How do you discover Lost Voices?
Researching women in the past can be a challenging process. For the Lost Voices exhibition, we worked with the University of Manchester to research the women who feature in the exhibition. Postgraduate students Amber Greenall-Heffernan and Hannah Welsh talk to us about their experiences.
As part of our postgraduate studies at the University of Manchester, we undertook a placement with Dr Ruth Colton researching the Lost Voices of Quarry Bank. One hundred years ago, the Representation of the People Act was passed, giving the vote to women over 30, who were married and met a property qualification. It was also extended to men over 21.
Using the Quarry Bank archive, we explored the lives of seven different women who worked or lived in Styal, looking at how suffrage affected them. The women we've researched cover a wide range: a suffragist born into the Greg family, a co-operative pioneer, a weaver, a nurse, a mother, a domestic servant and a secret philanthropist.
Hear my voice
One of the biggest challenges of this project is that the voices of women, especially working class women, are often lost due to their age, status or means. Quarry Bank is unique in that it holds records of its workers. From these we can gather basic information about who was living in Styal, working at the mill at Quarry Bank, what their jobs were and how much they were paid. This is one of the few ways of learning more about working class women’s history and offers us a rare insight into women’s work.
Discovering new stories
Taking part in this project has been exciting. Uncovering the story of Minnie Longworth has been a highlight. Through recollections of one of Minnie’s living ancestors, we've learnt more about her history. Thanks to these memories we've managed to piece together more about Minnie’s life and her time at Quarry Bank living with Beatrice Greg. Before this, we only had a basic understanding of who she was, gathered from census records and a newspaper article.
It has also been fascinating to bring to light the lives of some incredible women such as Madge Greg. She became one of the first female orthopaedic surgeons following her time serving as a VAD nurse during the First World War. However, due to Madge's exceptional career it’s easy to overlook her sister Helen’s story, and so it was also interesting to explore her life a little more. In the course of our research we discovered interviews with her daughter explaining what a devoted mother she was and how she was much more than ‘just a nurse’.
This placement project has given us the opportunity to demonstrate the lives of women who have not necessarily had a voice in history but had important things to say. It has been rewarding to work with such an interesting archive, and it has inspired us with ideas for future research and solidified our career aspirations.