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From suffragettes to social media activists, the past 150 years have witnessed East London women from all walks of life campaign to make the world a better place. Many have taken huge risks, or endured great hardship for their cause; all of them have dedicated their heart and soul, quite often juggling childcare, careers and other responsibilities at the same time.

Yet the stories of these women are often overlooked, eclipsed by their male counter parts. In many cases they are missing from the history books completely. This exhibition celebrates these unsung heroes, giving women activists their proper place in history.

This year, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in London, we celebrate queer women activists in our communities. Queer women have especially struggled to have their voices heard in historical narratives. Feeling like they did not fit in to the male dominated gay rights scene, yet actively rejected from the Women's Liberation Movement, they often found themselves politically homeless and socially isolated. With the more recent emergence of the trans-rights campaign, sadly this discord continues today.

Thanks to The National Heritage Lottery Fund for their generous support, and our dedicated team of volunteers. Thanks also to our craftivists Kate Rollison and Carolyn Abbott, the Boundary Women's Group at St Hilda's, Bishopsgate Institute and Waltham Forest Oral History Society.

Most of all, thanks to all the women who have kindly shared their stories. You are an inspiration!

To make the exhibition as accessible as possible for all ages we have included a glossary. We hope you find this useful!

Alice Model, maternity and welfare reformer

Alice Model was a pioneer in infant and maternity welfare. In 1895 she founded the Sick Room Help Society, which dispatched maternity nurses to the homes of sick, poor and confined women. In 1911 this evolved into the Jewish Maternity Hospital in Whitechapel. The hospital closed in 1939, and despite a campaign to save it, was demolished in 2012 by the Peabody Trust.

Alice was also a key player in the formation of a nursery, which had a radical impact on stopping the spread of childhood diseases. They provided children with regular meals and places to wash and disinfect their clothes. Daily visits from doctors also prevented illnesses reaching epidemic proportions. A nursery dedicated to Alice Model still runs in Stepney today.

Alice was one of the many women in East London who helped lay the foundations of the welfare state, including the NHS.

Milly Witkop, trade unionist and pacifist

At only 18 years old, Ukrainian born Milly Witkop found herself in London's East End, after fleeing the Russian pogroms (state-sponsored persecution of the Jews). She found work in the sweat shops, whose harsh conditions made her question her faith and influenced her politics.

In 1895, she met and fell in love with the German-born anarchist Rudolph Rocker. In 1914 they began their opposition to WW1, including opening a soup kitchen to alleviate the poverty it caused. When Rudolph was interned as an enemy alien, Milly continued alone. In 1916 she was imprisoned for anti-war activities.

After the war Milly and Rudolph moved to Berlin. There she developed the concept of socialist-feminism: proletariate women were exploited both by capitalism, and by their male colleagues. She also became concerned with anti-semitism in the labour movement. But in 1933, after the Reichstag fires, this became more than an organising concern, and the couple fled to America.

Eva Slawson, socialist and suffragette

Eva Slawson was a Christian socialist, looking to religion for both spiritual comfort and intellectual stimulation. She joined the Leyton branch of the Independent Labour Party, the Women's Labour League and suffrage organisation, the Women's Freedom League.

Eva was interested in feminist issues, especially the nature of relationships between men and women. In her diaries she expresses interest in radical ideas, while battling with the social expectations for women in relation to marriage and motherhood.

In 1911 Eva met Minna Simmons and a close friendship immediately developed. After Minna's husband died, Eva moved into her home in Walthamstow. While Eva did not describe their relationship in explicitly sexual terms, the relationship was clearly profound.

In this era women struggled with both social restrictions and lack of a language to describe their relationships (the word lesbian would not appear until much later). While we should be wary of looking at the past through a modern lens, Eva's diaries and Minna's letters suggest their relationship became more than a close friendship, and it certainly challenged gender norms.

Mary Leigh, East London Suffragette

Mary Leigh joined the WSPU in 1906 and was unquestionably on the militant side of the campaign, setting fire to the Theatre Royal in Dublin during a packed lunchtime matinee; hurling a hatchet at Asquith and narrowly missing him; and throwing roof slates from Bingley Hall in Birmingham. She was arrested and imprisoned a number of times, went on hunger strike and wrote graphic accounts of force feeding. Even within the WSPU she was considered quite uncontrollable. They were maybe quite relieved when in 1914 she joined the ELFS.

It's unsurprising that this passionate woman had passionate relationships. She is listed as one of several women fellow suffragette Emily Davidson had an intense friendship with, although its exact nature is inconclusive. Our short film explores their relationship, and other suffragettes who rejected gender norms.

Muriel and Doris Lester, pacifists and educational reformers

Leytonstone-born Muriel Lester founded Kingsley Hall with her sister Doris in 1914. During the WW1 it was used as a soup kitchen and by air raid wardens working through the night. It also supported workers during the 1926 General Strike, and in the 1930s Ghandi stayed there.

During her years of campaigning Muriel would face public hostility and even prison for her beliefs. During WW1 she organised a march to parliament, demanding milk was sent to people starving in Germany. Members of Kingsley Hall also cared for a German child for two years. Muriel continued her peace campaigning into WW2, and in 1941 she was arrested and detained in Holloway prison for the remainder of the war. Muriel continued her peace campaigning into the atomic age, and was twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She has been dubbed the Mother of World Peace.

Muriel's younger sister Doris is less well known but also had a significant impact on the local community. She established a purpose-built nursery, which provided free weekly medical support. They also ran excursions to Epping Forest to give the children a break from the city's dirt and squalor.

Clara Grant, educational reformer

In 1900 Clara Grant became headteacher at Devons Road Infant School in Bow. Shocked by the poverty and destitution of the children at her school, she implemented a radical social welfare programme. This included a daily hot meal, supply of clothes and shoes donated by her friends, and the first nurse in a London school.

In 1908 she began work with Margaret and Rachel McMillan at The School Clinic on Devons Road. The McMillan sisters were also education pioneers, having successfully lobbied parliament to provide free school meals for children a few years earlier. All three women understood that it was impossible to educate a tired, dirty, diseased and hungry child. Working alongside two doctors they treated hundreds of children at the clinic. Local teachers gave “gratifiying accounts” of the improvement in their pupils’ behaviour and school work. In 1910 the clinic had outgrown its Bow home and moved to larger premises in Deptford. 

Clara is best known, however, for her “farthing bundles”. Children with a farthing could walk under a 48” (121cm) arch imprinted with the words: Enter All Ye Children Small, None Can Come Who Are Too Tall. The children would then be given their newspaper bundle, which they would sit on the kerb and unwrap. The bundles contained broken toys, coloured paper, pencils, odds and ends of materials and other “very human things such as children love.”

Hetty Bower, pacifist

Hetty Bower was born in 1905 into a large, working class Orthodox Jewish family in Dalston. She became a staunch opponent of the war at only ten years old, after seeing injured returning servicemen.

During WW2 Hetty ran a hostel for Czech refugees, sheltering “trade unionists, socialists, communists, Jews and anyone else they could get out of Czechoslovakia.” She went on to become one of the founding members of CND and summed up her philosophy as:

“We may not win by protesting, but if we don’t protest we will lose. If we stand up to them, there is always a chance we will win.”

Her campaigning continued well beyond her 100th year. In 2011 she spoke at the Hiroshima Commemoration Day in London, and in 2013 she received a standing ovation at the Labour Party conference for her passionate speech, where she declared:

“What I have to campaign about in the short time still left to me is peace on our planet and improvement of living conditions.”

She died a few months later. According to her daughter her almost final words were: “ban the bomb, forever more.”

Poplar Rebel Women, social reformers

In the 1920s councils funded their own local poor relief through the rate system. The high level of unemployment in Poplar meant the council had to charge over twice as much as rich boroughs like Kensington. On top of this, councils were expected to collect a ‘precept’, which funded cross London bodies, such as police and water. 

The Poplar Labour Party refused to collect the precept. They felt it was unfair their poor residents had to pay for centralised services, given they were paying disproportionately more for local services. They were told to pay the precept or face prison.

Five of the councillors had been part of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, and wouldn't be intimidated easily. Minnie Lansbury, Susan Lawrence, Julia Scurr, Nellie Cressall and Jennie Mackay stood by their principles and in 1921 were sent to Holloway prison. A crowd of 10,000 supporters tried to prevent them from entering, but they insisted on standing with their male colleagues.

Following the imprisonment, neighbouring boroughs threatened similar action, and trade unions came out in support. In 1921 the Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act was rushed through parliament, equalising tax burdens.

Due to the harsh prison conditions, Minnie Lansbury died in 1922.

Beattie Orwell, Battle of Cable Street activist

In 1936, when Oswald Mosely and his British Union of Fascists announced they'd march through the Jewish populated Spitalfields, they hadn't anticipated such a huge public outcry. What followed became known as the Battle of Cable Street.

Beattie Orwell was 19 at the time and being Jewish saw this fight as personal. On the day of the march she headed down to Aldgate and saw thousands of protestors – Jews, communists and Irish dockers. There were fights with the police, overturned trucks and people chanting “they shall not pass”.

The protestors outnumbered both the police and the fascists, who were forced to turn back. Beattie remembers a huge cheer when the news of their victory came through.

The Battle of Cable Street is a landmark event in East End history, but it is often told from a male perspective. Women like Beattie prove there were women present, who showed enormous courage in the face of great danger.

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Beattie on the Battle of Cable Street
Anny Brackx, GLF founder member and housing rights activist

In 1970 Gay Liberation Front (GLF) London formed, following the Stonewall Riots the year before. Drawing inspiration from the black civil rights movement, this was a new era in gay rights.

Anny Brackx was involved in GLF from the early days. She was particularly interested in housing and the idea of communal living, where “children are the shared responsibility of the group [and] no gender-role system would operate” There was a general housing crisis at the time, but it was a particular problem for the queer community as they were more likely to be vilified or beaten up in their quest for a home.

Anny became involved in the Hackney squatting scene. Local residents often told the lesbian community when a house was going to become empty as they didn't want a run-down property next door. They were recognised as a group who repaired and maintained houses.

Despite being involved in the development of the GLF manifesto, women were still swamped by men in terms of numbers and issues discussed. Some older gay men didn't feel the women belonged at all as lesbianism wasn't illegal. The women decided to break away.

Many joined the Women's Liberation Movement, however they didn't find themselves any more welcome there. When trying to get the subject of lesbianism on the agenda, they were charged with being “private problems”. It would take years of debate and antagonism until lesbianism was no longer an issue that divided the movement.

Ellen Jones, Greenham Common protestor

Ellen was very much a child of the 1960s. She went to art school, joined CND and got a long-haired boyfriend. All to the horror of her parents.

When a woman came and gave a talk at her CND group saying that women were needed to attend a vigil at Greenham Common, she realised she had to go. At the time there was a general atmosphere of fear around nuclear destruction – they really all thought the world might come to an end. So she went with some friends, and found the event so inspiring she later returned, spending the next two years there.

Life on the camp was hard work. A lot of the time was spent trying to keep warm and the water supplies maintained. Often it was easier not to wash than withstand the icy showers. She and the other women from the camp faced a lot of hostility from those living in the area, including being spat at on the street when shopping for food.

She was involved in a number of direct actions while she was there, including bringing down the fence around the base. Many around her suffered police violence, and Ellen was arrested. For her this meant nothing compared with what the nuclear missiles represented.

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Ellen on the Greenham Common protests
Nancy Taaffe, socialist campaigner

Nancy was born into activism: her mother was on the picket lines at Grunswick and her father was General Secretary of the Socialist Party. But like many teenagers, she rebelled.

The 1984 miners' strike was a turning point for her. She'd seen the impact of mass unemployment on her family in Liverpool, and realised this was what the miners were fighting too, so she joined the Miners' Support Group in Islington.

From here her activism snowballed. In 1985 Nancy became a key organiser in the movement against YTS conscription, which saw 250,000 students come out on strike nationally. She was also involved in some of the first poll tax demonstrations in England in the 1990s, protesting outside the courts in Waltham Forest, and organising a mass burning of poll tax bills. Winning this was one of her greatest moments.

Nancy's activism continues today. In 2005 she successfully campaigned with local dinner ladies against the privatisation of school dinners in Waltham Forest, and was regularly seen at Butterfields Won't Budge protests. She's also stood for parliament as a TUSC candidate for Walthamstow.

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Nancy on her life in protest
The Sari Squad, anti-racism campaigners

In July 1981 Afia Begum's husband was killed in a house fire. She had been given permission by the Home Office to come and live with him, but now he was dead she and her one-year-old baby were threatened with deportation. The Afia Begum Defence Campaign formed to deal with the legal side. The Sari Squad set up to take direct action.

The Sari Squad were a group of Asian women who formed following thousands of similar immigration cases around that time. They engaged in many acts of civil disobedience, including chaining themselves to railings outside Conservative MP Leon Brittan's house. They were arrested and taken to the police station, where they were forced to strip and were searched in front of male police officers. In court a prosecution witness, a neighbour of Leon Brittan's, said: “If you don't like the laws of this land why don't you go back to your own country.” The judge sentenced them each to be bound over for £1000 for a year to keep the peace.

The Sari Squad did not give up. Leyton MP Harry Cohen raised an Early Day Motion to put forward in parliament and the case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights. Before the commission could rule however, Afia was arrested in a dawn raid and deported.

Julie Begum, anti-racism campaigner

East London in the 1970s was not a nice place if you were Bengali. Julie Begum remembers going to school and back as a child was a nightmare, and there were lots of no-go areas. The Bengali community knew they were not wanted and not accepted, and mostly people tried to keep their heads down and avoid attacks.

In 1978 the murder of Altab Ali sparked a huge change. Young men in particular were angry and started organising. But Julie was frustrated that it was always the same men, saying the same things at the anti-racism meetings. Along with other Bengali, and non-Bengali women, she founded Women Unite Against Racism.

At one protest on Bethnal Green Road, Julie remembers the police wanted to set their dogs on the young men. She and the other women got in front to protect the men, and the police were forced to back down.

“[The] police can behave very differently if it is just young men they are dealing with. There was a lot of solidarity and it was nice.”

The group also went door-to-door encouraging women to vote. Many were too frightened, so they organised safe escorts to polling stations. This played a key role in defeating the BNP in the 1994 Tower Hamlets elections.

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Julie on fighting the BNP
Carole Vincent, Reclaim the Street campaigner

In the 1990s, an M11 link road was planned, which would rip through the heart of Leytonstone, taking ancient trees, green spaces and housing with it.

Carol Vincent watched her neighbours receive compulsory purchase orders, and their houses were vacated and boarded up. Environmental protestors arrived from across the country offering to help. They broke in to the houses and occupied them.

The house opposite Carol's became known as Euphoria. The protestors painted it bright colours and grew vegetables in the garden. When the demolition began, security guards tried to remove them activists. They took out the stairs and cut off the power, but the protestors just erected ladders and hooked up to the utilities in other houses. Carol erected a pulley system to hoist food over from her house.

By Leytonstone station there was an ancient yew tree earmarked for demolition. Carol and the protestors formed a circle around it, refusing to move. Unfortunately, a couple of people broke away, which allowed the security guards in. They arrested Carol and the other protestors, and felled the tree.

Despite best efforts, the demolition continued. It was a terrible place to live at the time, with mud and dust everywhere. Those that were home owners got financial compensation for the disruption. Council tenants like Carol got nothing.

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Carole on fighting the M11 link roads
Hibo Wardere, FGM campaigner

Hibo was born in Somalia into a large family. She was woken in the morning by donkeys and goats. It was an idyllic life. Then something happened that changed everything – at six years old Hibo became a victim of Female Genital Mutilation. She wouldn't talk of it for nearly 40 years.

Following the outbreak of war, Hibo came to London. She married, had seven children and began training as a teaching assistant. As part of her training she had to write an essay about child protection. Her husband suggested she write about her own experiences. Although reluctant at first, once she started she couldn't stop. She worked through the night, breaking down many times. The next morning she took her essay to the headteacher and told him she wouldn't go until he'd read it.

He immediately asked her to talk to the other staff. Since then she hasn't stopped, going from school to school talking to staff, and now students, about FGM.

One of her proudest moments was when a child stayed behind to tell Hibo she'd been cut, and was worried the same thing would happen to her sisters. For Hibo, saving just one child makes it worth it.

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Hibo on fighting FGM
Sabeha Miah, social welfare campaigner

Sabeha moved to the Boundary Estate with her young son. Suffering from post-natal depression and knowing nobody, she knew she had to get out and do something.

She got involved in the Boundary Women's Group, who were trying to create safe places for children to play. The estate was run down and crime ridden, so they did up a playground, encouraging more children to come out and play.

Sabeha got more and more involved, and when a vacancy came up to run the group, she was hired. Her work now focuses on breaking isolation and building confidence in other women. She networks with schools, local NHS services and goes out on the estate.

One of Sabeha's proudest moments was a quilting project using traditional Bengali embroidery techniques. The quilt represented how women felt about the area they lived in, and was launched at Shoreditch Town Hall. The curator of the Museum of London described it as “stunning”. Neither Sabeha nor the other women had considered their work in this way before.

Sabeha didn't used to identify as an activist, but her work epitomises the type of “gentle activism” that women excel at, and creates tidal waves of change.

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Sabeha on breaking isolation
Rachel Summers, environmental campaigner

While working in Chingford teaching excluded teenagers, Rachel noticed something was happening when they went outside – their behaviour massively improved. She researched what was going on, and stumbled upon the forest school pedagogy.

Rachel has always loved being outside. As a child she would take snails for a ride on her trike, and had a tank of pet woodlice. She decided to train as a forest school leader, and she knew exactly where she wanted to run it.

It didn't look like an awful lot of conservation was going on at the Low Hall Conservation Area in Walthamstow. It was covered in dog poo, needles and signs of rough sleepers. But Rachel was struck by the bird song and she could see its potential. She emailed the council and asked them if she could use the space. After much pestering they eventually agreed and helped her clean it up.

Now it's not just Rachel using the space. Today it boasts art sculptures, seating, and local schools running their own outdoor learning sessions there.

Rachel is also involved with Extinction Rebellion. She talked to her children about the climate crisis, and people like Greta Thunberg. They decided they wanted to organise their own school strike, which Rachel helped them with.

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Rachel on connecting with nature
Rachel Salmon, disability campaigner

Rachel and her sister were some of the first visually impaired children to go to a mainstream school. They were trailblazers but it could also be quite challenging as some of the teachers didn't want to teach them.

These early experiences informed her political views. In the 1990s she joined the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and Disabled People's Direct Action Network (DAN). At that time there were very few rights for disabled people. You could be sacked or refused work because of your disability, and there was no equal right to services. Rachel got involved in lots of direct actions, such as stopping traffic by chaining herself to buses in Whitehall. There were lots of arrests, including Rachel herself. There was also some police brutality, including a famous incident where they tipped someone out of their wheelchair. The public were sympathetic and eventually the Tories were forced to pass the Disability Discrimination Act.

This period was an important part of her coming of age; understanding and being proud of who she was.

Rachel currently works at Hackney Council and is shop steward for her union. She has done a lot of work around inclusivity, including race, sexual identity, gender and disability.

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Rachel on disability rights
Zita Holbourne, trade unionist and human rights activist, visual artist, poet and author

Zita's mother is from the Caribbean, and she was raised with a strong sense of racial and social justice. Her mother taught her how to stand up to racism in her own life, but also stand in solidarity with others.

In 2010 Zita founded Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK with Lee Jasper. They knew the coalition government was going to introduce huge cuts, which were going to disproportionately impact black workers, service users and communities. Deepening racism and injustice goes hand-in-hand with austerity, so they also co-founded the Movement Against Xenophobia. They fought against the Immigration Bill, a racist and divisive piece of legislation. Unfortunately, the bill passed into law as at that time all major parties were pandering to the right wing. The Windrush Scandal was a direct outcome of that piece of legislation and Zita helped set up BAME Lawyers for Justice, an umbrella group of race equality and justice groups. It supports individual families facing deportation and campaigns on the hostile environment and injustice faced by black communities.

Zita has been stalked online and in real life by the far right, including receiving death threats, but one of her abusers was prosecuted. Lots of women get targeted online but if you are a black woman it is even more vitriolic. Zita believes that it is an attempt to silence our voices and that everybody has a responsibility to challenge misogyny and racist abuse.

Through her trade union work Zita has also represented hundreds of people who have faced discrimination, harassment and bullying at work, and won.

Zita campaigns for equality, freedom, rights and justice through activism and the arts.

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Zita on fighting racism
Susan Wills, libraries campaigner

The first public libraries were established in the late 1880s and proved hugely popular. Particularly for those from working-class backgrounds who had missed out on school, as they became an essential source of self-education. And self-education was an integral part of radical political culture.

As a committed socialist and educator, Susan knew the value of libraries even today. She said: “[libraries] are a brilliant socialist concept, and although fewer books are borrowed nowadays, their function is far more than that. They offer something that is really unique to communities.


She also understood the threat libraries were constantly under since the coalition government began its programme of austerity in 2010. “I knew at some point they would come for my library, and I was determined to be there to stop them.


In 2016 her fears were realised when Waltham Forest Council announced plans to close three local libraries, one of which was Susan's local in the Higham Hill ward of Walthamstow. So she pulled together some people she knew might help and they organised a public meeting.

Within a year of the campaign being launched the council changed their plans and the library was saved. Susan knew it would take little for that threat to return so she set up Friends of Higham Hill Library to ensure the library remained a vibrant and valued part of the community.

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Susan on saving libraries
Roz Kaveney, trans-rights activist

The transgender community has frequently found themselves marginalised from the rest of the queer community. From the 1990s onwards however their own movement began to grow following increasing acceptance of gender fluidity. 

Roz Kaveney is a writer, poet and trans-activist from Hackney. She said: "I was reared Catholic but got over it, was born male but got over it, stopped sleeping with boys about the time I stopped being one and am much happier than I was when I was younger."

Roz was part of the policy forum during the creation of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which allows trans people to get their identity recognised on their birth certificate. She is also a founding member of Feminists Against Censorship and a former deputy chair of Liberty. She is deputy editor of the transgender-related magazine META.

Online platforms have enabled a deluge of hate to be directed at transwomen in particular, with Roz being especially singled out for attack.

Ewa Jasiewicz

Ewa's parents are Polish migrants, who grew up during WW2, experiencing devastating loss and trauma. She witnessed first hand the impact war and wanted to resist.

Her parents were not politically active however, and it was not until university this world opened up to her. She got involved in a campaign against tuition fees, taking part in an occupation on campus, where political organisations gave talks, cementing her ideas about power dynamics and social justice movements. Along with new friends she'd made, this led to involvement with groups like Reclaim the Streets and the Carnival Against Capitalism event in 1999.

Ewa's was also an organiser in the Free Gaza Movement. She was on the Freedom Flotilla in 2010, where ten activists were killed. Her boat was also boarded and they were tied up and threatened. She's also experienced aerial bombardment, received death threats and spent time in prison in Israel.

Ewa continues to campaign on a variety of issues, from climate change to housing and social cleansing in Tower Hamlets. She feels activism has been over compartmentalised. Events like Carnival Against Capitalism would be hard to realise today, and people fail to make the link between climate change, human rights and wider power struggles.

Franzika Grobke

Fran grew up in Zurich, leading a fairly sheltered life. She had thoughts about the negative impacts of capitalism, just no language to describe them, or movement to pin them on.

In 2003 she moved to London to study. Her growing education, and experience of living in a multicultural city, gave her the ability to voice the thoughts she was having. This lead to work with Amnesty International and Madres de la Plaza de Mayo - Linea Fundadora (Mother of Plaza de Mayo – Founding Line), a group of mothers in Argentina whose children were “disappeared”.

Around 2010 Fran became more aware of direct action, through feminist movements like Slut Walks. Although she'd always believed in feminists principals, she hadn't used the term to describe herself. The rise of 4th wave feminism gave her confidence to speak out. She now campaigns with Sisters Uncut against cuts to domestic violence funding.

A key motivation for Fran's campaigning is to share alternative narratives to the ones presented by mainstream media, corporate institutions and governments. In 2014 she sailed to the Arctic on the Greenpeace Esperanza, to bear witness and report back on the activities of oil companies in the region. Seismic testing is used to discover oil pockets under the water, creating explosions louder than jet engines. It can be heard hundreds of miles away, and endangers whales and dolphins who use sonar to breed and mate.

Emmeline May

Emmeline grew up surrounded by strong women. Raised by a single mother, who herself was raised by a single mother, she was brought up to believe that if you have something to say, then say it. So after experiencing sexual harassment a number of times, she blogged about it. She got a huge response from others who'd been through similar experiences.

When a local woman asked if anyone wanted to work with her to start a campaign to end street harassment, she immediately said yes. Together with another friend, the three of them co-founded Walthamstow Women: Taking Back The Streets

The group's working with the Police to ensure all street harassment is logged, whether legally defined as harassment or not. They're also campaigning to get more women reporting it, but this will take a big cultural shift because it's often trivialised.

Emmeline's also blogged about sexual consent, developing the cup of tea analogy: sometimes you want a cup of tea, and sometimes you don't; you never force someone to have a cup of tea if they don't want one. It went viral. It's since been use by the CPS and Thames Valley Police as their official campaign. It's also been used internationally, translated for different cultures and languages.

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Emmeline on sexual consent
Dr Helen Pankhurst

Growing up in Ethiopia, Helen didn't find the feminist and pacifist ideologies of her grandmother Sylvia dominated family discussions. It wasn't until she came to England to study, and people were interested in her name, this side of her heritage fully opened up.

It was in 2012 that it became firmly cemented. She was in the Olympic opening ceremony, which included a suffragette re-enactment, with costumes and original banners. It was a powerful moment for all who took part.

Afterwards, the group stayed in touch, and they campaigned together with UK Feminista. They also come together for CARE's Walk in her Shoes, an annual event where they take 10,000 steps in solidarity with women in developing countries, who walk this far every day, for exmple to collect water. The event embodies the principals of the East London suffragettes – standing up in solidarity.

Owing to her international upbringing, Helen straddles a line between UK feminism, and international feminism and development. She's worked for a number of international organisations, including Womankind Worldwide, WaterAid and currently Care International. Although much has been achieved, she feels there's still a lot to be done.


Women Activists of East London is a project by Share UK, a non profit digital group based in East London, and funded by The National Heritage Lottery Fund.

This online exhibition has been developed in response to the COVID 19 crisis. We hope at some point in the not too distant future we can bring the exhibition back into the community. To find out further details about when that may happen, as well as further updates to this online project, visit our Contact Page to follow our social media or sign-up to our mailing list.

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