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Cross Curricular Project: Votes for Women 1918-2018

6th July 2018

This year had the staff reverting to form for the ‘cross curricular project’ for the lower school. The girls had four days ‘off timetable’ following an alternative academic timetable. Remove and Inters had lessons together and the LTs were taught as a discrete class.

All lessons were specifically prepared by staff driven by subject based observations on something related to the women’s suffrage movement through to the fourth wave feminism of 2018. The range of material covered was great, ranging from fashion changes with Dr Donald, Crystallography with Mrs Stacey and Mrs Johnson, the suffragettes with Mrs Crossley and the voices of the suffragettes with Ms Sherlock. Feminism was explored with Mrs Kirby and suffrage and anti-suffrage songs were studied and rehearsed with Mrs Walster. Votes for women in Spain and England were considered with Sr Jimenez, the suffragettes’ London and other geographical places of significance were considered with Mrs Roitt and DNA and Rosalind Franklin was considered with Mrs Britton.

The girls had two preparatory assemblies by Ms Sherlock drawn from the presentation of suffrage in Mary Poppins and also feminist readings of the 1960s musicals The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. Miss Evie Davis, the wonderfully musical Gap Assistant was also able to include her A Capella singing group, and their rendition of When I Grow Up from Matilda. Girls also watched Kate Adie’s wonderful documentary on Women in World War One, which gave them an overview of how much women’s lives changed on account of the war and the suffrage movement.

Armed with new knowledge, on Friday afternoon all girls wrote monologues inspired by aspects of the studies that have especially touched them. These monologues were then used by the talented Mandy Constance, who wrote last year’s 120th anniversary play. She wrote a play especially for the girls in their voices and it was a very empowering experience for them.

After a day and a half of rehearsal by Tuesday afternoon there was an excellent performance representing significant learning. With powerful crowd scenes, the ‘sister suffragettes’ roused the audience in musical chorus, as Emmeline Pankurst rallied her troops. Juxtaposing scenes of hunger strikers being force-fed as the ladies of the anti-movement ‘scoffed’ excessively, both literally and metaphorically over afternoon tea, were especially powerful, bringing light humour to what could have been a very dark drama. The 1913 Epsom Derby was another highlight. The affectionate nuzzling of Anmer, the King’s horse, won both the players’ and the audience’s hearts, leading to a very sorry scene of Emily Wilding Davisons’ failed attempt to send her sash over the finishing line.

The final scene, against a large silk banner in the suffragettes’ colours was stunning. The girls turned their suffragette banners around to the voice of Oprah Winfrey’s powerful speech of women’s rights today and revealed new banners of #metoo.

For the last two years there have been ‘extraordinary’ cross curricular projects in the form of the whole school Somme centenary residential trip 2016 and the 120th Wychwood anniversary play in 2017, but it was wonderful to return to the traditional format and to remind ourselves just how powerful and educational this experience really is.

Ms B Sherlock