Out Gallivanting – Launch of ‘Our Red Aunt’ Exhibition by Fiona Jack at GWL

Yesterday was a good day for women in Scotland with the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the Scottish Parliament. Congratulations to Scottish Women’s Aid, all of the Women’s Aid’s throughout Scotland and everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen.

What better way to celebrate than with a trip to Glasgow Women’s Library for the launch of Fiona Jack’s exhibition ‘Our Red Aunt‘ inspired by her great aunt Helen Crawfurd?!

I don’t really believe in heroes and heroines but Helen Crawfurd is definitely a favourite of mine. She seems like she was a real character! A strong women who stood up for what she believed in.

Fiona’s exhibition, Glasgow Women’s Library’s first international solo exhibition, builds upon her earlier involvement with GWL’s 2016 exhibition ‘Forward’ on the Women’s Peace Crusade. It focuses on the life and work of Helen Crawfurd, who although familiar in the world of women’s and labour history in Scotland is less well known to the general public. When introducing the exhibition, Adele Patrick (co-founder and Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager at GWL) recounted a recent screening of ‘Suffragette’ at Cineworld In Glasgow at which only one person in the audience of 500 could name a Scottish suffragette or suffragist. (I’m sure everyone in Scotland will know a lot more about suffrage before the end of the centenary year!)

Helen Crawfurd (nee Jack) born in the Gorbals in 1877 was actively involved in militant suffrage protest in the UK, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1910. She was involved in the infamous window smashing in Oxford Street in 1912 which resulted in imprisonment at Holloway. She later was imprisoned in Duke Street in Glasgow and Perth where she was forcefed. Unlike the Pankhursts, however as a committed pacifist she did not support the war which began in 1914, instead she joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) travelled to Ireland to meet James Connely and Irish women revolutionaries. In 1915 she became involved in the rent strikes in Glasgow which opposed private landlords profiteering at the expense of their tenants, many of whom were women working in munitions factories while their husbands, brothers and sons were fighting in the armed forces. In the same year she formed the Glasgow Branch of the Women’s International League and in 1916 she co-founded the Women’s Peace Crusade with Agnes Dollan in Glasgow. As vice-president of the Scottish Division of the ILP she was invited to Moscow where she met Lenin. She later left the ILP and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1921.

If you want to know more about Helen Crawfurd you can read her entry in WHS’s own The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (the above was adapted from Audrey Canning’s entry in the Dictionary – pp. 84-85) or for an even more in-depth analysis of her work with the Women’s Peace Crusade see Lesley Orr’s ‘‘‘Shall we not speak for ourselves?’ Helen Crawfurd, War Resistance and the Women’s Peace Crusade 1916-1918’. See also a recent blog post from the GWL’s Laura Matheson ‘Meeting Helen Crawfurd through her own words…’.

All of Helen’s political influences are evident in Fiona’s exhibition which includes a display of banners with her quotations embroidered upon them. Helen certainly had a talent for hard hitting and snappy sound bites!

 

 ‘Could Insanity reach a higher level?’ Helen asks

The exhibition also features Fiona’s beautiful ceramics which depict Helen’s influences. Like Lucy (see tweet below) I think my favourite is the jug with the quote ‘I have been an active supporter of any movement that has attacked capitalism’:

 

Accompanying the exhibition is also a copy of Helen’s autobiography which has remained unpublished for decades in spite of its significance for both women’s and labour history in Scotland. There have been several attempts over the years to publish but legal difficulties have thwarted attempts. Hopefully publication will now be imminent! Meanwhile I’m sure anyone interested would be more than welcome to consult the copy in the Women’s Library.

At the launch we also had refreshments in the form of bread rolls made to a traditional Jack family recipe by the High Rise Bakers based in Gorbals as part of Bridging the Gap. (Helen’s father, William Jack was a master baker)

We all also went home with a lovely gift from the exhibition in the form of a polished stone bearing another quote from Helen ‘in the hands of the proletariat’:

‘Our Red Aunt’ is on at Glasgow Women’s Library until Saturday 17th of March 2018. It’s well worth a visit!

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

With thanks to @rreitak, @suffragettecites, @ELucyJanes, @LesleyOrr14 and @highrisebakersfor the use of images from twitter (I took lots of lovely photos, but turns out my camera wasn’t working!)

 

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