When I first mentioned the concept of a Women’s Museum in Ireland to an outspoken male acquaintance, he immediately responded ‘Can you name ten famous Irish women? I can’t.’ and set off on his merry way, much to my chagrin. This is exactly the attitude towards women in history that needs to be challenged and a group of Trinity graduates are doing exactly that. The Women’s Museum of Ireland is a new initiative to bring the stories of Irish women in history to the public’s attention. It aims to educate the public about the role Irish women played in political, social and cultural history, both in Ireland and abroad. As well as celebrating Irish women who are renowned in the public sphere already, they hope to focus on every day women and their achievements throughout the ages. Although this is not a completely new concept (museums dedicated to women exist in California, Washington DC and Australia, to name a few) it is new to Ireland and something that is needed.
The young women involved in its creation have worked tirelessly since its establishment in November 2012 to gather information and materials, and this hard graft culminated in their first photographic exhibition entitled “Monsters of Creation: Snapshots of Women in Higher Education”. It was launched during International Women’s Week in the Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin, and drew great public interest, including a visit from Mme Christine Lagarde, director of the IMF. Photographs were donated by women, families and institutions from all corners of the nation and included both recent graduates and women who had to fight for their education. Having both my own graduation photograph and my mother’s included in the display was a privilege. As a first exhibition it was a success and acts as a starting point from which this museum will continue to flourish.
In my own experience, raising gender equality or feminist issues can be met with sighs and ‘get back in the kitchen’ jokes. Although to some, the idea of a women’s museum may seem bizarre and even pointless, I feel that there is a real need to celebrate the achievements of past Irish women as a mechanism from which to encourage modern Irish women to succeed. Often, women have been overlooked in historical writing, as they were overlooked in society for many generations, but organizations like this are changing attitudes and perceptions. In terms of public history, this is a wonderful opportunity for discussion on the public perception of females in history, both in general and specific figures.
Currently the Women’s Museum has a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account, all of which are active and updated daily. These are well worth keeping an eye on, both for their articles with historical relevance and links to more modern day issues. In keeping with the first photographic exhibition, the organizers will be creating a series of these pop-up exhibitions in the coming months. The materials utilized in these displays will be archived for further use when the museum gets the permanent home it deserves. Referring back to my gentleman friend and his apathetic view of Irish women in history, I will finish by countering that influential and inspirational women did and still do exist, we just need to find and share their stories.
Images from the museum’s first exhibition are available on their Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/WomensMuseumOfIreland?fref=ts
And their official website is now up and running with daily content updates, sharing the stories of influential Irish women: http://womensmuseumofireland.ie/