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Special exhibition shares lost stories to celebrate women in the Royal Navy

Wrens group embarking sentry with Ross rifle women in the Royal Navy

18th February 2017, The National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 

‘Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy’ will open to the public 18th February 2017 and focus on the history of women working in the Naval Service. The exhibition will reveal some of the lesser-known stories of women dating right back to the Age of Sail more than 250 years ago when women’s contribution was disguised or unofficial.
The exhibition will open in the centenary year of the Woman’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) formation. Furthermore, the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will host an official launch of the exhibition on International Women’s Day 8 March 2017, a day which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. 
Women working in an official capacity for the Royal Navy were disguised prior to the establishment of the first female uniformed service the Naval Nursing Service in 1884, later renamed the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service in 1903. The WRNS formed in 1917. A uniformed women’s involvement in the Royal Navy directly confronted gender equality issues that still profoundly affect us today. As such, this exhibition aims to highlight women’s involvement and impact in both world wars, the Cold War, integration of the WRNS with the Royal Navy and the continued efforts of female personnel today. 
The objects in the exhibition will illustrate the role of women in the navy in the widest spectrum, ranging from a rare First World War Ratings uniform (only 5,500 women served during the 20 months the service operated in the First World War) to an oboe owned by a member of the Royal Marine Band Service. Key issues for women in the Navy are also addressed, objects such as a Naval Officer’s maternity dress indicate the key differences and concerns that women face whilst in service. 
Earlier this year a time capsule was discovered, buried at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in 1974 by the then head of the WRNS, Commandant Mary Talbot. It contained everyday items that defined the life of a WRN including badges, descriptions of their trades, clothing and official documents. This discovery prompted a call for artefacts for the exhibition. 
Curator Victoria Ingles said “Historically the work of naval women was rarely recorded and often overlooked, yet thousands have actively contributed to worldwide naval operations over centuries. During this time women have undertaken a huge range of jobs and have often confounded expectations about what they could do and this exhibition seeks to bring some of these inspirational stories to attention.  We are also keen to highlight the everyday experience of naval women past and present and are encouraging visitors to contribute their own stories helping us to fully reflect the scale and significance of women’s work within the navy.”

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