Our students rewrite History as Herstory for Women’s History Month
As part of Women’s History Month a group of our Sixth Form History and Politics students spent time revisiting the stories of significant women in history in order to decide for themselves how the stories should be re-told and how the women should be remembered.
The workshop was run by Alice Wroe of Herstory, based on Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party – an art installation depicting a ceremonial banquet with 39 place settings, each of which commemorates an important woman from history – with each of the students taking on the challenge of sharing the story of one of these 39 women. Each girl was given an envelope containing a range of facts about one of the historical figures, and spent time reviewing the information and determining how to use the information to hand to represent the figure.
Alice told the students: “History is one person’s perception of an event, recorded, and safeguarded through history until it becomes ‘fact’ – and typically this role has been played by men. By considering the different facts and events of a particular individual’s life, each of you can decide which events are most interesting, or most relevant, to that woman’s story, and create your own version of her history.”
One of the women featured was Annette Kellerman who, as a successful swimmer in the early 1900s, advocated for women to be permitted to wear a one-piece swimming costume at a time when dresses and ‘pantaloons’ were the norm. She was arrested for indecency when wearing one of her own one-piece costumes, but ultimately championed the more modern swim wear we see today.
Another of the 39 women caused a stir during the workshop: Annie Edson Taylor, who in the mid-1800s decided to be the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and who was represented by Sixth Form student Tarzie W. Tarzie’s initial response to Taylor’s story was that “she sounds like someone who just wants to find fame and wealth”, until she learnt the context of Taylor’s story, in the mid-1800s, having lost her husband, she was in need of an income.
Dr Alison Gundy, Head of History and Politics, author of author of two A Level History textbooks and Richard II and the Rebel Earl, and organiser of the event, said: “It was uplifting to see so much variety of opinion even within one group of students and also the different opinions formed depending on understanding of context – highlighting just how subjective history is and why this type of exercise is so valuable – for students of all disciplines, ages and genders, and especially pertinent as part of Women’s History Month”.