As with any other archive project I’ve worked on I find myself seeing connections everywhere I go – and none more so than with my current work on the National Union of Women Teachers Collection. Obviously it’s easy to see connections everywhere as the collection relates to all aspects of women’s history, of society and equality. However I had a particularly full day yesterday on a wander round London on a day off.
The first connection was when we were walking down towards Tate Britain. First off as we were walking down Whitehall I noticed a striking monument on the opposite side of the road. A closer look revealed it to be the National Monument to the Women of World War II. I loved the different sets of clothing and uniform that are shown on the monument which represent the variety of jobs and responsibilities which women took on during the war. I hadn’t heard of the monument before so I had to wait till I got home to find out more. Unfortunately I forgot my camera so I had to take this image from Wikipedia.
The monument was unveiled by the Queen in 2005. The news article from the BBC at the time of the unveiling also gives us information on how the money for the sculpture was raised. I love this – Baroness Betty Boothroyd raised £800,00 towards the cost of getting the sculpture built by appearing on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’! The BBC article quotes Baroness Boothroyd “This monument is dedicated to all the women who served our country and the cause of freedom in uniform and on the home front… I hope that future generations who pass this way down Whitehall will ask themselves what sort of women were they and look at history for the answer.” I certainly found the monument very moving as I’m sure most people do, given the number of people who had stopped to look at it, even on a wet Monday afternoon. The NUWT collection is filled with stories of the multiple jobs undertaken by women during the war – told through the letters exchanged between NUWT members, from the press reports in the folders, from minutes from NUWT meetings and the correspondence with various women’s organisations. The other side of it is also told though – how although the women did these jobs, they weren’t paid for them on the same rates as the men had been. After the war although I am sure many women did return to the home not all of them did and the tensions created by this situation are reflected in the collection.
Five minutes walk down the road we saw another statue, one which is very familiar to me from my cataloguing. The statue to Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens is an imposing statue situated in the corner of the park nearest the road. When we walked in I recognised it instantly. Again there were a number of people gathered round looking at the statue and it struck me as particularly appropriate that both these monuments were situated in the heart of political London.
I recently catalogued a folder ‘Suffragette Fellowship’ which contained correspondence organising protests against plans to move the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst to another location. The protests were unsuccessful and the statue was moved, but only to another location within Victoria Tower Gardens, where it now stands.
I would have enjoyed seeing these monuments anyway, and found them interesting, but the connection with the NUWT, and having catalgoued material which relates to them and their history, made it all the more powerful for me.