About historywomenbrighton

Women's history guide

KT flyer

Thank you to everyone who joined me during the Fringe festival for my Notorious Women of Brighton and Notorious Women of Hove walking tours!

I’m pleased to say that I’m venturing east to talk about the wonderful women of Kemptown twice this summer.  I haven’t done this walk for a couple of years and I’m excited to be bringing out the stories of the many women linked with Kemptown who have achieved great and shocking things.  Among some of the women I’ll be talking about are an intrepid explorer, a romantic novelist, a fashion designer who revolutionised how we shop, a map-maker, some of the first women doctors in Britain and a prudish queen who made women cover up their cleavages in her presence.  A mixed and fabulous bag.  All this and a lovely gentle stroll through the squares, back streets and twitters of one of Brighton’s quirkiest areas.

Here are the dates and times.  Please contact me by email on historywomenbrighton@outlook.com if you’re interested in coming along.  All walks last approx. 90 minutes.

Saturday 14th July 10.30 a.m

Saturday 11th August 10.30 a.m

Meeting place St George’s Church, St George’s Road, Kemptown, BN2 1ED (brilliant and cheap café inside the  church if you get there early)  Picture below

Price £8 ppn / £7 conc.

See you there!

st georges church KT

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The Amazon of Stepney and Brighton

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Here I am braving the snow in London last weekend on the trail of Brighton heroine Phoebe Hessel.  I was actually meant to be on the trail of the ‘Troxy’ where I was going to see Belle and Sebastian in a few short hours.  But then I stumbled upon Hessel Street in the back streets of Whitechapel, bells rung, and my weekend turned into a women’s history pilgrimage.

Phoebe Hessel’s story is neatly encapsulated on her gravestone standing in Brighton’s St Nicholas Churchyard: ‘In Memory of Phoebe Hessel, who was born at Stepney in the Year 1713.  She served for many Years as a private Soldier in the 5th Regt. of foot in different parts of Europe and in the Year 1745 fought under the command of tbe DUKE of CUMBERLAND at the Battle of Fontenoy where she received a Bayonet wound in the arm

The gravestone goes on to recount that Phoebe’s life, ‘commenced in the time of Queen Anne’, extended to the reign of George IV.  That means she saw the reigns of no less than five British monarchs, and lived to the age of 108.

If living to this age isn’t impressive enough the really flabbergasting words on that gravestone are ‘soldier’, ‘served for many years’, and ‘fought’.

According to the National Army Museum’s helpful ‘Timeline of Women in the Army’  https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/timeline-women-army ‘women have been a formal part of the army for 100 years’.  But it’s only since 2016 that they’ve ‘been able to serve in ground combat roles alongside male colleagues’.  This gives Phoebe, who served enough in ground combat roles to sustain a bayonet wound, and was understood to have embarked upon her military career aged 15, a full 288 year start!   Of course Phoebe knew that, so simply got round the problem by disguising herself as a man – a ruse she was able to pull off for 17 years, until that unfortunate bayonet wound meant she was forced to reveal a little more of her body than usual, probably giving the army surgeon something of a shock.  Another version of her story has her revealing her situation to the colonel’s wife.  Yet another version (because the story of a woman soldier who fought amongst men was so incredible it’s picked up a lot of mythology along the centuries) has her committing an offence and needing to undress to be whipped, whereupon, her body finally bared, she cried ‘strike and be damned!’  However it happened, when it was revealed that, although playing a full combative role alongside the men in the various battles and skirmishes around Gibraltar and the Caribbean, Phoebe was a member of the ‘weaker sex’, there was no option but to discharge her.  The fact that she was dismissed unpunished on full pay, though, sounds as if they were reluctant to see her go.

Stories abound as to why Phoebe made the choice, aged 15, to pull on a pair of breeches and commit herself to the dangerous, brutal and perhaps short life of a soldier.  Some sources say she fell in love with a soldier, Samuel Golding, and wanted to accompany him when he was called away to his regiment.  A less romantic explanation has her being taken along by her soldier-father when her mother died and there was no one to look after her.  Possibly, poverty played a role.  After all, the options available to a woman born in 1713 without wealth weren’t extensive.  With neither education, a career, nor a decent marriage being on the table, how long could many women hold out before having to face the choice between begging bowl or brothel?

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(Above: St Dunstan’s Church, Stepney, where Phoebe was baptised ‘Phoebe Smith’ on 13th April, 1713, almost 305 years ago to the day).

After her discharge from the army Phoebe lived in Plymouth with her husband, one Samuel Golding.  They had nine children, all of whom died.  Moving to Brighton to marry a fisherman by the name of Thomas Hessel, Phoebe was widowed a second time.  Now aged 80, scraping a living selling fish and trinkets around town, the shadow of the workhouse lurking, Phoebe must have looked back wistfully on her days in the army.  The website eastlondonhistory.com has her ‘Clad in a brown serge dress, with a spotless white apron and a hooded black cloak, her only concession to her increasingly great age […] a stout oak walking stick‘.  But after the life Phoebe had lived, the wars she’d – literally – fought, the loss of two husbands and nine children, I don’t imagine her as slipping easily into the role of timid old lady.  Somehow, George, Prince of Wales (the later Prince Regent and George IV) in Brighton often to visit his Marine – and later ‘Royal’ Pavilion, got to know the story of the old woman pedlar who told tales of fooling the army and living the rough and tumble of military life.  Always happy to be distracted with a good story, the Prince decided to pay the formidable Phoebe a pension of half a guinea a week from 1808, thus saving her from penury.   (I wonder if he’d have made this decision if he’d known she was going to live to 108?)

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Above: Pictures of Phoebe are hard to come by.  I found this tiny one in Hove Museum, possibly from a book about old Brighton characters.)

In fact, Phoebe has a second reason for going down in Brighton folklore.  One evening, the story goes, there she was in the Old Red Lion (a pub that still exists) in nearby Shoreham-by-Sea and overheard a conversation that revealed one of the participants to be none other than Samuel Rooke, a notorious highwayman who’d been terrorising the roads around Brighton for many years.  Phoebe’s testimony lead to the capturing of Rooke and his accomplice and their subsequent hanging in Hangleton Bottom.  A grisly end to Rooke but a relief to the people of Brighton and another reason for the town to hold this amazing woman to their hearts.  No wonder, she was invited to attend the town’s celebrations of the coronation of King George IV in 1820 at the grand old age of 107.

Phoebe’s story is so fantastic that these days we could be forgiven for wondering exactly how much of it’s true.  Were her tales of derring-do just the fabrications of a good saleswoman who wanted to lure more customers?  Did she really live to the age of 108?  How did she manage to have a military career for 17 years without anyone noticing she was a woman?

Well, the Northumberland Fusiliers, successors to the 5th Regiment of Foot, obviously saw enough truth in her story to restore her grave in St Nicholas Churchyard in the 1970s.   As did London Borough of Tower Hamlets, who commemorated their famous daughter with not one but two streets in her honour.

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(Above: Amazon Street at the end of Hessel Street in the Borough of Tower Hamlets, London.  Phoebe Hessel was also known as ‘the Amazon of Stepney’).

Me, I think if only half of Phoebe’s story is true, then it’s incredible enough to make her a true Brighton heroine.

phoebe grave

A great article to read about Phoebe Hessel is here:  http://eastlondonhistory.com/2010/11/18/phoebe-hessel-amazon-of-stepney/

Phoebe was far from being alone in dressing as a man to have a military career.  The lives of Hannah Snell (http://www.hannahsnell.com/) and Dr James Barry,  who made a  double pronged attack on professional bastions excluded to women by qualifying as a doctor as well as being a soldier. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Barry_%28surgeon%29)

I will be talking about Phoebe Hessel throughout May on my Notorious Women of Brighton walking tours that start near her grave in St Nicholas Churchyard, Brighton.  See Talks/Walks section for details.

 

Come Walk With Me on International Women’s Day!

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This is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the ‘godmother of rock ‘n’ roll’, the ‘original soul sister’.   Born in 1915, the daughter of Arkansas cotton-pickers, she was playing guitar in church from the age of six.  She gained fame as a gospel singer and guitarist whose ability to blend the spiritual with rhythm (as well as an uncanny gift with the electric guitar) that heralded rock ‘n’ roll.  This amazing woman was to go on to influence Elvis Presley, Little Richard (whose first public performance outside a church was with her), Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash (who claimed she was his favourite singer), Aretha Franklin and even Meatloaf.

She played the Brighton Dome in January 1964 as part of the American Folk, Blues, and Gospel Caravan.  A little earlier she’d played a now legendary performance at a disused railway platform in south Manchester for Granada TV.  As it had started raining minutes before the outdoor show, it being Manchester after all, she’d decided at the last minute to change her opening song to ‘Didn’t It Rain’.  Fantastic footage of this is here:

 

In the audience were Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, just to name a few of the people who were going to run with that raw electric blues sound.

Isn’t this fantastic?

And doesn’t it feel slightly naughty?  The bit on the footage above where Sister Rosetta just casually slaps on the electric guitar, pulling it over her coat and starts  playing… Maybe it’s just me, having been brought up by a blues and rock ‘n’ roll mad mum on Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones…  Anything electric guitar related belongs in the male domain, right????  I had a real frisson seeing a woman give it as good a go as the men.

I’ll be talking about Sister Rosetta tomorrow at Brighton Museum.  She’s just one of the women with links to the Royal Pavilion Estate whose story I’ll be dipping into tomorrow.  As part of International Women’s Day, Brighton Museum have asked me to run 2 mini versions of my Notorious Women of Brighton Walking Tour around the estate.  These start at 11 and 2 and will be completely free.  As is entrance to Brighton Museum for a packed day of talks and activities in celebration of International Women’s Day.  As well as Sister Rosetta I’ll be talking about women who have made great strides (and shocks) in the worlds of business, theatre, medicine, and the military.  And hey, it’s the Royal Pavilion Estate after all, I may throw in a couple of princesses and queens.  Come and join me (but remember your snow shoes), we’ll have a lovely time!  More details about the Museum event here:

https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/events/event/international-womens-day/

See you there!

 

 

 

 

Bonnets by the sea!

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Like bonnets?

There’s a great event at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, tomorrow!

‘Jane Austen: Curator’s Talk: Georgian and Regency Costume’ will see Martin Pel, Brighton Museum’s Costume and Textiles Curator and Dr Alexandra Loske, Curator of the exhibition ‘Jane Austen by the Sea’,  discuss the costume on display at the exhibition and show related costumes and works of art not usually on display.  Dr Loske promises ‘bonnets and more!’

This interesting little exhibition on the first floor of the Royal Pavilion explores Jane Austen’s relationship to the seaside both in her works and life.  Brighton itself is almost a character in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, of course, vividly described as the fashionable and rakish resort full of soldiers and fashionable ladies, a fitting place for Lydia Bennet to run away to.  Fans will also recall an action-packed visit to Lyme Regis in ‘Persuasion’.

Objects on display include George IV’s personal copy of ‘Emma’.  (He was a fan of her work.  She, unfortunately, didn’t return the compliment, disapproving of his treatment of his wife, Caroline of Brunswick.)  There’s also the manuscript of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, ‘Sanditon’, set in a fictional seaside town.

If you think Jane Austen had a low opinion of Brighton, the exhibition invites you to think again in the light of a long misunderstanding arising from a handwritten letter of 8 January 1799.  Curator Dr Alexandra Loske said: “For many years, Austen has been quoted as having written: ‘I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you can do..’, but her sentence actually referred to Bookham, a village in Surrey, rather than Brighton.  We now know that Austen may not have felt as negatively about the town as has been thought.”

More information about the exhibition and related events can be found here:http://brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion/whattosee/jane-austen-by-the-sea/

Thanks to Dr Alexandra Loske for the images.

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Brighton Older People’s Festival

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Here I am talking corsets on my Notorious Women of Brighton Tour this morning.

I’m really happy to have been invited to do a handful of women’s history related tours and talks again for the Brighton Older People’s Festival again.  This year it runs from today for two weeks until Sunday 8th October and has plenty of events and activities for those in the 50+ age bracket.  I’m going to be doing a Notorious Women of Hove tour, looking at some of the fantastic women who’ve lived and worked in Hove (meet at 11 outside the café in St Ann’s Well Gardens) on Friday 29th September, and also a Notorious Women of Kemptown gentle stroll on Monday 2nd Oct (meet at 11 outside St George’s Church).

I’m also doing a couple of seated lectures this year.  The first one’s tomorrow at 2 in the café at the Duke of York’s Cinema and is a seated version of my Notorious Women walks, looking at women who’ve created waves in Brighton and Hove’s history over the years.  The second one, ‘Women Warriors’ is on Tuesday 4th October at 2 in the same place.  In this one I’ll be telling the incredible stories of some of the women who dressed as men to serve in the armed forces in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, starting, of course, with Brighton’s very own Phoebe Hessel.

Tickets for these events are all £2.  To book, call 01273 322940 , info@impact-initiatives.org.uk, http://www.impact-initiatives.org.uk

Another Year of Notorious Women

more not womenAnother year of doing my Notorious Women of Brighton walking tours for the Brighton Fringe comes to an end and I’m sorting out my files and notes after a truly tremendous few weeks of introducing people to some of the fantastic women in our city’s history.  OK, so all didn’t go exactly to plan.  There was the time on that first Notorious Women of Hove walk when a man tried (and failed) to chase us out of Adelaide Crescent, the time when a guitarist attempted to serenade us while I talked about legendary dipper Martha Gunn in St Nicholas Churchyard (in his head he was in Led Zeppelin.  In reality, more feeding time in a cattery).  There was the excitement of the woman taking her tortoise for a walk in Brunswick Square that almost brought the tour to a premature end (well, how could I compete with a cute tortoise frolicking amongst the spring flowers?), tales of the Hove man who takes his pet pig for a walk on Hove sea-front (much discussed and speculated upon but never seen) and the time I swallowed a fly and had to do some very indecorous coughing in mid sentence (sorry, if you were on that one).

Had some great reviews this year from the latest who enjoyed the ‘refreshingly female perspective’

http://thelatest.co.uk/brighton/2017/05/14/notorious-women-brighton-walking-tour/

and broadwaybaby, who said   “I’d really recommend you attend, as they remind you of why you should be proud to be part of this daring and unique city.”

http://broadwaybaby.com/shows/notorious-women-of-brighton/718466

The best thing for me, of course, is meeting you all.  If you came on one of the tours of either Brighton, Hove or the sneaky pop-up one I did of Kemptown, thank you very much for your comments, insight, extra facts, reactions and enthusiasm.  I was extremely happy to meet a woman who remembered meeting Hove heroine Margaret Powell, and very pleased when someone started to sing some of the hits of the Kaye Sisters (so I didn’t have to) while talking about Carole Kaye.  It’s your enthusiasm and your chipping in with additional facts that keeps things interesting for me and keeps me wanting to carry on finding out and digging up those stories of local women’s history, achievements, activities, derring-do, courage and – sometimes – misdeeds for us all to celebrate.

I will be doing another Notorious Women of Kemptown tour some time in the summer – either late July or August.  Many people who couldn’t make the pop-up date asked me to keep them informed if I decided to do another one.  If anyone else is interested in adding themselves to that list please drop me an email at historywomenbrighton@outlook.com .  If anyone caught the Brighton tour but didn’t manage to get onto a Hove one – or vice-versa – and can’t wait until next year, keep checking back as I occasionally slot tours in at different times of the year.  Or why not book me for a private tour?  All you need is a group of 5 or 6 people to ensure festival prices!

Thanks again everyone, see you soon!

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New Dates for 2017

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I’m delighted to be adding some new dates for Notorious Women of Brighton and Notorious Women of Hove walks to the Brighton Fringe Festival again this year.  This Spring will also see the return of Notorious Women of Kemp Town!  I’m doing a mixture of ‘official’ tours and ‘pop-up’ tours this time.   You can purchase tickets for the official tours from the Fringe box-office as usual or just turn up, but you need to let me know if you intend to come to a pop-up tour via this website as they will be weather and interest-dependent.  Details below…

Notorious Women of Brighton…

Wilful princesses, Music Hall stars, headstrong courtesans, entrepreneurs, Brighton has always attracted women who dare do things differently. Hear some of their stories and other female claims to fame.  Starts St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton, BN1 3LJ.  1.5 hrs. £7.50/6.50

Fringe Tours -Sunday mornings 7th, 14th, 28th May, 4th June at 10.30am

Pop up tours – Thursday evenings 11th and 25th May at 6.30pm.

Notorious Women of Hove…

Hove has been home to women whose ideas have shaken up our world – from some of Britain’s first women doctors to suffragettes, campaigners to boundary shifting entertainers. Walk in their footsteps and hear their amazing stories on this tour. Starts in St Ann’s Well Gardens, BN3 1PL. 1.5 hrs.

Fringe Tours – Saturday mornings 6th, 13th, 27th May, 3rd June at 10.30am,

Tuesday mornings 9th, 23rd May at 10.30am, Tuesday evenings 9th, 23rd, May at 6.30pm

Pop up Tour – Wednesday evening 7th June at 6.30pm.

Notorious Women of Kemp Town

From Ladies to ladies, scientists to sportswomen, Kemp Town has inspired some incredible women. Hear how worlds as diverse as policing, fashion, education, shopping and the arts were shaken by local women on this gentle walk. Starts at St George’s Church, BN2 1ED. 1.5 hrs.

Three special pop up tours only – Tuesday evening 16th May at 6.30pm

Saturday afternoons 27th May, 3rd June at 2pm.

For official Fringe Tours book at brightonfringe.org, call 01273 917272 or just turn up on the day.

Pop up tours are weather and interest dependent.  Please let me know if you would like to come by emailing me at historywomenbrighton@outlook.com or calling 07758 296563.

See you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Walking Tours! Get in Touch with Brighton and Hove’s Feminine Side…

I am really happy to have just started working in partnership with Visit Brighton.  New tours, new information – all accessible here:  http://www.visitbrighton.com/things-to-do/history-women-brighton-p1187231?purgepage=true  Or carry on reading…

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Get in touch with Brighton and Hove’s feminine side on a walking tour with Royal Pavilion and Museums guide, Louise Peskett. Discover an alternative view of the city illustrated by the stories of the incredible, outrageous, and brilliant women of its past.

Join me on a gentle 90 minute walk:

History Women Brighton – Women soldiers, music-hall stars and rebellious princesses come alive on this stroll from central Brighton’s oldest church through the Lanes, Pavilion Gardens and Brighton’s Cultural Quarter, finishing at the Theatre Royal.

History Women Hove Starting in central Hove’s St Ann’s Well Gardens and proceeding through the area’s grandest squares to the seafront, this walk follows the footsteps of some of Britain’s first women doctors, suffragettes, social campaigners and artists, and takes in a pioneering women’s hospital and game-changing girls’ school.

History Women Kemptown – Hear how worlds as diverse as policing, fashion, education, and corsets were influenced by women who once lived in this atmospheric and historic suburb of Brighton! Starts at St George’s Church.

Victorian Working Class Brighton – During the nineteenth century the Queen’s Park/Hanover area developed as a vibrant and lively working-class district. Join me to discover traces of these long-gone communities in old shops, pubs, slipper-baths, the work-house, and school. Starts at St Luke’s Church.

The Royal Pavilion Estate – A visit inside the Royal Pavilion is a Brighton ‘must-do’ but what about the outside? This hour’s walk around the Royal Pavilion Gardens and surrounds explores the creation of this beautiful green space, the history of the Gardens, its adjoining gates and buildings, and its First World War legacy.

No group too small. Too long? Too short? Let me tailor a walk to your requirements.

All walks available in French. TEFL trained, I am experienced in guiding in simple English to language students and people without fluent English. All levels catered for. Language students welcome!

Don’t want to walk? I offer the above walks – and more – as seated, illustrated lectures. Let me visit your group and enjoy the stories from the comfort of a chair. Full list on my website www.historywomenbrighton.com.

All walks will go ahead at pre-set times during the Brighton Fringe in May 2017 as usual and, hopefully, if the weather forecast looks good, in Spring.  Check here or drop me an email if you’d like to be on my mailing list.  See you soon!

Sisterhood in the Stone Age

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What was life like for our grandmothers one and a half million years ago?  How did they cope with (ahem, cough, cough) ‘women’s things’ in the days before Always With Wings and TV adverts made us believe that menstruating women suddenly turned into  rollerskaters and white jeans wearing disco dancers?  It wasn’t until I was asked at the last minute to prepare a talk on the subject of menstruation in the Stone Age recently that I thought I’d better do some reading around it…   The event, called ‘Women. Period’, held at Hove’s Regency  Town House, promised to reveal how our foremothers dealt with ‘the curse’.   It looked at attitudes towards (and some of the names given to)  Aunty Flo’s Monthly Visitor around the world, as well as showing a fascinating animated instructional film aimed at young women produced by Walt Disney in 1946, ‘The Story of Menstruation’.   Other delights included a look at some…. well, interesting gadgetry our Victorian sisters would have to struggle with during her ‘Lady Time’.   Harnesses?  Rubber straps?   It’s a good job rollerskates hadn’t been invented.  As, just the previous week, I’d seen a young woman in a shop visibly cringe while buying a box of Tampax  and wondered for the millionth time why, in the twenty-first century, while taboos drop like flies around sex and other bodily functions that used to raise a blush, periods should still be such an embarrassment, this fun and interesting event wasn’t before time.    Incidentally, since the event I’ve come across a fascinating article in the Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/menstruation-study-finds-over-5000-slang-terms-for-period-a6905021.html) , looking at some of the amazing euphemisms for the time-of-the-month from around the world.  Tops for me had to be ‘Der Er Kommunister I Lysthuset’ (‘There are communists in the fun house’ – Thank you, Denmark) and, oddly, from France, ‘Les Anglais ont debarqué’ (The English have landed’)

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Then there was me, an absolute Stone Age novice, trying to surmise how things went 2.5 million years ago.  I have to say a big thank you to my colleague at Brighton Museum, Su Hepburn, the original guest for the evening, who handed me her notes on this.  Su found out that the main difference between Stone Age women and us is that they menstruated far less.   Today’s modern, industrialised woman can expect a total of 450 periods in her life compared to perhaps 50 for our Stone Age ancestors.  One of the reasons was that girls started to menstruate much later.  It’s thought that menarche occurred at the average age of 16 rather than 12 today.  Women also gave birth earlier (at 19 rather than today’s early to mid 20s) and had more children (up to about 6 live births per mother).  Also, it’s believed that breastfeeding would continue until the child reached 5 (in comparison, the last NHS Infant Feeding Survey revealed only 1% of babies were being breastfed in this country after 6 months).  Of course, we can’t be completely accurate with facts and figures when we’re talking about people’s lives in 10,000 BCE, and the term ‘Stone Age’ covers over 3 million years during which time people progressed – in this country, at least – from being wholly nomadic to having the opportunity to live in relatively settled and more hierarchically organised communities, enjoying a more varied diet.  It’s generally thought, however, that our ancestors would have had less body fat and could have been deficient in things that keep us healthy today.

What’s certain, though, is that women’s lives were busy and often brutal.  Not only was there the average 6 children to think about, the relentless breastfeeding, and, with a typical life expectancy of 40, not so many grandmother figures around to help with childcare, their lives also consisted, according to Rosalind Miles in the ‘The Women’s History of the World’ (1989), of food gathering, hunting smaller prey, instructing children, making garments, cooking, tool making, possibly weaving grasses and other materials to make containers to store and carry food, erecting and pulling down living quarters as they moved to follow harvests and food sources.  Although the term ‘hunter-gatherer society’ puts the emphasis on the hunting part of the equation as the most important and difficult contribution made by men, the ‘gathering’, far from the passive picking at berries and leaves it connotes, required enormous skill and great knowledge of what was edible and what to do with it.  Ensuring that food was provided for the family every day, not just on the days when animals had been successfully hunted, required climbing trees, digging, grinding, travelling long distances and carrying things back.  And it’s thought that women did their share of hunting too, either in their own right or alongside the men.

So, although it probably didn’t come round on a monthly basis, how did our grandmothers manage all this while they were menstruating?  Grasses, animal skins, moss, leaves?  Practicality-wise, they must have come up with something that allowed them to roam long distances, climb trees, and do everything else necessary for survival.  Anthropologists from more recent times have observed hunter gatherer people easily fashioning slings and bags to transport children and foodstuffs.  Who’s to say our fore mothers didn’t come up with an early type of sanitary belt, of the type women who went to school in the ’70s and ’80s remember being shown in the sex education lessons as an alternative to the new-fangled adhesive pads?   (In my class two girls actually fainted at the sight of the elastic trusses we’d just been told we’d soon be wearing for most of our adult lives.  They saved the concept of tampons for another lesson completely)  For readers born later, this early Kotex advert shows what I’m talking about…

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These women would have had to figure out a way of transporting their babies as they worked, so why not use the same technology?  As Rosalind Miles says ‘it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the women capable of bringing the infant human race forward into the future could also have found the way to deal efficiently with their own bodies’.

A clue to how women may have been seen at this time could come from the many so-called ‘Venus’ statues dating from the period found by archaeologists in Europe.  These figures, as shown in the image at the top of this post, appear to be representations of women.  Around 150 of them have been found, mainly around areas thought to have been occupied by Stone Age settlements, both open-air sites and in caves.  They’re usually small – the most famous one, found in Willendorf, Austria in 1905 (below), and dating from 25,000 BCE, is only four and a half inches tall.  Most are lozenge shaped and have scant facial features, yet large breasts, big bellies, and sometimes prominently displayed genitals.

willendorf-venus-1468

Many suggest that they could have been painted red originally.   As obesity wasn’t commonplace at the time, it’s been suggested that the full bellied figures represent pregnancy with the red colour perhaps symbolic of menstrual blood or childbirth.   Their purpose is unknown.  Maybe they were made as an appeal to, or celebration of, fertility.  Maybe they symbolised abundance and hope for longevity, survival, and success.  The statues suggest, however, that the people investing time and resources to their creation understood and had awe and respect for this side of womanhood.  Or could they have been made by women themselves?  In the days before mirrors, the statues could have been a good attempt at self depiction.  Women readers, the next time you’re naked, look down at your body and you’ll recognise the sloping of the breasts and the tummy, as well as the lozenge shape as your body tapers to your feet.  Could they even be some of the first examples of women’s art?

More information about these figurines can be found here: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/prehistoric/venus-of-willendorf.htm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_figurines, http://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/play/3d-models/venus/

Here in Brighton we have one of Britain’s earliest Stone Age monuments in the Whitehawk Camp, dating from 5,500 years ago (predating Stonehenge by 1000 years).  There’s lots of information on the Brighton and Hove City Council website here:  http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/content/leisure-and-libraries/parks-and-green-spaces/whitehawk-camp

And here’s a link to the 10 minute film ‘The Story of Menstruation’ produced in 1946 by Walt Disney.  It was commissioned by the International Cello-Cotton Company (now Kimberley-Clark).  It was part of a 1945 to 1951 series of films that Disney produced for American schools.  Inducted last year into the American National Film Registry due to its cultural importance, it’s believed to be (according to Wikipedia) the first film to mention the word ‘vagina’, and, as part of its advice, urged women not to shower in water that was too cold or too hot and to ‘avoid constipation and depression, and to always keep up a fine outward appearance.’

 

 

 

Tour Postponement

 

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September’s edition of Brighton magazine, Queens Park Living  kindly gave me the fantastic opportunity to tell everyone about a guided walk I developed last year, looking at the fascinating Victorian working class legacy of the Queens Park/Hannover/Parish of St Luke’s area.  I said that I’d be doing this tour on Saturday  10th September.  Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, I’m now having to put this tour back.  Many apologies to anyone who read the article and  was interested in coming along.   Please watch this space for alternative dates or contact me at historywomenbrighton@outlook.com and I’ll make sure to let you know as soon as I’ve found a new time.  Sorry again everyone and hope to see you on this new tour soon!