffrage campaigners Emily Hobhouse chose to pioneer her cause outside the barriers of region or country. She was not afraid to speak out against populist sentiment, and endure being ignored and derided in the course of her campaigning. She was an inspiration for other women and men who took up the cause of peace or social justice.

A lone woman without political or media backing to highlight the plight of people thousands of miles away in a land that was poorly understood and badly treated, is the very definition of a pioneer.These words have inspired me not to be afraid to speak out against injustice and change by holding up a mirror to colleagues, friends and society when the time requires it.
Nominated by Tehmina Goskar (Citizen Curator Lead and ChangeMaker)


2. Sophia Duleep Singh (1876-1948) Suffragette
“I nominate Princess Sophia. Born into Indian royalty, Goddaughter of Queen Victoria, and badass suffragette. If it weren’t for Anita Anand (who recently published a book on Sophia) her story might have been lost in history, which shows just how hard we have to fight for women’s history – especially those of women of colour – not to be erased. Sophia is an icon to me because she was seemingly fearless in her pursuit for a fairer world, and I wish I had just a little of her backbone! “
Nominated by Casey Bourne (Visitor Services Assistant)

3. Ida Laura Pfeiffer (1797-1858)- One of the first female explorers.
“Whilst I was researching objects for the World Wide Wonders exhibition I discovered many objects from across the globe that had been donated by women. We know little about these female donors but it piqued my interest in female explorers and how little they are celebrated. Ida Pfeiffer travelled the globe and published several books including ‘A Woman’s Journey round the World’ (1850). I find in her a kindred spirit – a desire to travel the world from a very early age just for the sake of adventure! (There are some great quotes in the book about this!)

On her travels she collected plants, minerals and insect specimens which she carefully documented and which are now in the Natural History Museum in Vienna.”
Nominated by Sarah Lloyd-Durrant (Exhibitions Officer and Assistant Collections Manager)

4. Anne Lister (1791-1840) diarist
“Anne Lister inspires me as she was unapologetically open about her sexuality, hundreds of years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Anne kept extensive coded diaries detailing her lesbian liaisons. She even married (although it wasn’t recognised legally) a wealthy heiress called Ann Walker, which caused uproar in polite society.

Anne’s diaries create a fantastic link for gay women to history, often forgotten from the historical record, Anne’s diaries mean a lot to the LGBTQIA community”
Nominated by Sophie Meyer (Marketing Officer)

5. Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)- Naturalist and Scientific Illustrator,
“Although it became an ‘acceptable pass time’ in later circles of science and art for women to be both amateur botanists and botanical artists, Maria Sibylla Merian led the charge and stepped out of the accepted norm and made it a profession. She went on to become an insect researcher too.”
Nominated by Jayne Wackett (Collections and Exhibitions Manager)

6. Dr Sylvia Earle- (1935-) Oceanographer
“Sylvia Earle, known affectionately as ‘Her Deepness’, as spent her life as an Marine Biologist & Oceanograher, sea diving explorer and working towards saving the oceans. She was featured on Time Magazine as a woman who is changing the world and as a ‘Hero for the Planet’.”
Nominated by Mandy Morris (Visitor Services Assistant)

7. Tammy Blee-(1798 – 1856) White Witch of Cornwall
“Witches were perhaps the first ‘powerful women’ as they set themselves apart from the normal constraints of the patriarchy. They existed separate from the social norm for women- Tammy Blee the ‘White Witch of Helston’ was a well-respected for her ‘powers’ and provided a range of services, from lifting curses to offering cures, charms, and divination.”
Nominated by Nicki Foley (Marketing Officer)

8. Hapshetsut- (1507BC-1458BC) Egyptian Pharoah
“1500 years before Cleopatra, Hapshetsut was Pharoah of Egypt and her reign was one of prosperity. Hapshetsut marketed herself as a pharaoh taking on the beard and traditional king’s kilt in her iconography as a way of asserting her authority- not allowing her femininity to get in the way of achieving power. To me she is one of the earliest examples of a women taking on a traditional ‘male’ role and thriving.”
Nominated by Stevie McCrindle (Individual Gifts Manager)


9. Marion Gilchrist (1864-1952) First woman to qualify in medicine from a Scottish University and leading activist in the Scottish suffrage movement.
“Dr Marion Gilchrist inspired me of her determination to achieve in something that was considered to be a man’s world in her time.  The fact that she fought for equality within her profession being herself a leader in the suffrage movement to prove the point.  She has given the message that if you want to succeed in whatever you want to do, that it is achievable by hard work and determination and to ignore the comments that may be said that woman cannot do the job that is deemed men’s work.”
Nominated by Cathy Kay Administration Support Officer    

10. Jane Austen-(1775-1817) Author
Jane Austen was a women ahead of her time. Jane was always aware of the importance of education. Education enlightened women, provided freedom of thought, influence and a way to support oneself. Through her novels she provided the key, which if turned in the lock could give her women readers a voice; enable them, encourage them to think of themselves as more than just an ornament.
Nominated by Maggie Greenall (Volunteer Co-ordinator)

Collated and edited by Sophie Meyer


Leave a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *