Illustrated Women in History is a project highlighting influential women from around the world. Artist Julie Gough creates digital illustrations honoring between four to five women each week, complete with a summarized biography of their life and achievements. Since she began in August 2015, she has highlighted the importance of over 200 women. Gough created the project after learning about the opening of the Jack the Ripper museum in London, which, in a cruel twist, had been presented as a museum to honor women. The paperwork originally filed for the building application described it as a museum dedicated to education about the role of women in the “social, political and cultural heritage” of London, to “celebrate the contribution of East End women,” yet instead, it seemed to glamorize the man who was famous for butchering women. Gough realized the need for more education about women who have contributed to society and “how we are not taught much more than the history of wealthy white men in school.”
What I love about this project is being able to discover women I had never heard of before, and how surprised I was by the amount of historical oversight for women. In your opinion, is there a need for an overhaul within the educational system to include more women in curriculum?
I think it’s hugely important that history in schools becomes far more inclusive, both in terms of including more women in history but also more viewpoints from those who are not white and middle class, as the few women that many people could name would typically be. Children need to see women represented and to be told that that women like Mary Shelley were responsible for the first science fiction novel, or that Ada Lovelace is credited as being the first computer programmer, so that girls know stereotypically male careers didn’t start out that way. If given a broader view of history, girls will know that they can become astronauts like Mae Jamison, doctors like Dr. Marie Daly and effect change like Emmeline Pankhurst, Sophie Duleep Singh, Yuri Kochiyama, and Huda Shaarawi.
You recently had a public launch event. How was it, and what kind of reactions did you get?
The response I had was amazing. Even the gallery owner was surprised at the amount of people who attended and it was so nice to see people talking about what they knew about women in history, or coming to tell me that they hadn’t heard about most of the women in history before and would have a look at my blog to find out more. Everyone was really supportive of what I was doing, and some even gave me some really good suggestions of women that I could add to my to-do list!
I noticed you have some very cool merch for sale, such as pillows, mugs, and zines! How is the zine community in your area, and why do you think zines are important?
The zine community is definitely growing at the moment, and I’ve been lucky enough to be included in the Bristol LaDIYfest ‘zine and an International Women’s Day zine as well as zines from other parts of the country like Shape + Situate and FAN CLUB Nottingham. I was overwhelmed with the amount of orders for the first Illustrated Women in History zine I put together and have loved receiving messages from people who’ve told me that they’ve learned so much from them. I think the collaborative nature of zines is the most important thing about them, and that’s why I collaborated with FAN CLUB Notts on my latest zines and am currently asking for submissions for an upcoming zine. I think that the ownership people are able to feel over both their own work, and the sense of community that is created despite the distance of those submitting is amazing. Zines provide an ideal way for people to gain insight into things that they may not be exposed to otherwise, whether that’s learning about women in history, sharing information about mental health, or bringing women together to form ‘girl gangs.'
Do you consider yourself a feminist? And how have you changed since beginning this project?
I’ve always been outspoken about my feminist views, despite the fact that this isn’t always met with approval! I’m lucky enough to surround myself with people with similar views, many of whom have been really supportive of my Illustrated Women in History project. Since looking into all these women in history, I think my own understanding of how women have actually shaped the world has grown and I often can’t help myself telling others about some of these women because I’m genuinely so impressed about what they’ve achieved. Especially when it comes to names I knew, like Beatrix Potter, who was not only well known for her illustrations and children’s stories but also a keen natural scientist and conservationist. I’ve also been able to learn about the history of so many other countries, which I had no idea about previously as history in schools is often constricted to the history of the country you live in.
I love that you are including living and current women in your project, such as Amandla Stenberg and Malala Yousafzai. What are your thoughts on the current state of feminism?
I think it’s a really interesting time at the moment for feminism, in that people are slowly accepting that feminists are simply those who wish for social, economical, and political equality and don’t fulfill the negative stereotype of bra burning, man-hating, aggressive women. In a time where young women like Amandla Stenberg and Malala Yousafzai are able to be celebrated for their achievements and given a platform to inspire others, we can only hope for this to bring about positive change. Especially when in the U.K., we now have a female prime minister who has backed cuts that disproportionately affect women, especially domestic violence survivors, has spoke out against same-sex marriage and voted to continue section 28, which banned schools from teaching about LGBT relationships. We need feminism and feminist activists more than ever.
What do you have planned for the future? Can we expect a book later down the road?
At the moment I’m just focusing on creating zines and trying to create a diverse selection of illustrated women in history. I love putting together the zines though, and if given the opportunity would love to create a book to celebrate the achievements of women in history, so I guess we’ll just see what happens! I’ve held workshops and taught lessons on illustrating women in history before, and would like to be able to continue to do similar things so that I can bring some of the stories of women in history to children and expand their ideas of what they can achieve in the future.
Illustrated Women in History can be found on Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can buy prints, mugs and other items with her illustrations at Society6, and you can support her work through her Patreon.
Check out more of Gough's awesome illustrations below:
Photos via Illustrated Women In History
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Myra Pearson is a freelance writer and poet from Blacksburg, Virginia. She resides in Seoul, Korea, where she teaches at Duksung Woman's University. he is the editor of Period Magazine, a non-profit zine for women in the literary and visual arts. Her poetry has been published in various literary journals and her first book of poems is forthcoming. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.