Last week was a celebratory week for women, including International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday.
Of course, I was a lucky mummy myself having flowers, biscuits, and a self-designed Disney Princess mug from wee man… even luckier to have a meal out with the family and my own mum who of course is, and always will be a source of love, inspiration and support.
But whilst motivational quotes from inspirational famous women popped up on pretty graphics…selfies plastered everywhere of people with the females of their family…or pics of mums with heartfelt essays appeared all over social media… there was an additional inspirational female on my mind during this week of fabulous women, and you may not have ever heard of her.
She has been described as a sister of feminism, feisty, and innovative, she believed and worked for equality and education for all.
Her name was Mary Ward.
Mary Ward was a Catholic nun who defied tradition and broke rules for women, yet nevertheless, she was a believer, a woman of faith, and practicing Catholic… quite a unique mix for this time…in the 1600s this was quite something, for example academics were still questioning whether women had souls! Thus, for a woman to profess faith, yet be active outside of a convent, whilst simultaneously setting up schools and settlements for women and poor children across Europe, was indeed a ground-breaking achievement.
Mary Ward and her female peers were known as the ‘English Ladies’, but given their revolution in faith, feminism and education, they attracted much criticism. Sadly, the schools for children that they set up (including Flanders, Rome, Naples, Munich and more) were ordered to be closed, and Mary Ward was imprisoned, but to note the innovation here, these were all opened and closed 200 years before Britain had even opened its first Nursery, and of course, this was opened by a male (Robert Owen).
I am incredibly in awe of a woman living in the 1600s whereby women’s rights, Catholic faith, and education access were far from equal, yet she stood up for them all. She did not fear arguing against men (including the pope, to which she eventually achieved direct contact with, without interference of intermediary men), she believed and acted upon providing education from childhood for all regardless of gender or status, and I hope as we try to progress in equality we realise her values.
In 2018 we’ve still not got this right, the Early Years Education sector does not have the status it deserves, nor have the professionals working in it. There is currently a drive to get more men into this profession, which I whole heartedly agree with, however, we should appreciate the women already doing a wonderful job first and foremost.
Early childhood services, research and women…
…working within these areas deserve far more appreciation than they currently attract, and if I have any impact in my career, I hope similarly to Mary Ward, that I can be involved in innovation towards growing the impact and value of them, and, their equality of investment.