”Deeds, not words”, was the motto of Emmeline Pankhurst when campaigning for, or rather demanding, the right to vote in Britain, little over a hundred years ago. The suffrage campaign across the world at that time is identified as the defining element of the first wave of feminism. Its impact was momentous and had an incredible influence on our world. Anglophile Signe Bergman carried the torch back home to Sweden, and this year it’s 100 years ago since the bill for women’s voting rights was passed here – a full nine years before the British suffragettes had their corresponding success.
So, as a centenary celebration, what could be more fitting than to launch a Museum of Women’s History? To make it even more fitting, the project’s launch month of March is, in case you didn’t know, Women’s History Month. A time to set aside to honour women’s contributions in science, business, sports, social movements, and any other field you could come to think of.
Lina Thomsgård and the good people behind the Kvinnohistoriska initiative were obviously not content with a few mentions during one short month (well, it’s actually one of the longer months but you understand what I mean) and founded Kvinnohistoriska, the Stockholm Museum of Women’s History, so we could honour women’s contributions all year round.
Kvinnohistoriska aims to highlight how women influence the progress of society, and wants to actively challenge the marginalisation of women in the creation and use of history. And as “trying to fit half of humanity’s history within four walls is impossible”, the initiative is without a permanent building, instead aiming to be a platform for a wide range of stories, in the shape of exhibitions, workshops, discussions in multiple locations, while collaborating with many ‘member’ organisations and museums. Lina Thomsgård, co-founder, explains. “The organisation Stockholms Kvinnohistoriska was founded by a group of museums that wanted to contribute and cooperate in creating a new and innovative museum which focuses on women’s presence in history. Rather than being in a fixed location, Kvinnohistoriska is a mobile entity, a moving consciousness. We want to be an active part of society all over the city, to meet you where you are, and make sure that women’s history is added to the common knowledge. We have worked hard for a year to make this happen, and also to make sure we have a plan that gives us a long life.”
Could you let us know more about the motives, the aim, the ambition, and just why you felt you had to instigate this project right now?
The mission is to be an active part of building a rich and diverse worldview, by broadening the knowledge about women in society. We want to show how, despite being marginalised throughout history, women have played an integral role in developing society all over the world. By giving voice to the women of the past, we will open up space for the women of the future to be heard. The lack of knowledge is widespread, but by using the expertise of our members we can collaborate to make the knowledge available to more people. And perhaps for those who wouldn’t spend their free afternoon in a museum, this could be a first step! By city walks, talks, picnics, salons and podcasts we can reach new audiences and at the same time point them to all the fantastic things that are already going on in the city.
There has been quite a few museums of women’s history of late, Umeå and New York for example and in Washington DC, the National Museum of Women’s History is ‘homeless’ too, but has a stated aim of finding an appropriate building. Would you ever look into the idea of having a permanent location, or are you perfectly happy with being mobile and having events all across the city?
Only the future can tell! Right now this makes us both flexible and fast, and that is brilliant in 2019. Tradition and expertise is at the core of our organisation through our members, networks and advisory boards but in order to also be progressive and innovative, NOT having a huge, permanent and expensive building gives us a lot of strength and inspiration which has led to new opportunities.
I know there are numerous events but could you tell me a bit about the programme for the opening month?
Trying to fit half of humanity’s history within four walls is impossible. Launching a new women’s history museum in one single day is equally unimaginable. This is why the opening of our museum is taking place over a whole month. At Hökens Gata, we are distilling our city scope of 187,160,000 square metres’ worth of knowledge into a room of 28 square metres, with events hosted by our network of organisations, where hidden and half-forgotten history will be presented by experts from near and far. The calendar for the opening month is being updated continuously. You will be able to listen to experts in the field of women’s history, take part in workshops and discussions, enjoy artwork by Petra Bauer and Makda Embaie, and join our Women’s History Association (Kvinnohistoriska Sällskapet). Even looking at just this week, there are talks about Satan, liquor, cultural heritage, slavery and much more.
I know your stated aim is to work with the whole city as your canvas, but it seems like almost everything is going on at your headquarters at Hökens Gata 11. I assume you have approached other venues and museums for collaborations, what has the reaction been like when approaching your long list of members?
The response has been nothing but fabulous, and our long list of members are only the ones we have had the time to sit down with. More will follow! This opening month we are at Hökens Gata everyday (even Mondays!) so people can come meet us, to shake hands and be able to ask questions, Those things are very important. But we also have stuff going on in other places, like our big collaboration Kvarterets Kvinnor – Women in the neighbourhood – at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern. It is on display at Kulturhuset until August. After our launch months, when it’s not as dark and cold, we will move outside – with city walks, talks, picnics, historical podcasts and much more. Plus, there’s all the fabulous things that are going on at our member’s institutions.
And what’s the response been like, from visitors, the media and perhaps the city itself during these first two weeks?
Absolutely fantastic. From 12-year-old trans girls who pop by just to say hi to 92-year-old ladies who say they’ve been waiting for this their entire lives. We have had a tough time fitting all the people in at our events but that’s great – for all the full ones we can replicate them in a few weeks in our members’ locations if they are up for it. This is like a month-long focus group where we learn more than we would normally do during a year. We just needed to get going, the rest will come along as we grow.
If you look ahead, what’s your idea of how this project will evolve over the next couple of years, and is there any sort of dream project you would like to do?
There are so many things to be done! We want to bring Kvarterets Kvinnor to other parts of the city, and also transform the whole subway map into a women’s history timeline.
Main Image: Lina Thomsgård by Sofia Runarsdotter