This Sunday the England Women’s football team take on Spain in the World Cup Final over in Australia. Throughout the history of organised football in Britain, women have struggled for acceptance from certain sectors of society. Our football collection of 1000 objects was assembled between the 1950s and 1970s and once had only one object with a relation to women in football. A cartoon from 1877 titled ‘Football for Ladies’ mocking the very idea of women’s football. Despite such mockery the first high profile women’s match took place in 1895, drawing a crowd of over 10,000.
For a short time, during and after the First World War, women’s football overtook the men’s game in popularity. As male footballers and football fans from up and down the country were called to war, professional football ground to a screeching halt. Women who had taken up positions in factories and other places of work, in aid of the war effort, stepped in to fill the void on the pitch. Teams such as Dick Kerr Ladies emerged from Dick, Kerr & Co of Preston. This famous team of female wartime munitions workers played matches against other newly formed women’s teams to crowds of tens of thousands.
In one of British football’s most controversial moments the Football Association ended the flourishing women’s game with the stroke of a pen. On 5 December 1921, they declared that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. In a cruel move, which many believe was made to protect the financial interests of those involved in the men’s game, the FA banned any affiliated team from hosting a women’s match inside its stadium. This meant that teams who had been achieving roaring crowds of tens of thousands suddenly had nowhere to play but parks and fields. The ban stood for fifty years and still persists in the minds of some people who believe that football is ‘just’ ‘a man’s game’.
The recovery of womens football has gained momentum in the last two decades. Last year our museum collected some representitive shirts and trophies from the Hitchin Belles, a team formed in 1999 which has grown into one of the largest women and girl’s teams in the country. A perfect representitive of the growth of the women’s grassroots game on our very doorstep!
Despite the absolutley momumental fifty year set back “football for ladies” has risen from the ashes to a place where tens of thousands will cheer once again.
Guest blog post by Catherine Maddex and Maya Coetzee of Monk’s Walk School
We came to North Herts Museum for our Year 12 work experience, and as history students we found it so interesting! The team gave us a wide range of tasks to do, such as arranging a display cabinet and shadowing the front of house staff, which helped us to improve our people skills. During our time here we also got the opportunity to attend meetings, which gave us an insight into the inner workings of museums.
Our favourite part of our work experience was looking at the digitised accession records on eHive (the museum’s object database) and being tasked with researching for the object of the week post for an upcoming social media post. It was fascinating to learn about and have access to such historical objects, as well as documenting more recent local history, such as the archival material collected in reaction to the Queen’s death.
Overall, the lovely staff and welcoming atmosphere made it a valuable and memorable experience. We are so grateful to the museum for allowing us this opportunity!
Guest post by Niamh Parker of Samuel Whitbread Academy
During my week spent in the North Herts Museum, I ended up finding myself in a wide variety of all the different roles that keep the museum running. Roles in a museum can range from things you would usually expect such as archiving objects or setting up displays, or lesser-known jobs such as accessioning (making something an official museum object), something I didn’t even know existed until I had a go at it! In my time here I helped set up a display, learnt how ehive (the museum’s object database) works, archived some objects, helped with accessioning, created a social media post, learnt about what goes on at the front desk and created a quiz about the museum for a group of scouts.
My favourite aspect of working at the museum has been the overwhelming sense of community I’ve felt being here. A memory I will always treasure is getting to show a display I helped set up about the life of a lady named Pauline, who was a WRVS worker, to her son. Seeing how much our display meant to him and hearing him say how proud his mum would be of it meant so much to me. I’ve also loved hearing about the lives and journeys of all the staff here at the museum; it has given me a real glimpse at the sort of places I want my life to take me.
To any students even remotely interested in history, whether you take it as a subject or just enjoy it as a hobby, I cannot recommend this experience enough. I’ve loved every part of it, and really wish I could stay here for 10 more weeks and beyond. Every single role has been fascinating to learn about, even more so to take part in. There is so much more to this museum than you’d ever think beyond just the exhibits.