March of Women – Part 2

(The background to this project is in March of Women Part 1.)

March of Women has been and gone and it was a great day! The start wasn’t promising because the rain was pouring down when I arrived at Glasgow Women’s Library for the final rehearsals at 11am, but by the time we all spilled out into the streets at 2pm it had cleared and it stayed dry until we finished.

There were three parts to the event:

1. The pageant

In Cicely Hamilton’s 1909 Pageant of Great Women, Woman appeals to Justice for freedom and Prejudice gives reasons why she is not worthy (not clever enough, not brave enough – you get the picture). Three wonderful paid actors played these parts – Lesley Hart (Prejudice), Lucianne McEvoy (Justice) and Patricia Panther (Woman).

Woman makes her case by calling on significant women from history. In our version, Cicely Hamilton’s women had non-speaking parts and we wrote our own parts using mainly, but not exclusively, Scottish women. These are just a few – aren’t we all splendid? I was proud to represent Isabella Elder, and highlighted her contribution to allowing Scottish women access to higher education at the end of the 19th century.

2. The March

After the verdict (and it probably isn’t a spoiler to tell you that Woman wins her case) we formed a procession and marched to Glasgow Green where we were welcomed by SheBoom (a local women’s drumming troop).

3. The Event on the Green

This was the only part of the day in which I felt out of my comfort zone! Because I turned up to a particular rehearsal, I got roped into the choreographed event at the end of the March, on the old drying greens at Glasgow Green. The washing poles are still there – cue many jokes about pole dancing. My partner and I went slightly wrong at the end, but we survived. Then we had our photos taken in our groups, and it was over. I think we all felt elated that it went so well, but sad that we wouldn’t be doing it again. Still, there’s always the film to come…

All photos by John Marsh, who got himself a great seat right at the front. Thanks, John!

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March of Women – Part 1

About 18 months ago, I joined a group at Glasgow Women’s Library called Drama Queens. We met at lunchtime or in the early evening and read plays from the library’s collection. One of those was A Pageant of Great Women, written by Cicely Hamilton in 1909, in which Prejudice puts the case against women’s suffrage and Woman rebuts his arguments with examples of great women from history. Now GWL is putting on its own version on 7th March (the eve of International Women’s Day), revised and updated with historic Scottish women. I’m proud to be representing Isabella Elder in this March of Women.

The day itself will merit its own post, but there has been an enormous amount happening in the meantime. Workshops, for example: research / writing workshops to create lines for “our” women and craft workshops to make banners, sashes and rosettes (being hopelessly ham-fisted I’ve opted out of this bit). A lecture (below, left) by Katharine Cockin, Professor of English at the University of Hull and author of Edith Craig (1869-1947): Dramatic Lives – Edith was the director of the original performance. Katharine explained that suffrage supporters in the arts were encouraged to use their expertise, resources and contacts to help spread the word, and in the period 1905-14 many women wrote a play, a poem or a short story, for the first time. Pageants and public spectacles had very specific meanings at that time, and I also found Linda Fleming’s article in Women’s History Scotland helpful in understanding that.

We had a Christmas party at which I did a bit of play-reading with Dr Anna Birch of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (above, right). Anna is March of Women’s Director – she has already directed A Pageant of Great Women, in Hull in 2011 so we are in experienced hands. The third photo above shows rehearsals beginning. These will culminate in a dress rehearsal on Friday 6th: we’ve all had to find white clothing which has not necessarily been easy!

Finally, I spent a very cold couple of hours last Friday in Glasgow Necropolis, where Isabella Elder is buried, being filmed talking about why I chose her. Some of that might make it into the documentary which is being made about the event. I’d like to say come and see us next Saturday, but the pageant is a sell-out. However, you can join us at 2pm outside GWL’s doors as we process to Glasgow Green (details via link in first paragraph). And if you can’t do anything else, please keep your fingers crossed for a dry day!

The talk o’ the Steamie

"The Steamie" postcard autographed by Sheila Donald
“The Steamie” postcard autographed by Sheila Donald

In collaboration with the Glasgow Film Theatre’s youth initiative, Pop-Up Programmers, Glasgow Women’s Library hosted two rare screenings of the classic STV Production (1988) of Tony Roper’s The Steamie in this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. I went along to the matinée on Saturday and helped to serve afternoon tea afterwards. Many of the staff and volunteers (not me!) were dressed in 50s costume, in keeping with the setting, and there was a very special guest – Sheila Donald who played Mrs Culfeathers. It was, as they say in Glasgow, a “rerr terr”. We laughed, we cried, and Sheila got a huge ovation.

Although filmed on a set, The Steamie looked very authentic (compare to the photograph of washing pens on The Glasgow Story and the exhibit below from The People’s Palace.)

Steamie exhibit, People's Palace
Steamie exhibit, People’s Palace

The play gives a really good picture of the hardships in women’s lives – I can’t imagine living like that – but, amazingly, steamies were only phased out in the 1980s, although the phrase “talk of the steamie” lives on, to indicate something that is well worth gossiping about. In 1986, a young photographer called Allan Bovill gained access to three steamies in Glasgow – Parnie Street, in the city centre; Bluevale Street in Dennistoun and in the city’s Anderston. His black and white pictures were exhibited in 2012 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the play – I wish I’d known. Read more in this review by the Evening Times.

You can see pictures of the day itself – including costumed staff, “Mrs Culfeathers”, posh china and platefuls of Tunnocks – on my Storify.

Scottish Women on Wikipedia

Bridgeton Library exterior
Bridgeton Library

I’ve often dipped into Wikipedia, but I didn’t start to take it seriously until a couple of years ago when I attended a Teachmeet at which one of the presenters changed my mind. He convinced me that Wikipedia was more accurate than I had thought – and where it isn’t accurate, it says so. It tracks and discusses revisions so, rather than banning students from using it, they should be taught to use it responsibly. However, it never occurred to me to become an editor until Glasgow Women’s Library, where I volunteer, was approached by Graeme Arnott with a proposal for an “Editathon” on Scottish Women on Wikipedia. The title had two implications – to get more Scottish women editing Wikipedia, and to increase the content about Scottish women. Graeme, myself and Laura Dolan of GWL made some plans and the event took place at Bridgeton Library on Saturday, assisted by Ally Crockford, Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland. We ended up with eight potential new editors, two complete articles (so far) and several in preparation.

Although advertised as a drop-in, most people were there all day. We spent the morning learning the basics from Graeme (a very patient teacher) and were then let loose in the afternoon. I’ve been blogging for a long time and use several social media platforms, but I found Wikipedia harder than all of them because you have to do more of the formatting yourself. However, once you’ve mastered a few rules and realised you can basically copy the code from other articles it becomes easier – but still very fiddly. It’s not something I can see myself wanting to do everyday, although I am keen to do more. We had all brought along some information that we wanted to make available, and I just managed to get my pre-drafted article on Isabella Elder published before we closed at 4pm. I was very proud to be the first! Jennifer Higgins finished her article on Jude Burkhauser the following day. Check out the articles to find out why these women are important.

It was also a pleasure to work in the recently opened Bridgeton Library which has moved from its old, Carnegie premises (now occupied by GWL) to the refurbished Britannia Building, a former theatre. It’s bright and modern with good computer facilities and a café which, sadly for us, doesn’t open on Saturdays. Like many Glasgow Libraries, the children’s area is particularly colourful.

GWL still has a substantial list of women who feature, for example, on their Women’s Heritage Walks but who are not on Wikipedia (or only briefly) and I have started my own list of possible subjects. I’ll be looking out for more Editathons too – watch this space!

Some related material on Wikipedia and Editathons:

BioFluff – post about an Editathon in Manchester which also highlights the gender disparity

FemgineerCalling all women: contribute to wikipedia

MIT Technology ReviewThe decline of Wikipedia. (Huh?)

JISC WebinarTales from the Wikimedian in Residence at the NLS

Storify – about this event

THE – report of an editathon on women scientists

Wikipedia gender – graphic showing the ratio of female to male editors (1:6.7)

Wikipedia:GLAM/National Library of Scotland

Youtube: Sarah Stierch – various presentations on Wikimedia, including the gender gap