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Women Don't Do Such Things!

February 4 to June 19 2022

Women Don't Do Such Things! is an exhibition and series of workshops, lectures and films celebrating the achievements of women past and present who have led change in their communities, careers and countries throughout history.

Walk in the footsteps of pioneering activists, doctors, archaeologists and artists…the champion of organic farming…a Nobel prize-winning chemist and the first female pilot in England…you will be moved by their poignant stories of the brave Suffolk women who broke down barriers and proved that indeed Women Did Do Such Things!

In 1911 the struggle for women’s enfranchisement was at its peak and in response to the requirement for all households to provide personal information many suffragettes and suffragists decided to boycott the census and adopted the slogan ‘if women do not count, then why count women?’ Many also joined the Women’s Tax Resistance League and amongst them was Princess Sophie Duleep Singh the daughter of a Maharajah, of mixed Indian and European ancestry with a privileged British upbringing and whose godmother was Queen Victoria. This maybe an unlikely background for a political activist but Sophie Duleep Singh was, nevertheless, a highly effective pioneer of women’s rights.

Edith Maud Cook was a contemporary of Singh and also lived in Suffolk that is until she ran away from home at 14 to go on her first balloon flight and by the age of 20 was employed as a parachutist demonstration in highly dangerous exhibitions across the country thrilling her spectators. In 1910 she travelled to France determined to train to be a pilot which she did so becoming the first ever British women to fly a plane.

Eve Balfour was also born in the late 19th century and was one of the first women to study agriculture at an English university. In 1919 at the age of 21 she and her sister bought a farm in Haughley Green Suffolk and launched the Haughley Experiment which was the first long-term scientific comparison of organic and chemical based farming. In 1946 Balfour co-founded the Soil Association and pioneered the development of organic farming and the growth of demand for organic food and sustainable farming methods.

The Women Don’t Do Such Things! theme is carried through to a series of lectures in which local academics explore the lives and works of women who visited, lived or worked in Suffolk.

The first in the series will take place on Thursday April 26 when Gill Lowe will take her audience on a tour of Suffolk, revisiting Virginia Woolf’s occasional visits to the county.

In the summer of 1906 Virginia stayed at Blo’ Norton Hall, an Elizabethan manor house between Thetford and Diss where she began the short story ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’. Blo’ Norton was next rented by Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, whose sister was the suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh. Their father, the last Sikh Maharajah, had settled at Elveden Hall which may have been the inspiration for the idyllic, mystical estate that appears as Elvedon in Woolf’s novel The Waves. In July 1916 Virginia and Leonard Woolf visited her sister, Vanessa Bell, who was living at Wissett Lodge with conscientious objectors, Duncan Grant and David Garnett. It was while staying there that Virginia conceived the idea for her novel Night and Day.

On 9 June Vivienne Aldous will talk about Elizabeth Cobbold (1765-1824) who was the epitome of a middle-class woman of her time: the second wife of Ipswich brewer John Cobbold, mother and stepmother of many children including Richard Cobbold, author of the famous book telling the story of Margaret Catchpole, Elizabeth’s onetime servant and horse thief. But she was more than that. Poet, artist and hostess of her famous Valentine’s Day balls she was also up-to-date with the scientific developments of her age and supported the anti-slavery movement. She was a remarkable woman who stretched the limits of what a woman of her generation might do.

Women Don't Do Such Things! at The Hold, Ipswich, IP4 1LR

Book tickets:

Virginia Woolf in Suffolk with Gill Lowe on Thursday 26 May 2022

Elizabeth Cobbold with Vivienne Aldous on Thursday 9 June 2022


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