Women and Power in the Midlands

Part of Haunted Wood painting by Lizzie Siddal

The Midlands has always been home to a wealth of inspiring characters and activity that have contributed to the progression of women’s rights. Over the next year we'll be exploring some of the stories behind this struggle at the places we care for in the Midlands.

Women and suffrage

The struggle for equal voting rights in Britain took decades, each generation inching closer to the ballot box.

One of the most inspiring people to take part in this movement was Emily Langton Massingberd of Gunby Hall. A teetotal political activist, she was one of the first women in the country to stand for public office, losing out by only 20 votes in a local election in 1889. 

Emily Langton Massingberd with her family
Group portrait photograph of Emily Langton Massingberd with her young adult children

The Manders at Wightwick

At Wightwick Manor several generations of both genders contributed to women getting the vote – Florence and Geoffrey Mander were heavily involved in the movement and held suffragist meetings  in their drawing room. They also cared deeply about improving working conditions for female domestic workers.

Vote, vote, vote for Geoffrey Mander!
Geoffrey Mander addressing the electorate in a poor area of Wolverhampton

The team at Wightwick are very proud to have the work of seven female artists on permanent display. A new exhibition of work by Lizzie Siddal, the Pre-Raphaelite artist, will open in 2018.

Opposition to the vote

Not everyone was in favour of giving women the vote and we'll also be exploring the stories behind the men and women who opposed this fundamental change. Despite her extensive work with women's charities and organisations Duchess Evelyn at Hardwick was an opponent of giving women the vote and even had a reservoir constructed to keep the Hall safe from suffragette arson.

Evelyn and Victor outside the hall with their grandchildren
Evelyn and Victor with their grandchildren

Women's place in history

The role of women and their relationship with power is not only the story of suffrage. Throughout 2018 we'll also be giving voice to the women of both grand and humble backgrounds who have inhabited the places we look after.

The Midlands has cultivated women who have suffered for their beliefs, defied gender stereotypes, spoken out against inequality, risked their reputations, and used whatever power and creativity they had at their disposal in the name of progress – some on a national stage, some in more humble positions .

As the year progresses, you’ll be able to find out about women whose lives and achievements have been marginalised in the writing of history.