I have the great joy of working for Denman: A place at which education, inspiration and history are truly at the heart – in particular, that of women! Since assuming my role in marketing and events, it’s been a real treat to see just how everything can come together into something special. This year, we are celebrating our 70th birthday at Denman – the educational hub of the Women’s Institute. Today, we welcome not just women, but all to experience a place that encourages lifelong learning, empowerment and friendships. We’ve also been putting out a proper spread of tantalising events in lieu of Denman’s Platinum year. Our anniversary, however, has been made even more special by something rather fortuitous – the 100th year since women won the vote.
Centenary celebrations have been taking place up and down the country and, I must say that it’s magical to see just how we’ve been embracing this important part of our history. I had the pleasure of being able to meet with acclaimed author and historian Jane Robinson, who we invited to Denman to give a talk in conjunction with her newest book Hearts and Minds. Following on from the success of our Suffragette event, the Suffragists were given their moment to shine. Indeed, the vote was won 100 years ago given the part of the Suffragists who staged the ‘Great Pilgrimage’. Here, thousands of Suffragists and other non-militant campaigners undertook a six-week march for suffrage and, in doing so, dramatically altered the course of history.
The magic of Jane is her ability to weave together the stories of local people – our girls, from the length and breadth of Britain, who gathered from all kinds of circumstances to chip in and do their bit – no matter how great, or how small their participation may have been. One particularly fascinating anecdote involved a bevy of caravans, beautifully named, pulled by loyal ponies and equipped with all the necessary for such a march – among the list was a change of hats, naturally. Most went by foot, others by trap – the lucky ones by motor car or even bicycle! It was all hands to the pump and even the simple offering of a plate of leftovers could make all the difference.
Denman and the WI’s own history owes much to the Votes for Women campaign – indeed, many leaders at the beginning of the NFWI had themselves been active players in the suffrage movement. Our resident voluntary archivist and WI historian, Anne Stamper, went on to tell this unmissable story. If it wasn’t for the combined efforts of the Suffragists and Suffragettes, in spite of their differing tactics, we wouldn’t be able to be a part of a democratically run organisation that gives women the chance to thrive and make such a difference. Currently, I am working on my masters in the Country House – the fruits of which can be seen in my article on the Elizabethan Country House and the Victorian Country House. As a budding writer-come-historian (of sorts!) I just wanted to say how amazing it is to be able to meet fully-fledged historians such as Jane whose passion fills a room.