First Amongst Equals

The Foundling Museum

Remarkable women who have shaped contemporary British society choose objects that speak to them from the Foundling Museum’s collection.

First Amongst Equals, 2018
As part of the Foundling Museum’s 2018 programme of events, celebrating women’s contribution to British society from the 1720s to the present, our cumulative display First Amongst Equals (16 January 2018 – 13 January 2019) celebrates today’s female pioneers. Remarkable women who have shaped contemporary British society by achieving a first within their respective fields have chosen objects that speak to them from the Museum’s collection.

Spanning 300 years of social history, culture and philanthropy, selections enable visitors to see the Collection from different perspectives, to make connections between the past and the present, and to reflect on women’s ongoing struggle for equality.

Selected items range from tokens (small identifying objects left with babies by their mothers when handing them over to the care of the Foundling Hospital), to personal letters and musical memorabilia.

Dame Liz Forgan, DBE: First female Chair of the British Arts Council 
Dame Liz Forgan was the first – and still the only – woman to chair the Arts Council of England. For most of her career she was a journalist for papers including the Teheran Journal, the Evening Standard and the Guardian. Forgan was Director of Programmes at Channel 4 and Managing Director of BBC Network Radio. She is currently Chair of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the Bristol Old Vic.

Handel's Pitch Pipe

‘It is a weird little brown object; a rectangular box, easy to miss among the grand portraits and heart-rending mementoes, but it stopped me in my tracks. Handel’s pitch pipe! Something he, like every musician, would carry in his pocket night and day. For me, there is a special power in museum objects that have been close to the physical body of their owners. Serious scholars will frown at such superstitious fancy but suddenly Handel is standing in front of me – fishing in his pocket to find the right pitch to start “Comfort Ye”. Magic...'

'...The gathering of artists to support Thomas Coram’s Hospital is one of the most joyful tales in the history of philanthropy; the artists gave the best of themselves to enrich the lives of the children whose lives had started so miserably. And the tradition is alive today in the Foundling Fellows, contemporary artists whose work is to be seen all over the building. Such beautiful things gathered to repair such ugly happenings. Now, as then, the Foundling Hospital is an inspiration.‘

Dame Liz Forgan, DBE

Rt Hon Nicky Morgan: First female Treasury Select Committee Chair
Nicky Morgan, born in 1972, stood as the Conservative Candidate for Loughborough at the 2005 General Election and again in 2010, when she was first elected to Parliament to be Loughborough’s voice in Westminster. Having studied law at Oxford University, she worked as a solicitor specialising in Corporate Law advising a range of private and public companies from 1994 until her election in 2010. 

Morgan’s previous Parliamentary roles have included Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities (2014-16); Financial Secretary to the Treasury (2014); Minister for Women (2014) and Economic Secretary to the Treasury (2013-14).

She was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Loughborough in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, and in July 2017 she was elected by MPs on all sides of the House of Commons as Chair of the Treasury Select Committee.

Margaret Larney’s letter

‘I chose Margaret Larney’s letter because her story stayed with me long after my visit. As a former Treasury Minister who had responsibility for the Royal Mint and now, again, in my work focusing on the Treasury and our economy I appreciate how important it is to preserve the value of our currency. But to hear Margaret’s tragic story of the children that she almost unimaginably gave up to the Foundling Hospital, and the deeply cruel execution she was sentenced to and suffered, makes me, as a mother and a woman in the 21st century, appreciate just what a difference to our society the intervening years have made...'

'...The only positive from this story is that Margaret’s elder son grew up to become a successful wig maker. He was given a second chance, as the founders of the Hospital had hoped, and was able to make the most of it.’

Rt Hon Nicky Morgan

Moira Cameron: First female Yeoman Warder of the Guards 
Moira Cameron was born and brought up in a small village on the West Coast of Scotland and joined the Army in 1985 where over a period of 22 years she served in England, Northern Ireland, Germany, Norway and Cyprus. She left the Military in 2007 and became the first female to wear the uniform of a Yeoman Warder of HM Tower of London. The requirements to become a Yeoman Warder, aka ‘Beefeater’, are a minimum of 22 years in HM Forces, to have held the rank of Warrant Officer II and to have a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

George Merrett's Suitcase

‘On 22 June 1985, aged 20, I packed a suitcase of my own. I was finally spreading my wings; leaving home to join the Army to see the world, as the recruitment poster had promised. This was the memory that immediately came into my mind when I saw these little cases. But what resonated most was the handwritten list of towns and cities that George Merrett had visited. I had seen some of these places during my Army career and I wanted to know more about who had once carried these cases to Palma, Athens, New York. Why had he or she gone there? What did they see?'

'...When I packed my own suitcase I had felt excitement bubbling up inside but a sense of apprehension was never far away. What if it all went wrong? What if I failed? “Just come home,” my mother reassured me. But it would not have been so for the owner of these little brown Paddington Bear suitcases, which are so charming but tinged with sadness, a symbol of a departure and independence at such a young age. George Merrett didn’t have a home to go back to if it all went wrong and there would have been no reassurance from a parent if they failed, which makes me ache for them but grateful for what I had.’

Moira Cameron

Dame Marina Warner DBE:  First female President of the Royal Society of Literature 
Marina Warner writes fiction and cultural history. Her books include From the Beast to the Blonde (1994) and Stranger Magic: Charmed States and The Arabian Nights (2011), and the novel The Leto Bundle (2000). She has curated exhibitions, including The Inner Eye (1996), Metamorphing (2002-3), and Only Make-Believe: Ways of Playing (2005). 

Her essays on art will be collected in Forms of Enchantment (forthcoming Thames & Hudson). In 2015, she was awarded the Holberg Prize in the Arts and Humanities.

She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, a Fellow of the British Academy and the first woman President of the Royal Society of Literature.

Coldstream Guard's button token

‘I had read about tokens in stories, they appear again and again in Greek myths, and fairy tales and even operas pivot on the moment a hero or heroine is identified by such a sign and, in the happier outcomes, joyfully reunited with their birth family. But I did not know, until I first saw the tokens in the Foundling Hospital, that this custom had continued in real life, in recent times, here. I found the sight of the tokens pierced my heart to the core – I think many visitors feel the same.' Every shred of fabric, clipped coin or button, scratched medallion, each sparse word, feels almost audibly saturated with experiences and memories, of love and its deception, partings and loss, fear and hunger and poverty.

'...The demands of survival for mother and child, and the subsequent heartache sing out from them as if they were a hundred times the size they are. Tokens often come recognisably from the mother’s scant possessions, but in the case of this button from the uniform of a Coldstream Guard, you can almost hear the conversation that took place with the officer father, a figure I imagine resembling the seductive, feckless Sergeant Troy in Far from the Madding Crowd, who could not offer anything to the woman he had made pregnant to help her keep her baby...'

'...In Naples the most common surname, still today, is Esposito, which was given to foundlings by the orphanages that took them in. Today, the abandonment of babies continues in the world, but on the whole social attitudes in many countries have changed for the better, mercifully.’

Dame Marina Warner, DBE

Heather Maizels: First female Director of a private bank
Heather Maizels is Senior Advisor to the international legal firm Charles Russell Speechlys. She is also Advisor to a private investment office and risk consultancy business, and speaks on art as an investment. Maizels studied law at Girton College, Cambridge, trained as a barrister and pursued a financial career advising international companies before taking the idea of a private bank, which brought together all the advice wealthy people needed, to Barclays, where she became Head of the UK Private Bank, and nominated for the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman award. 

Maizels’ interests led to her involvement with The Institute for Philanthropy as founder Trustee, the National Gallery as development board member, and Oxford Law Foundation also as Trustee.

Maizels later moved to a family office, started a new investment consultancy business, and continues as Advisor.

Receipt for a William Hogarth print

‘I set up the private bank for successful people to enjoy their wealth responsibly, fulfill their ambitions, and give wisely, and clients often make things happen for their chosen cause, which often led to more personal gain, carrying forward a cycle of more giving, more lives improved, and more shared prosperity. This receipt tells a similar story. The painting was painted for George II, and when he rejected it, it was put up for lottery. Hogarth gave 1000 unsold tickets to the Foundling Hospital, who then went on to win the painting...'

'I often asked a proud donor "how did that happen?", when told their chosen cause gained a sudden unexpected advantage – a question often met with a twinkle in the eye, and a shoulder shrug. And when personal gains followed, like Hogarth gaining publicity with everybody coming to see the picture, and also saving the picture from dealers whom he found unscrupulous, I asked myself, "did this just happen?" or was there a cunning eye on the outcome all the time, the generous donor, perhaps holding all the cards? But, each time a worthy motive had been fulfilled, a better chance was given to many, and like the infants at the Foundling Hospital, a chance for some with no chance at all.‘

Heather Maizels

Frances O’Grady: First female General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress 
Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). She first joined the TUC as Campaigns Officer in 1994, and went onto launch the TUC’s Organising Academy in 1997. O'Grady headed up the TUC’s organisation department in 1999, reorganising local skills projects into Unionlearn which now helps a quarter of a million workers into learning every year. 

As Deputy General Secretary from 2003, O’Grady led on the environment, industrial policy, the NHS and winning an agreement covering the 2012 Olympics.

She has served as a member of the Low Pay Commission, the High Pay Centre and the Resolution Foundation’s Commission on Living Standards.

Telegram sent to Sam Mold

‘I was intrigued by the story of wet nurses, they remind me that, even today, traditional ‘women’s work’ often involves emotional labour too. No doubt some wet nurses developed deep bonds of love with the babies in their care, which would have lasted long after they were old enough to be returned to the Hospital. 20th century babies went to foster carers rather than wet nurses. I’ve chosen two notes from around World War II. The contrast between them feels particularly poignant...

'...In one, a foster mother sends a birthday telegram to her ‘darling’ Sam and signs ‘love kisses Mum’. Her tenderness contrasts with the Hospital’s letter reminding a foster mother that she must keep ‘the Number of the Child always affixed to its clothing.’ At a time when values of common humanity are under great pressure, it feels important to remember that the name of ‘the Child’ was Samuel.’

Frances O’Grady

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