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A Woman’s Place exhibition

Bramley Ladies Choir c.1920-30 (C) Leeds Museums and Galleries - 720


20 January – 31 December 2018

Abbey House Museum

On the centenary of some, not all, British women getting the vote, A Woman’s Place? looks at the struggles and progress of women in achieving equality and recognition.

The exhibition reveals how everyday life has changed for women in the home, school and workplace. “We hope to inspire women and girls to believe that their ambitions and achievements are not limited by their gender,” said Social History Curator Kitty Ross.


Leonora Cohen Leeds suffragette. © Jacky Fleming
IMAGE: Leonora Cohen Leeds suffragette. © Jacky Fleming

Brought to life through witty illustrations by Jacky Fleming, the exhibition features stories and objects from 1860 to the present day linked to strong pioneering women. These range from suffragette Leonora Cohen’s WSPU badge to Olympic boxer Nicola Adams’s glove, and a gown worn by Councillor Joyce Challenor in the 1960s.

To understand where our own lives are in the history of women’s place in the world, we need to know what that history is. This exhibition in Abbey House Museum does just that, so we know which battles have been won, and which we still have to fight for,” commented Jacky.

A Woman’s Place also honours four relatively unsung heroines who lived and worked in Leeds, with new commemorative ceramics by local artist Katch Skinner. The four heroines include 1940s all-female jazz band leader Ivy Benson, born and bred in Holbeck, Morley cycling champion Beryl Burton, Leeds suffragette Mary Gawthorpe, and Edith Pechey, one of the first female doctors in the United Kingdom, who practised in Leeds during the 1870s-80s.

These characterful ceramics will become part of the Leeds Museums collection, ensuring that we honour these women for centuries to come. “These trailblazers and visionaries on display are just a thumbnail of the women who helped make a change to societyKatch Skinner commented.


The exhibition will run throughout 2018, alongside a programme of talks, study days and schools workshops.

Leeds heroines given a permanent place in the city’s museum collections with new commemorative ceramics:

• Ivy Benson: Born in Holbeck above the Malt Shovel Pub in 1913, Ivy rose to fame as an all-female jazz band leader during the 1940s. She started her band in 1939, wanting to prove that female musicians could be just as talented and hard-working as their male equivalents. The band became one of the BBC’s resident bands and ran it until 1982. Ivy was once as famous as Vera Lynn, although she is less well known today. Ex-Spice Girl Melanie C made a documentary about her in 2015.
See film footage of her band on You Tube:
BBC feature on her:

• Beryl Burton (1937-1996) was a record-breaking champion cyclist. Born in Halton, she lived in Morley for most of her life and was introduced to cycling by her husband Charlie. Within two years she had won a medal and she went on to win over 90 domestic championships and set over 50 records.

• Mary Gawthorpe (1881-1973) was dubbed a ‘pretty suffragette’ by the Leeds Mercury, but she was in fact a determined campaigner for women’s rights. Born to a working class family, she became a teacher and then a full-time organiser for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), working alongside the Pankhursts. She was an active campaigner, giving speeches and involved in demonstrations – shouting at Winston Churchill on one occasion – a resulting in her imprisonment several times. She moved to New York in 1916.

• Edith Pechey (1845-1908) was one of the first female doctors in the United Kingdom. Born in Essex, she became one of the first seven female undergraduates to study medicine. After the university refused to award the female students a degree, she gained her MD in Dublin in 1877. After qualifying she chose to work in Leeds and spent six years in the city, where she also campaigned to improve women’s health education. Edith later worked in India and then became part of the women’s suffrage campaign on her return to England.

Find out more about Abbey House Museum


Glove belonging to Olympic boxer Nicola Adams