100 First Women. Have You Seen it Yet?

100 First Women exhibition courtesy of 100 First Women website

If you’re not in UK you may just have heard that we had a bit of snow recently. We do tend to go on and on about it. On Friday we had quite a snowfall here, 10 inches (which generated millions of column inches, of course) so I stayed indoors on Friday and Saturday. By Sunday I was itching to escape so we took a random trip to Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.

How serendipitous because Lacock Abbey, the home of modern photography with some gorgeous grounds, had an exhibition from talented photographer Anita Corbin, and it was the very last day at Lacock.

I’m not quite sure how I missed it, but Anita has recently completed a project close to my heart and I haven’t written about it! Let me remedy that now. Ten years ago, Anita embarked upon a mission to photograph 100 women who were the first women. First in anything. The women featured are from various backgrounds and include the first woman to be a surrogate mother to the first woman president of the British Computer Society. There are some more well-known faces, too, like Betty Boothroyd and Helen Skelton. The photos were large and inviting and what a joy to see an exhibition hall filled with women who are not fashion models or being lauded for their looks. (Nothing against fashion models per se but I cannot think of another example when you would see such a collection.)

I was clomping around in my pink, snow-wet boots (don’t be shocked, I like pink, and they were recycled to me…) enjoying the photographs, when I realised that the photographer was actually present in the hall. It’s quite an intimate space so I was able to eavesdrop for a while to ascertain this fact. Obviously, I then had to speak with her and tell her how much I was enjoying her work. I even bought the book, more of which later. Bribery complete (not really, I definitely wanted that book) I then asked if we could have an interview for these pages and, obliging woman that she is, she agreed. What a lucky meeting.

The book is an absolute delight of womanly achievement and so inspiring. Of practical necessity the exhibition did not have all one hundred women Anita photographed but the book has them all, plus more. It’s a feast for the eyes. I am not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination and know little about it. But I know I was entranced, drawn in by the photos. It felt intimate, like I was actually in the room with the women. Anita spent a couple of hours with each subject and I think they must have liked and trusted her as they look unguarded and natural.

Sunday was the last day of the tour in Wiltshire but you can find out if it’s coming close to you here. You can also read interviews with the women featured on this site which I urge you to do.

And speaking of interviews, mine with Anita Corbin will be appearing  on the Changing People blog very soon.

Back to the book. I’d like to end this piece with a short extract from the opening pages of 100 First Women Portraits written by Dame Hilary Mantel, first woman to win the Man Booker Prize twice.

Here’s a short extract from what Hilary wrote:

There used to be a quaint patronizing phrase, meant to acknowledge women’s place: ‘The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world’. It is too genteel an image for the tough work of nurture. And when you search history afresh, you see what that hand has done. It has ploughed, built, healed. It has held a gun as well. Few women have idled, in the history of the earth. There is no art, there is no science, where the hand is not active, if concealed: there is no context in which they cannot be seen.

The Wisdom of Women

Recently we passed the two-year milestone since my Mum died. Obviously, I think about her every day, and hope that doesn’t end. Several things came together recently reminding of just how much wisdom there is to be had from older women, not least those who have been fighting the cause of equality for decades. My Mum was definitely an influence on my feminism (so was my Dad, love him, but for a very different reason), and constantly reminded anyone who cared to listen that she took her first job as a ‘clippie’ on the buses because in the early 1950s it was the only job that paid men and women the same.

She was also of the oft voiced opinion that if you wanted anything doing you did it yourself as men, by and large in her view, were pretty useless! She did make an exception for her two sons and for my husband whom she thought were the exceptions that proved her rule. She was very independent. And as I rush giddy and headlong to incipient grandmother-hood, I think often of my Mum’s advice about children, most of which is now shared by the experts. ‘Babies don’t cry because they are manipulating you, they cry because they need a cuddle.’ And ‘babies need fresh air’, hence my own two being stuck outside in their prams at every possible moment. I thought about that latter piece of advice, too, while reading Primate Change by Vybarr Cregan-Reid who concluded, after reading all available research, that all children need to be outside more. Way to go, Mum.

Next Course

As I said briefly in the last post, I am planning a RenewYou course with a difference for late March in the Bath area. For various reasons I am going to hold a day round my kitchen table. I have never done this before but am looking forward to it. It will be much more intimate than usual and very relaxed, and less than the usual cost as my overheads will be less. We are almost at capacity but I can take one or two more so get in touch if this appeals. A potential downside is that I will cook you lunch but I am a reasonably good cook, honestly. (See my interview with BBC’s food journalist, Sheila Dillon.)

Carry on being womanly wonderful and supporting other women.  Do keep in touch. I genuinely love to hear from you and usually reply as soon as I can.

Changing People licences experienced trainers and organisations to deliver its International RenewYou programme for women.

Read more about it here.


Posted on February 4th, 2019 by

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