Working to bring Mary's 'undertold story' to light recently has inspired me to believe radical change-making is an absolute possibility. Deeds Not Words! said the Suffragettes.
Following a chance moment of debate in LIFT '93 Festival (around tradition and creativity) I inherited my great aunt Mary's personal papers. For the next 16 years I found myself chasing a 'hidden history' back to 1860 following Mary's pioneering work with the Esperance Club set up for working class sewing girls in the Kings Cross area. The Mary Neal Project (2006-2009) became the catalyst for returning Mary and the girls' story - and the papers - to the public realm. The papers were handed for safe-keeping to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in a day of celebration and reconciliation at the Cecil Sharpe House, Feb 7th 2009.
In the process I gained an ancestor to be proud of and a historical understanding of how social and cultural innovation go hand in hand. The participatory arts have a radical history in which women and children play an important, if 'untold' role.
The Mary Neal website documents how we opened an old box to create something new, to look at tradition with fresh eyes. Mary neal's story now stands in history whilst also connecting to creating a contemporary celebration of English folk singers, musicians, contemporary artists, children and dancers today.
The aim, as Mary would say in 1910 is:
"to have no spectators, but to have everybody present joining in the dancing" Mary Neal, The Esperance Morris Book, 1910
In the remarkable Mary Neal CBE, suffragette, social reformer and folk enthusiast, I claim a heroic ancestor.