The Female of the Species: A Celebration of Women in History

By Dr Donald Kerr | Posted: Tuesday June 18, 2019

‘As a class, women seem always to have been too busy to say much about themselves. And sometimes it has seemed that the more worthwhile their deeds the less they said about them. Few women have had Boswells, though many should have’. Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, 1937

A woman’s role in society, until recently, has traditionally been as wife, mother, and caregiver. She is often remembered in history, overwhelmingly written by men, for her looks, her body, or her scandalous behaviour. Women make up at least half of the world’s population, but they occupy less than one percent of recorded history.

On the 21st June, the exhibition, The Female of the Species: A Celebration of Women in History, will begin in the de Beer Gallery, Special Collections at the University of Otago. It will run through until the 13th September.

Women have always been writers, inventors, mathematicians, health practitioners, artists, rebels, activists, and warriors, but their contributions to society have often been overlooked, fading into a background overshadowed by men. The exhibition will go some way towards addressing this lack of recognition for women in history.

Famous women appear, such as Cleopatra, Emmeline Pankhurst, Marie Curie, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Florence Nightingale, and Janet Frame. Other less familiar names are also highlighted, like Christine de Pisan, the 14th century proto-feminist; Boudica, Queen of the Iceni; Hypatia, the ancient Greek mathematician; Ida Pfeiffer, the Austrian traveller; Mary Somerville, the scientist; Ann Radcliffe, the writer; Margaret Sanger, the birth control activist; Teuta, the pirate Queen; Charlotte Guillard, the Paris printer; and many more besides.

This exhibition, The Female of the Species: A Celebration of Women in History, is a must-see for all men and women.

Venue: Special Collections, de Beer Gallery, 1st floor, Central University Library

Exhibition hours: 8.30 am to 5.00 pm.

For further information, please contact the curator Romilly Smith (; Dr Donald Kerr, Special Collections Librarian (

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