Westcliff Institute mothersPicture copyright
Southend Museum Service

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Snapping the Stiletto wants to transform the idea of ​​what it means to be an "Essex Girl"

A groundbreaking social worker, a divorced tobacconist, and an officer on the beat are just a few of the remarkable women in the story whose stories challenge the "Essex Girl" stereotype.

The Snapping the Stiletto project brings the tired stereotype to rest by revealing the stories of women throughout the county who left a mark decades ago.

More than 130 volunteers have searched through microfiche, public records and council protocols to showcase the achievements of their predecessors.

The activist

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Southend Museum Service

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A mother and child clinic was founded in 1915 by Adelaide Hawken in Southend

Tucked almost in line, a nameless young woman in a neat polka-dot dress and straw hat is immaculate – seemingly unaware of the baby in her lap.

Her eyes are reminiscent of the shock and exhaustion of new motherhood, surrounded by the noise of a typical mother-and-child clinic.

Apart from this, Essex, circa 1915, is in a clinic founded by a city council more than 30 years before the NHS Adelaide Hawken,

The social worker used her political powers to seek employment at the Westcliff Institute, which borders the Methodist Church on Trinity Road, where she still supports families with preschoolers.

She even persuaded the Southend City Council to sponsor him with £ 150 a year (now £ 15,000) "for the promotion of maternal and child well-being."

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Grab the Stiletto volunteers

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Ms. Hawken pushed for the Southend Clinic 30 years before the birth of the NHS

Mrs. Hawken's story would have gone into a couple of sepia-tinted clippings if it had not been for Essex museum developer Amy Cotterill, whose idea was to ask about galleries and museums across the county for Snape.

At first, the researchers had trouble finding out the first name of Mrs. Hawken – especially because museum curators were historically male and women's stories had to do mainly with housework and bondage.

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Southend Museum Service

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The demand for support and support for young families in Southend was high

But records eventually showed that Mrs. Hawken was a force in the community.

She was an active advocate of women's suffrage and in 1920 was one of the first women in the country to be appointed a judge.

Her granddaughter Dorothy – who became one of the first female bank managers in the UK – recalls a "remarkable, headstrong woman" with a "warm and gentle character".

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Dorothy Hawken describes her grandmother as "very loving and friendly"

Iona Farrell, Deputy Curator at Southend Museum Service, said women like Ms. Hawken could inspire women in Essex to "change their perception" today.

"Adelaide had a real passion for helping other people, a rather selfless person – active, well educated and respected by her peers.

"There are so many different stories of women making the way for women today and fighting for equal rights or access to health care, social assistance and support.

"Their stories have really caught everyone's interest and imagination – their struggle is still so relevant, their legacy is still palpable."


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The divorced tobacco shop

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Peggy Ditton

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Rosina Sky, far right, was a working-class suffragette in Southend

Around the same time, Mrs. Hawken pioneered social reform, business and suffragette Rosina heaven defended the bailiffs.

The divorced mother of three had a Southend tobacconist, but despite all the responsibilities of running a store, had none of the financial rights granted to men in the same position.

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Peggy Ditton

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The divorced mother of three children was a force to be reckoned with

The Treasurer of the Urban Union of the Social and Political Union of Women (WSPU) was also a member of the Tax Resistance League, whose motto was "No Vote, No Tax".

When the goods were confiscated and auctioned from her shop on Cliftown Road, she highlighted the injustice by promoting sales on the streets, where her suffragette sisters, according to their records, were buying back inventory for her.

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Ancestry.de

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The list of passengers who came to Liverpool from America in 1916 suggests that Ms. Sky (# 52) knew Emmeline Pankhurst (# 44).

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Suthend

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Ms. Sky spoiled her 1911 census by saying, "No votes for women, no information from women"

The story of Mrs. Sky came to light after the Southend Museum Service asked the Pritlewell Victoria Townwomen's Guild to find well-known women in history.

"The volunteers loved exploring Rosina's story," said Ms. Farrell.

"Estate records show that she left her daughter's £ 2,628 in 1928. She must have been a truly crafty business woman to build that – as a single mother – and put herself in the public limelight as divorced."

Interestingly, Ms. Sky's name appears on a transatlantic passenger list alongside Emmeline Pankhurst, suggesting that she may have known her better known compatriot.

The woman on patrol

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Essex Police Museum

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Alice Wilson patrolled the streets of Romford before women became policemen

Women did not receive full police violence until the 1940s.

But in 1918 Alice Wilson Essex Constabulary paid a small sum to take the beat in Romford.

Her main task was to "advise girls on their behavior" and "deal with women and children."

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The mother of four children and the National Union of Women Workers members kept a meticulous police notebook.

She wrote about investigating an attack that ended in pregnancy for minors, a woman accused of killing her granddaughter, and a girl who "continued with German prisoners."

The volunteers are currently rewriting the 100-year-old notes for future exhibitions.

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Essex Police Museum

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Mrs Wilson's notebook is on display in the Essex Police Museum

Hannah Wilson, curator of the Essex Police Museum, said the notebook gave an extraordinary insight into the role of women in male-dominated power.

"It was not after 1946 that Essex Constabulary advertised jobs for his new women's division – and women could only assume the same role as men of 1975," she said.

"Alice's work as part of women's patrols is one of the first examples of women in the police force and may have helped to shape the roles of future women's constables."

The "ordinary girl"

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Essex Chronicle

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Florence Attridge worked for Marconi in Chelmsford during the Second World War

It was the coincidental discovery of a British Empire Medal on an online auction site that sheds light on the life of "an ordinary girl doing an ordinary job in extraordinary circumstances," says author and historian Tim Wander.

With the papers that accompanied the medal, he found the usual letter from the king to his recipient, Florence Attridge, as well as a debt of gratitude from the Marine Intelligence Services.

The medal she received in 1946 for services during the Second World War prompted Mr. Wander to learn more.

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GEC-Marconi archives

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The turning shop at Marconi works in New Street, Chelmsford

He found out she was a shift supervisor at Marconi's New Street, Chelmsford, where she ran a team that wrapped coils for motors in radios.

"In 1943-44, the company was responsible for manufacturing the mechanical parts of the B2 spyware used in the war," said Wander.

"It was incredibly mysterious work, with only the best ladies, who were usually in a locked area of ​​the factory after hours.

"Imagine, you knit with copper wire under a large magnifying glass."

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Tim Wander

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The B2 spyware sets used by the Allies during the war

Mr. Wander said that Mrs. Attridge represented the "indomitable spirit of those who simply serve".

"She had seen friends killed in the bomb attacks around her, but continued this special and pressurized work for her country – in secret.

"She was extraordinary."

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Tim Wander

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The British Empire Medal was awarded to Florence Attridge in 1946

According to Cotterill, such stories help to turn the idea of ​​the stereotype "Essex girl" on its head.

"This is a circle of strong, inspiring women who have worked hard to support themselves, their families and their communities – we have only scratched the surface.

"Her stories are not told by the museums, but by the volunteers, run by the women of Essex herself."

Snapping the Stiletto, a collaboration between 12 Essex museums and galleries, will culminate in a traveling exhibition in 2019.

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