Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared

sappho to suffrage

Celebrating female scientists and authors, political activists and composers, pirates and photographers.

The Bodleian Libraries' inspiring 2018 treasures exhibition Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act. Covering 2,000 years of history, spanning ancient Greek poetry to the passing of women's suffrage in the UK, this exhibition presents more than 80 items showcasing stories of 'women who dared' across the millennia.

Image of the boardgame SuffragettoThe exhibition celebrates the achievements of women across a range of disciplines, from the arts to sciences. Featured literary luminaries include Mary Shelley and Jane Austen, while ground-breaking scientists include Maria Sibylla Merian and French royal midwife Louise Bourgeois. Political campaigners including Emily Hobhouse and Mary Wollstonecraft sit alongside mavericks like Mary Lacy and Mary Read.

Books belonging to some of Britain's most famous female monarchs will also be shown; a stunning 11th century prayerbook belonging to St Margaret of Scotland, and a beautifully embroidered book written and produced by an 11-year-old Elizabeth I for her step-mother Catherine Parr. The stories of lesser-known female pioneers will also be explored, including Marjory Wardrop, the first person to translate epic Georgian works into English, and composer Fanny Mendelssohn, whose brilliance was overshadowed by her brother, Felix.

Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared will showcase unique texts, medieval book bindings, photographs, posters, ancient papyrus, letters, scientific instruments, musical scores and games, showcasing some of the Bodleian's greatest treasures alongside items that have rarely been displayed before.

Highlights on show from the Bodleian Libraries collections of over 13 million items include:

  • 2nd century BCE fragments of Sappho's poetry written on papyrus;
  • Ada Lovelace's 19th century notes on mathematics;
  • the manuscript of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein;
  • a manuscript of Jane Austen's juvenilia, Volume the First;
  • the only known surviving version of the board game Suffragetto;
  • photographs by the Victorian photography pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron; and
  • a musical score by Fanny Mendelssohn.


Professor Senia Paseta, co-Director of Women in the Humanities, History Tutor at St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, and the curator of the exhibition, said:

'As well as highlighting the richness of the Bodleian's holdings produced by women, this exhibition will showcase aspects of Oxford’s particular suffrage history.'

Highlights include a 'lost banner', a specially commissioned recreation of a banner originally used by the Oxford Women’s Suffrage Society in 1908, and a display featuring the perspectives of contemporary women one hundred years since the vote was won.

Catríona Cannon, Deputy Librarian and Keeper of Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, said:
'We are proud to be part of the wonderful programme of commemoration throughout the UK and Ireland by highlighting the achievements of women past and present.'

Sappho to Suffrage: Women who Dared is open from 6 March 2018 - 3 February 2019.


Public Engagement with Research
Humanities & Identities
Women in the Humanities
Women's Suffrage 2018

Audience: Open to all