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Women At Work

W.A.W. (Women+ at Work) is a new artwork based on the history and future of women at work

The exhibition is inspired by ‘Maternity’; a collection of letters by working women, brought together by the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1915 and published with the help of Virginia Woolf, that revealed the previously un-mentionable hardships of maternity for working women as part of an on-going campaign to improve the almost non-existent maternal and infant care available to poorer women at the time.

In this exhibition the artist brings together stories of pre-conception, pregnancy, childbirth and care by Cambridge residents in 2020 with the ambition of raising awareness to the issues that still need addressing today and offering a point of solidarity to people who often face these issues in isolation.

Differing from the collection made in 1915 this contemporary collection welcomes stories from people of any gender identity, men women and non-binary people, and of parenting through birth, adoption, surrogacy, fostering, or special guardianship. In recognition that having children is work, stories are also welcome from people engaged in paid or unpaid labour. In continuation of the understood need to break the silence around these issues, as has continued since 1915, and in recognition that the hardest thing about having children is losing them or not being able to have them, the project includes issues of pre-conception, fertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death as an extremely important part of this history.

The Women’s Co-operative Guild was very active in Cambridge, led by Clara Rackham. This project invites residents across the city to rally to her call to the National Council of Women in Cambridge in 1962 that we must remain ‘eternally vigilant!’

W.A.W. is an artwork by Emma Smith commissioned by UNISON. The work was commissioned to build on the extraordinary history of Cambridge women in the advancement of women’s rights politically, in education, and at work and to recognise the hidden histories of Cambridge residents.

Emma is based in Cambridge and works internationally. Previous projects include for Tate Modern, Barbican, Bluecoat, HOME, Whitworth, Kettle’s Yard and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

W.A.W. are collecting stories both before and during the exhibition

Much has changed since 1915 not least the changing roles and models of family. And yet, while the availability of free health care through the NHS, improved ante-natal care, and maternity and paternity rights have radically transformed the experience of childbirth, it is the same topics that still present issues for people at work in 2019: silence around pre-conception, miscarriage and still birth, inadequacy of maternity allowance (not covering the additional time required in cases of premature birth / state allowance not covering living costs), the brevity of paternity allowance, mal practice by employers, working culture that supports gender inequality (pay-gap, workload and job design that undermines flexible work) and lack of state / affordable childcare (preventing return to work).

Please contact us to share your story:

Exhibition Events

Exhibition Opening and Celebration

21 January
The Guildhall, Cambridge
2:00 - 8:30pm

Work Body Ready

25 January 2020
The Guildhall, Cambridge

Two events to discuss topics raised through the exhibition. Please book each session separately. Both events are free but booking recommended.

11:00am - 12:30pm
Reproduction and the work place: fertility, pre-concpetion and perinatal loss.
Speakers include: artist Emma Smith, award winning speaker, author and leading UK voice on fertility Jessica Hepburn, and Clare Foster of the Miscarriage Association, award recipient for her resources for young people and miscarriage.


1:30 - 3:30pm
Post-pregnancy and the work place: breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, rights and return.
Speakers include: artist Emma Smith, expert in breastfeeding Professor Amy Brown, the Cambridge based Kings Hedges Family Support Project, Dr Helen McCarthy author of forthcoming publication Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood and Maureen Tsentides, Steward and Black Members Officer for Unison Cambridge City.


These events have been convened in collaboration between artist Emma Smith and curator and mother Rachel Fleming-Mulford.

Late Night Opening

29 January 2020
The Guildhall, Cambridge
Exhibition open till 9pm