Remembering Patti Mayor, the artist activist

This is one of two blogs marking International Women’s Day, exploring the artist Patti Mayor and her legacy. This blog has been written by Francine McMahon, a post-graduate student currently studying MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies at The University of Manchester. Prior to this, Francine did an undergraduate degree in Philosophy. She is currently on placement at Gallery Oldham working as a collections researcher. Francine’s interest in the relationships between art, design and social history are explored in this post, looking at them through the theme of women’s rights protests.

International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on the 8th of March, celebrates the achievements and movement of women’s rights. This makes it a great time to reflect on historic women’s movements, and figures that represent them. One example can be found in the work of Preston-born artist Patti Mayor, who often used working women as a focus for her work.

The Half-Timer by Patti Mayor, Harris Museum & Art Gallery

This painting, ‘The Half-Timer’, by Patti Mayor, was carried at the Women’s Sunday march which took place in London in 1908. This painting was chosen because working women, who contributed their labour and taxes to the country, demonstrated a strong reason why they should also have a say in the country’s politics. The subject of the portrait is a young girl from Preston, whose name was Annie Hill. We can tell she is a working girl because she is wearing a shawl, and the name of the painting refers to children working as ‘halftimers’, splitting their days between work and education.

Women’s Sunday, 1908

On Sunday the 21st of June, 1908, the Manchester-founded Women’s Social Political Union (WSPU) – better known as the suffragettes – and their supporters gathered in London for a protest march. The march took place in three groups, who all met in Hyde Park, where speakers spoke about women’s suffrage. Nearly 500,000 people gathered for the event, which was organised in response to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s challenge for suffrage campaigners to show how strongly votes for women were wanted.
Supporters travelled from all over the country, and as the march was organised to take place on a Sunday, working women, like ‘The Half-Timer’, could attend too.

Women’s Day Off, 1975

Another example of women protesting for fair recognition is the Women’s Day Off. In 1975, In Reykavik, Iceland, on the 24th of October, women took part in a mass strike to protest the gender pay gap in the country. 90% of Icelandic women went on strike from their paid jobs, household jobs, and childcare for the day, to show how much they contributed and deserved equal recognition. As a result, some banks, shops, schools and nurseries had to close for the day. The protest was successful in changing how women
were seen in Iceland, as 5 years later Iceland elected their first female president. Vigdis Finnbogadottir was not only Iceland’s first female president, she was also the first female president in Europe.

Women’s March, 2017

Photo courtesy of Liz Lemon

A more recent example of women protesting for equal rights was seen on the 21st of January, 2017. The Women’s March was organised in response to Donald Trump’s election as US President, and happened in Washington D.C. the day after his inauguration. Sister marches also took place in other cities. In Washington D.C. alone around 500,000 people attended, carrying banners, placards, and wearing specially knitted hats. Much like Women’s Sunday over 100 years earlier, portraits were carried to represent the cause. However, unlike the young mill girl Annie in Patti Mayor’s ‘The Half Timer’, protestors in Washington chose the late American Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg.

Reflecting on these protests brings to light the fact that women of all jobs, roles and classes represent an important part of society, and are all included in the continuing plight of equal rights worldwide. So, it is important to continue documenting and collecting images and objects from these events to make sure these women are remembered, and the messages from these protests are preserved.

2022 will see the 150th anniversary of Patti Mayor’s birth. To commemorate this, we will be working with The Harris, Preston and Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool to showcase Mayor’s work throughout 2022. Gallery Oldham will show an exhibition of her work in the autumn of next year.

See more of Patti Mayor’s work here.

Gallery Oldham