A shocking event at Manchester Art Gallery inspires a new, five-year programme.
Women. The weaker sex. Gentle, nurturing souls, who defer to their “better” halves, who are perhaps less seen and less heard than their own children. That’s how women were once supposed to behave, as if they had not a will and a mind of their own. Imagine, then, the shock when a group of women – and “respectable” ones at that – stormed an art gallery and smashed dozens of artworks hanging inside. All in the name of making their voices heard; in proving the point that not only should women have the right to vote, but that they were willing to become political activists in order to make that right a reality.
This was an event that occurred in Manchester in April 1913. Clever, well researched and prepared, three ordinary women surprised guards at Manchester Art Gallery, smashing the glass of thirteen paintings and causing a commotion that captured national attention – for all the wrong reasons. As a political act, it was part of a campaign that had already seen militant, direct action used to further the Suffragette cause: women chained to railings, mailboxes set on fire, deadly hunger strikes and bombings all kicked off from 1912. And in June 1913, Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. She died a few days later.
Yet it took another five years for women to be granted the right to vote in this country (not all women, mind; that didn’t come until 1928). So 100 years after that shock moment at Manchester Art Gallery it feels like a good time to re-start the debate about how far women have come – and how far we have yet to go. Thus, the city’s museums and galleries have together created Wonder Women: Radical Manchester, a five-year project that features events, exhibitions, workshops, tours, music and talks all about women. Five years ahead of the centenary of 1918, the city hopes to kick-start a national conversation that begins here in Manchester, in the birthplace of the Suffragette movement. Join us and, like those women at Manchester Art Gallery in 1913, make your voice heard.
Wonder Women Programme 2013
In the run-up to 2018, Wonder Women: Radical Manchester will run a programme of events that coincides with International Women’s Day and other important milestones. In 2013, there are over 20 organisations taking part, with 45 events spread over four weeks – from Sunday 3 March until Thursday 4 April. The politics of protest and progress are explored in gallery talks, city walking tours, exhibitions, late night events, live performances, film, photography and collections – with performance poets, authors, singers, musicians, girl geeks, historians, clerics and DJs. We will of course be publishing previews, features and reviews throughout February and March.
Outside this year’s programme, ongoing debate, archive material and information will be gathered and shared on the People’s History Museum’s new blog, details of which we will publish soon. Ideas worth fighting for? Indeed.