Anonymous Women in the Collection

Assistant Curator of Social History Nicola Pullan reflects on the many unnamed women in the collection on ‘Stories’ day of Museum Week. 

It’s that time of year at Abbey House Museum where we are starting to research our next temporary exhibition.  In January 2018 we will be looking at women’s lives and how they have changed over the last 150 years.  This is partly in honour of the 100th anniversary of the first women getting the right to vote in general elections.  The exhibition itself will look at lots of different aspects of women’s lives including health, education and work.

A black and white photograph of a Victorian nurse. She has on a long, grand dress with a white apron, and an extraagant headpiece.
Copy of a photograph of an unidentified probationer nurse c. 1873, Leeds General Infirmary.

We have begun looking more closely at our collections to pull out some great stories to share.  However, yesterday, I was struck by the numbers of stories we will never be able to get to the bottom of.  We have a large number of photographic postcards of a wide variety of Victorian women.   In many cases we know who took the photograph, but we rarely know who the women themselves were and have very few clues about how to find out more.  This brought to mind the Virginia Woolf quote from A Room of One’s Own: “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”

A black and white head shot of a young Victorian woman. The bottom of the image says 'Albert Sachs, Bradford'.
Studio image of an anonymous woman, taken by Albert Sachs, Bradford based photographers between 1873 and 1900.

Sadly, we’ll never get to find out more about the lives of these women, who they were and how they lived.  Many of the women will, mostly, continue to be anonymous, but our ongoing Pinterest board hosts of some of their images.  That way we will – at least -be able to share what they have left behind of themselves.  We do, of course, have unidentified men in our collections too, but that’s a board for another day!

A sepia studio image of a woman dressed in a white dress with a bright red rose on it, holding a basket with flowers in.
Studio image of an anonymous woman, taken by Naudin & Co. in 1883. This image has a small amount of colour, unlike many of the others in the collections.


By Nicola Pullan, Assistant Curator of Social History.

For more information on Abbey House Museum, click here.



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