Sunday Guest Post Series: Hidden Histories

Hidden Histories
Victoria, Dolores and Isabella

One of the joys of retirement is finding new interests – and having the time to rekindle old ones. It will be 40 years this summer since I completed my undergraduate degree in history and, although occasionally useful for enquiries in my career as a librarian, history was never again a big part of my life until I finished work. I quickly became a volunteer History Detective with Glasgow Women’s Library, and a couple of years later I took on a similar role with Maryhill Burgh Halls near my home. I enjoy researching women’s history, and presenting it in tours and talks: it’s been life-enhancing.

So how visible is women’s history in Glasgow? Twelve statues stand in George Square in the city centre. Only one is of a woman – Queen Victoria. I imagine most British cities have a statue of her, though at least ours is a youngish, lively Victoria, sitting side-saddle on her horse, and not the unamused, elderly widow more commonly seen.

There are just two other statues to named women in Glasgow: Spanish Civil War heroine La Pasionaria (Dolores Ibárruri), who raises her arms by the Clyde with the motto “Better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees”, and philanthropist Isabella Elder (1828-1905), the only native Glaswegian of the three, in Elder Park. Among the things Isabella funded were a library and the first college in Scotland to offer higher education to women – she’s my favourite! Look her up in Wikipedia and you’ll be reading an article written by me, and I’ve also played her in a pageant to celebrate International Women’s Day a few years ago.

hidden histories
Anabel as Tour Guide

A fourth statue – to Mary Barbour who organised rent strikes in World War One – is due to be unveiled in March. (Rapacious landlords thought they could charge anything they liked when the men were away fighting: Mary’s campaign resulted in a law being passed fixing rents at pre-war levels.) But there are ways, other than statues, to remember history. For example, the whole area of Maryhill is called after the woman who owned the land in the 18th century before the government purchased it for the construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal. We have a Suffrage Oak, planted in 1918 when the first women in Britain got the vote. The names of 29 women who were killed when the façade of Templeton’s Carpet Factory collapsed in 1889 are carved nearby. Friends tell me that they have walked past these memorials without noticing them, hence my title: Hidden Histories.
Sometimes we just need to open our eyes a bit more. As readers of The Glasgow Gallivanter will know, I’m happy when I come across any aspect of women’s history on my travels. So what would I find if I came to your town? And if you don’t know – I challenge you to find out!

From Retirement Reflections: hidden historiesAccepting Anabel’s challenge, I’m happy to go first! One celebration of women’s history that you might find if coming to Vancouver Island is a bronze statue of renowned Canadian artist, Emily Carr. The monument was erected along the Harbourfront in Victoria, B.C., Emily’s hometown. It was unveiled during Women’s History Month, on October 13, 2010. If ever visiting Victoria, stop by and have a look! Echoing Anabel’s question, who does your (home)town honour? Please join us again next Sunday when we welcome back Marty (Snakes in the Grass). Marty will be sharing “How to Keep the Cookie Jar Full During Early Retirement.” I look forward to seeing you then!

83 Replies to “Sunday Guest Post Series: Hidden Histories”

    1. Hi, Anabel – Thank you for such an absorbing and thought-provoking post. It caused me much reflection on which histories I acknowledge and honour, and which ones I sadly pass by.
      I would love for you to visit Emily Carr’s statue in Victoria. I could meet you at The Empress Hotel for High Tea!

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  1. It is true that people walk past memorials and historical plaques regularly. I moved to a city with a rich history in the last year that is loaded with such signage, and I’m falling into that same bad pattern myself. Your post is a reminder to open our eyes! I enjoyed reading about your activities.

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    1. Thank you, Marty! I agree, I’ve lived in my city for over thirty years but it’s only in the last five that I’ve really taken the time to look around and spot these lesser known memorials.

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  2. Hi Anabel! I would have loved to have someone like you be my history teacher in high school. The role and importance of women is still not pointed out and appreciated enough in mainstream life, media and school. It is people like you who make a difference!

    The quote “Better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees” is impressive and heroic, and probably something of the past. Most people don’t realize it, but they are slaves to modern conveniences, entertainment and gadgets, if not a work schedule or the self-proclaimed necessity to provide and produce…

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    1. Thanks, Liesbet! That’s a very nice thing to say. I don’t think that saying originated with Dolores though she definitely used it. It’s a brave sentiment and I always wonder if I could live up to it. I hope I never have to be tested …

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      1. Ha ha, I remember a lecturer at work suggesting I would make a good teacher when I talked her through a literature search in the phone. I think my answer was something along the lines of “I’d rather poke my eyes out with a sharp stick!”

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  3. Hi Anabel! I really like that statue of La Pasionaria with her hands raised in defiance or triumph (not sure which… maybe both), it’s very Art Deco in style. I’ve also seen the statue that Donna referred to in Victoria, B.C. and it’s lovely too. I always try to stop and read the plaques on statues I see… I figure that if someone – or some committee – took the time to commission it and erect it, it must have an interesting story behind it.

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    1. I’d probably go for defiance, since she was on the losing side 😦

      I agree it’s important to read plaques, you learn such a lot (though reading the plaque on every memorial bench I pass can really slow me down!)

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  4. Hi Anabel – What a great reminder to pay attention to our surroundings! Right now, the only woman’s memorial I can think of here in Boise is our Anne Frank memorial. But now you’ve got me thinking I need to dig a little deeper! ~ Lynn

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  5. What a great job, Anabel. One of the women in Utah history is Phoebe Couzins, who was the first woman to pass the bar exam in Utah. She went on to be the first female US Marshal and the first woman to address a presidential nominating committee. Thanks for the challenge. I learned something new about my state.

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    1. Hi, Christie – I agree that Anabel did a wonderful job at challenging us and stimulating our thinking. I originally answered Anabel’s question with something that I already knew. I then went on to do more research about ‘hidden histories’ on Vancouver Island. I also gave much thought to the question of who our towns/cities honour and what that says about those doing the ‘honouring’. I gave it so much thought that I actually wrote my next post about it.
      That is one of my favourite things about this Guest Post Series – my thinking is continually challenged and I learn a great deal!

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  6. Hi Anabel I love the idea of being a History Dectective! I just finished watching the series ‘Victoria’ and also recently read Ken Follett’s ‘Columns of Fire’ which was set during Elizabeth I’s reign. I enjoy history and although we don’t have such depth in Brisbane, Australia, you have set me a challenge that i might just follow up. Thanks Donna for another enjoyable post in your Sunday At 6 series.

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  7. First of all, let me say that I LOVE the label “History Detective” and what an interesting “second career” to pursue post-retirement. Your passion for it is evident from your writing – and a tour guide!! I love it!

    This post has really got me thinking … what would I point out as a tribute to women in Toronto. That’s a slant I’ve never considered and I’m horrified to say I can’t think of one!! You’ve obviously given me some work to do!

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    1. It is something I absolutely love doing – I’m busy editing a walk script this morning that we developed at the Women’s Library a couple of years ago but have found to be too long. I hate throwing out facts, it’s so difficult.

      We visited Toronto a couple of years ago and I don’t remember spotting anything either – let me know if you find something!

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    2. Hi, Joanne – I LOVE the public art and statues in Toronto. That being said, ones particularly honouring women in history do not immediately spring to mind. But they must exist…right? One of my favourite pieces of public art in Toronto is the sculpture of “The Immigrant Family” (Younge Street). Focusing on family, I believe this statue exudes sadness, longing, hope and optimism both for those who came before us, and those yet to follow.

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    3. I’m with Joanne; what an excellent name for a wonderful job.

      This is a great post Anabel, and a huge challenge. For all that I love art, I am hopelessly unaware of a lot of memorial-type public art (statues being high on this list).

      I can think of a few public tributes to women in Auckland. The one that first springs to mind is a Suffrage mural in tiles fronting a water feature in the CBD, in what used to be called Khartoum Place, but was recently renamed Te Ha o Hine Place, which is apparently derived from a Maori Proverb meaning ‘pay heed to the dignity of women’.

      Apart from that though …. hm. I’d best get investigating 🙂

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  8. Isn’t it sad that women who did amazing things are not easy to find and require detective work? So happy you are doing this, Anabel and nice to see you on Donna’s blog. I am going on a quest to find something in my area that commemorates an extraordinary woman. Nothing comes to mind so I’ve got my detective hat on!

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    1. Excellent – I’m glad people are having a think about this. I read that women have always been 50% of the population, but only occupy around 0.5% of recorded history. We have some way to go!

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    2. Hi, Molly – It is incredibly frustrating that women who did amazing things in history are often not easy to find. Again and again we find that someone else took/received credit for their work (the movie Hidden Figures immediately springs to mind). I’m glad that Anabel inspired you to get your detective hat on. I would love to hear what you discover!

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  9. Well written as always. I love how many women have statues and rightly so. I enjoyed learning more about these women although I know Victoria. I am thinking of any statue to a woman and I don’t think we have one which is a shame.

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    1. Hi, Birgit – Thank you so much for stopping by. I greatly appreciate it. I agree that it is sad that many towns/cities do not have statues honouring important women in their history. Hopefully, with Anabel’s challenge, who will all find some more!

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  10. Oh dear, that puts another thing on my list for explorations this year. Hidden Women of Norfolk. Well, at least I know there’s a statue of Elizabeth Fry in Tombland, near the entrance to the cathedral. Now I’d better find out why…
    Thanks for another great post, Anabel – you are an inspiration 🙂

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  11. This was indeed a though-provoking post chock full of fascinating info, Anabel! I had two opportunities in college to take two different women in history classes, I believe was called Herstory. The other was taught through the women’s studies dept and our professor was quite the rebel. She opened my young, 21 year old eyes to much of the hidden truths about the almost unmatchable contributions women have made throughout world history. Women were the natural healers and understood women’s health. Once the medical profession became a man’s world, everything changed and many of those women were burned as witches. Many of these truths probably had a hand in ruining my young marriage to my first husband!

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    1. Hi, Terri – Thank you so much for sharing this. I agree that Anabel has written a very thought-provoking post (that has caused many of us to scramble and do some homework) I also agree that knowledge is very powerful and can change us irrevocably.

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  12. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t find any statues celebrating ladies in Hartlepool, Anabel. There’s an Andy Capp but definitely no Flo. 🙂 🙂 Sad really! I expect you’d dig up something interesting here though. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

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  13. Thanks, Anabel, for sharing the hidden histories. Dr. Emily Stowe came to my mind. She’s the first female doctor to practice in Canada. There is a street named after her: Dr. Emily Stowe Way in Toronto and two Emily Stowe elementary public schools in Ontario. Her daughter Augusta Stowe-Guillen was the first woman to earn a medical degree in Canada. Dr. Stowe was the pioneer for many women’s rights movements, resulting in wonderful services such as Women’s College hospital in Toronto today.

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    1. Hi, Natalie – Thank you so much for the reminder about the street and schools named after Dr. Emily Stowe. When Joanne wrote earlier to say that (off the top of her head) she could not think of any Toronto statues particularly honouring women in history, I couldn’t think of one either. I appreciate the reminder about Emily. And if you know of any statues of women in Toronto, please let me know.

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      1. Hi Donna, Two came to my mind in terms of statues with women and history: The Endless Bench sculptures of women and children in front of Hospital for Sick Kids, and the Famine sculptures of a family at Ireland Park in Toronto. Both have moving stories. I love the Immigrant Family statue on Yonge Street that you mentioned, too. Thanks again for featuring an enriching guest post.

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    2. Wonderful! Naming streets and buildings is an excellent alternative to statues. The first woman to graduate in medicine (from the college that Isabella Elder helped to fund) was the doctor who signed Isabella’s death certificate, Marion Gilchrist. I love that fact!

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  14. We have two very prominent statues of women here – the “Wisconsin” statue on top of our state capitol building, and our “Forward” statue, who represents the motto of the state (she’s hanging out on the capital square). Granted, they aren’t of specific women, but they are the most famous statues in the city, so that’s something. Plus, we don’t have many actual statues of people in general – I can only think of one male statue off the top of my head anywhere in the city.

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  15. I think ‘Better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees” will forever be my rallying cry (figuratively of course) . Funny, I was just telling a friend that I’m finally getting to put my degree in Sociology and Religion to use. It certainly had value in my career as a Program Manager (because every group has a ‘culture’) but it is far more relevant when exploring cultures abroad.

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    1. That’s very true – no knowledge is ever wasted! I don’t think that saying originated with Dolores but she certainly used it and lived by it. Unfortunately, Franco was not to be beaten and his influence seems to persist today.

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  16. ♥ Enjoyed your post Anabel! I can come up with women in history for the state of Alabama but no one comes to mind right now for the city of Tuscaloosa except for Lurleen Burns Wallace who was our state’s 46th governor and was the first female governor. Thanks Donna!Shared onto Fb, G+, Pn, and Tw ♥

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  17. Fabulous post Anabel as always, and perhaps I should book you to be one of our ‘extraordinary women’ speakers in Winchester.

    And loving the blog Donna – I am not retired but behave like I am and have a hubby who is retired so looking forward to following your blog now I have discovered it thanks to Anabel.

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    1. Hi, Becky – I agree that Anabel would be a wonderful speaker for your series. Behaving like your retired? I absolutely love that line! I just signed up to follow your blog and look forward to reading about your continued adventures.

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  18. I like Anabel’s challenge and will look around to see what I can find around here. Nothing comes to mind.

    Donna, my mother adored Emily Carr. I hadn’t thought of Carr in years. Thanks for the smile.

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    1. Hi, Ally – For some reason you ended up in my Spam Folder today. I’m not sure why. The only one who usually hangs out in there is Marty (Snakes in the Grass)!
      I’m glad to hear that your Mom was an Emily Carr fan. She has excellent taste! 🙂

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  19. We have a mother and child statue in Kings Park (our huge park in the centre of Perth Western Australia) which commemorates the women who pioneered our State – it’s iconic and always is the first statue to come to mind when asked this sort of question.

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  20. Enjoyed this post and for some reason, think i liked it more because I recently watched Victoria series on PBS.
    and Glasgow Gallivanter… in our town of Richmond, VA –
    the Maggie Lena Walker monument was unveiled during a ceremony at Adams and Broad Streets in Richmond VA Sat. July 15, 2017.

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  21. Lethbridge, a city where I used to live, named all of the streets in one of the subdivisions after women pioneers. Street names include: Mildred Dobbs Boulevard, Mary Cameron Crescent, Jessie Ursenbach Way, Thyrza Burkitt Link, Edith Emma Coe Road, Haru Moriyama Road, Marie Van Haarlem Crescent, and so forth. There is a strong interest in local history in that community.

    Jude

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    1. Lovely to read! I can’t think of any streets round me named for women. Many of the streets in the city centre are named after the Tobacco Lords or the sites of their possessions, eg Jamaica Street. In other words, slave owners. The only radical renaming I can think of is Nelson Mandela Place which at the time (80s) was the site of the South African Embassy.

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  22. Thanks so much for highlighting statues of women in our towns and cities, Anabel. You got me searching for some in my part of the world and I was shocked to not find any. In fact, I read several articles about how some of our local politicians are calling for a debate about the lack of statues for notable woman in Wales. It’s such a shame that I seem to have hit on something that seems to be something of a ‘man’s world’ without realising it. Let’s hope that our politicians come to their senses and do actually do something about it.

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    1. Hi, Hugh – Anabel’s posts, and the comments generated, have been very enlightening. I agree that it is disheartening to discover such a lack of recognition to those who came before us, based on gender (or any other form of discrimination). I have a renewed appreciation for those who have fought (and are currently fighting) to right this wrong. Thank you to adding to this very informative discussion.

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  23. Congratulations on your guest post Anabel. I remember reading about Mary Barber many years ago, so I’m delighted to hear she is being commemorated in this way. I will fully confess to walking past the Templeton Carpet factory many times and being unaware of the collapse, or the memorial to those who lost their lives. I need to open my eyes more.
    It is always a delight to read your work!

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