The Female of the Species: A Celebration of Women in History. Online exhibition


Special Collections, University of Otago


21st June, 2019


‘As a class, women seem always to have been too busy to say much about themselves. And sometimes it has seemed that the more worthwhile their deeds the less they said about them. Few women have had Boswells, though many should have’.
            Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, 1937

A woman’s role in society, until recently, has traditionally been as wife, mother, and caregiver. She is often remembered in history, overwhelmingly written by men, for her looks, her body, or her scandalous behaviour. Women make up at least half of the world’s population, but they occupy less than one percent of recorded history. As you will find in this exhibition, The Female of the Species: A Celebration of Women in History, women have always been writers, inventors, leaders, activists, and warriors. However, their contributions have often been overlooked, fading into a background overshadowed by men.

The paucity of resources about women has proven a challenge, but in the exhibition, you will find books highlighting familiar faces: Cleopatra, Emmeline Pankhurst, Marie Curie, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Florence Nightingale, and Janet Frame. You will also learn of the endeavours of less familiar women in history: Christine de Pisan, the 14th century proto-feminist; Boudica, Queen of the Iceni; Hypatia, the mathematician; Ida Pfeiffer, the Austrian traveller; Mary Somerville, the scientist; Ann Radcliffe, the writer; Margaret Sanger, the birth control activist; Teuta, the pirate Queen; Charlotte Guillard, the Paris printer; and many more besides.

Let us now bring the exploits of all these women into the light.


Curated by Romilly Smith and Dr Donald Kerr, Special Collections, University of Otago

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