For some time now I have been frustrated by my own apathy. Feeling enfranchised but powerless, I can often be heard exclaiming, ‘But what can I do?’ at the end of frustrated rants.
So there was something about Caroline Norton that inspired me. Her portrait hangs in the Out of the Shadow exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.
In 1855 Norton wrote a letter to Queen Victoria. She was already a renowned as a social reformer having campaigned for increased custody rights for mothers after her husband had forbidden her from seeing her own children. The campaign led to a law introducing custody rights for mothers in 1839.
Norton’s letter to the queen highlighted the hypocrisy of a female married woman being monarch of a country where married women were legally non-existent. Despite being estranged from her abusive husband, Norton had no legal power to divorce him and all her earnings and possessions were legally his property.
Norton’s letter, and accompanying long-running campaign, had influence. In 1857, women were given the right to divorce their husbands, and in 1870 women were given the right to keep their earnings. As a woman, Norton was not allowed to vote and she had very little legal status, but she worked hard to ensure she wasn’t powerless. She did not entertain apathy.
So Norton’s action has prompted me to act. I have launched a project called ‘from her to her’ – a living archive of letters written from women to women. My performance for Untaught to Shine is an extension of this new project. A chance to celebrate Norton’s activism, to celebrate the plethora of excellent female role models past and present, to prompt, challenge and laud women with influence. It is a call to action, a farewell to apathy.
To find out more about ‘from her to her’, and to contribute a letter to the project, please visit www.from-her-to-her.com