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Field Notes: Scottish Women's Hospitals

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition

Related Edinburgh Organisations

Original languageEnglish
PublisherSurgeons Hall Museum
StatePublished - Oct 2018
EventField Notes - Edinburgh, United Kingdom


The archive of Surgeon’s Hall Museum in Edinburgh contains a remarkable collection of glass lantern slides, notes, letters and photographs relating to the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH). Led by Elsie Inglis, Scottish women volunteers left the comforts and safety of home to help soldiers of all nations on the front line in Serbia and France during the First World War. The SWH movement provided medical assistance and support for the wounded. But it also helped promote the cause of women’s rights and women’s suffrage and gave its volunteers a sense of purpose and freedom that they had not previously experienced. The SWH archive gives an overwhelming sense of the humanity and humour of the women volunteers who rolled up their sleeves and got on with the task in spite of the perils and hardships faced by them.
Many of the volunteers who worked in the SWH were Suffragists and 2018 marks the one hundred year anniversary not only of the end of World War 1 but also of the granting of votes for women. The SWH, along with other work undertaken by women as part of the war effort, played an important part in highlighting women’s capabilities beyond their normally accepted roles of wife or mother.
Edinburgh based artists Susie Wilson and Joan Smith have been working with this collection for the past year. By making drawings, prints, artist’s books and paintings inspired by the glass lantern slides and the notes created by the women on the front line, the artists aim to highlight their amazing and inspiring story bring it to the attention of a contemporary audience. The exhibition ‘Field Notes’ will feature artworks by Susie Wilson and Joan Smith along with archive material relating to the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. It will open in the Surgeon’s Hall Museum gallery in October 2018 and run until April 2019. The timing of the exhibition corresponds with the commemorations of the end of the First World War and a celebration of Votes for Women.
The publication will include images of work by both artists interwoven with archive material and texts which will explore the history, archive and contemporary relevance of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals movement. Both artists are women and all contributions to the publication will be by women; the project as a whole aims to highlight women’s achievements in a multi faceted way. By doing this we will consider how the interests and attitudes of women in the past connect with those of our own today and highlight the need to strengthen women’s voices and contributions in a still unequal world.
There is a lack of representation of women in medical museums such as Surgeons Hall. Most objects and collections relate to the men’s achievements, with women mostly taking a secondary, supportive role. This project will help to bring a female focus to an otherwise male dominated field. The publication will be an important record of the exhibition as well as an artwork in itself. Based on the format of a notebook, it will celebrate the sorts of personal materials relating to women’s achievements which are often hidden from view in medical museums: informal archives of diaries, notebooks, photographs and letters.

The publication will have a life and relevance beyond the exhibition, so increasing its legacy and copies will be added to the Surgeons Hall archive in order to provide a contemporary chapter of the story of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Copies will also be donated to libraries across Scotland as a means of spreading awareness. Funding for the publication will help keep down the purchase cost, so making it more democratically available. A proportion of any profit made could be donated to women’s charities or used to help fund creative workshops and events related to the exhibition.
The project as a whole aims to be positive and engaging in highlighting women’s achievements both in the past and now: it is a celebration of strong women working together, being practical, caring, intelligent and creative.


Field Notes


Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Event: Exhibition

ID: 53716161