March is the month for Women’s History, and we must consider how things have changed for women all over the world, and Britain as well.
Just three hundred years ago, unmarried women had to give up their babies, and just two hundred years ago, men could sell their wives at public auctions. And, just a hundred years ago, women had just won the vote!
However, women who stood up for themselves five hundred years ago could be silenced with an iron mask in order to be stopped from talking (or eating).
Even though things still aren’t perfect, life has dramatically changed for women today in Britain and around the world, and we must be proud that we’ve come much, much further than our ancestor could have dreamed.
A book written by Maggie Andrews and Janis Lomas titled A History of Women in 100 Objects examines the medical, cultural, and general things that symbolize female progress, and it’s the everyday items that can tell us so much.
Krista Cowman, a professor of history at Lincoln University said that this is why social history museums are so popular. They serve as a physical reminder of how far we’ve come!
Today, we have picked out a few items from the book that visualize the harsh reality of women throughout history, and the first on the list is the Scold’s Bridle.
It was a heavy metal frame used throughout Britain in the 16th century in order to silence women who have spoken out against patriarchy. It was never an officially sanctioned legal practice, but it was used as a punishment for a “scold” – a term applied to women who challenged accepted notions of womanhood.
Next on the list is wife selling.
It wasn’t uncommon for men in the 18th and 19th centuries to sell their wives in public auctions when they wanted a divorce. It wasn’t legal, but it was a common thing among the poorer classes.
And the next thing on the list is the force-feeding equipment.
The suffragettes that were fighting for the vote right were often put in prison in the early 20th century, and many of them refused food in protest. So, the authorities figured a way on how to feed them. It involved inserting a rubber tube around 45cm long down the throat or one nostril directly into the stomach.
And the last thing on the list is the London Foundling Hospital.
Unmarried women back in the 1700s were unable to keep their babies. They were forced to leave them at the London Foundling Hospital and were also asked to leave a token with their child, so they could later identify their child. There are more than 18,000 tokens at the Foundling Museum in London.