Stories wanted for first Women’s History Festival

Queen Victoria is one of the few women with a monument in the city
Queen Victoria is one of the few women with a monument in the city

A statue of Queen Victoria stands proudly at the bottom of Grand Avenue.

A statue of Queen Victoria stands proudly at the bottom of Grand Avenue. But how many other monuments to women have you noticed in our city?

Brighton WSPU (Women?s Social and Political Union) had its campaign office in rooms above The Quadrant pub in Queen's Road

Brighton WSPU (Women?s Social and Political Union) had its campaign office in rooms above The Quadrant pub in Queen's Road

What do you know about the country’s first female newspaper editor? Or the first British woman to swim the channel? Or any of the Suffragettes who led a lively campaign here?

There are about 100 blue plaques marking the dwelling places of historical men around the city, but only 20 mention women.

Many women in Brighotn and Hove have made history with their achievements, but their stories have gone untold. Until now.

Spring next year will see the city’s first festival dedicated to women in history, an idea conceived by Louise Peskett and me.

I organise community education events through Free University Brighton and ran a short course called "Women: The Greatest Story Never Told", which was fully booked immediately. When participants said how much they learned, I began thinking of a way to get these stories to a bigger audience. Then, after meeting Lousie, a museum guide, the rest, as they say, is history.

Louise works as a guide at the Royal Pavilion and other Brighton museums. She also writes a blog called History Women Brighton. After 12 years of talking mainly about men, she began to wonder about all the women who had contributed to the city’s exciting history. The more Louise researched, the more outrageous, adventurous and inspiring women she found - from a cross-dressing soldier to the first black woman to appear on British television.

Last year, Louise collected all these stories and put together a walking tour for Brighton Fringe that attracted a lot of inerest. “It was really fun”, said Louise. “I had some very chatty groups and we ended up moving beyond famous female Brightonians to the wife sales that used to take place in the town, and the legendary Promettes, who would wander along the seafront answering visitors’ questions."

This year, Louise devised a brand new walk, "Notorious Women of Kemptown", highlighting the many incredible women with links to the area - including Barbara Hulanicki, fashion designer and founder of the iconic Biba label, and Margaret Damer Dawson, a pioneer of Britain’s first female police service.

Through next year's festival, Louise and I hope to reach all community groups with free talks, workshops, exhibitions, and entertainment. They particularly hope to promote women’s history in schools.

Louise said said: “Telling stories about women’s achievements is a very powerful way to improve girls’ confidence and sense of place in the world. It counters harmful stereotypes early on and helps boys develop more respect for girls and women which benefits all of us."

The festival will provide material that schools can use for the new curriculum from Key Stage 1 through to A-level.

Editor’s note: The unnamed women referred to in the article above include Rachel Sassoon Beer (1858-1927), Britain’s first female newspaper editor; Mercedes Gleitze (1900-1981), the first British woman to swim the channel; Phoebe Hessel (née Smith, 1713- 1821) who disguised herself as a man to serve in the British Army; and Pauline Crabbe (née Henriques, 1914-1998), the first black actress to appear on British Television.

Ali and Louise are keen to hear from schools who would like to get involved and from anyone who would like to contribute stories.

You can email them at contact@freeuniversitybrighton.org.

For more information, visit: www.historywomenbrighton.com and www.freeuniversitybrighton.org