Women in the frame


2023 marks 100 years since women were permitted to join the Woodford and Wanstead Photographic Society. To mark International Women’s Day this month, club chair Sue Rosner will be giving a talk about the group’s female members, past and present. Images by club members Rachel Dee Smith (portrait), Carole Milligan (sunset) and Ro Ward (beach scene)

The Woodford Photographic Society was formed in 1893 (Wanstead was added to the club’s name much later) by seven men who met in the coffee tavern by George Lane station, now South Woodford station. But it would be another 30 years before women could join.

Initially, in April 1921, ladies could be invited as visitors to the more ‘suitable’ meetings and the programmes of the time are asterisked with a note which said: “These lectures are illustrated with lantern slides and are suitable evenings on which members might bring their lady friends.” It is interesting to speculate what the ‘suitable’ evenings contained.

At the AGM on 25 April 1923, it was agreed that women could join the club. Miss Gertrude Emma Powers became the first female member later that month. She was born in 1889 in Stepney, so would have been 34 when she joined. In 1911, her family moved to Woodford and Gertrude graduated from the University of London with a BSc (III class), and the following year from Newnham College, Cambridge with a BA (II class). On 22 December 1923, Gertrude married Charles Wood at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Woodford. The couple subsequently moved to Wilderness Corner, Quidenham, Norfolk, where Gertrude died on 18 October 1934. 

In August 1923, Gertrude was followed by Miss R Eastgate (proposed by Miss GE Powers), who became our second female member. Then, in February 1924, Miss Dorothy Norah Cross and her stepmother Grace were elected as members. Norah was born in 1889 in Hackney and by 1901, after the death of her mother, the family had moved to Woodford. She later worked as a school teacher. Little more than a year after joining the society, Norah was elected to the society’s council (what we call the committee today) at the AGM in April 1925, and at the AGM in 1928 she became the society’s first female president. She was still president in 1932. Norah never married, and at the time of her death on 4 February 1957, was living at 54 St Ronan’s Crescent, Woodford Green.

For the first 105 years of the club’s existence, it met in a variety of locations in Woodford. In 1998, we began meeting in Wanstead, initially at the former dance studio Dulverton, and since 2014 at Wanstead House. And so it made sense to add Wanstead to our name, but it was not until 2017 that the name on the club’s chequebook was updated.

I took over as chair from David Tachauer in October 2020, and there have been four female chairs before me. Out of a membership of 50, we now have 17 women members. We meet in person twice a month and on Zoom for the other two weeks. All are welcome to join, but I would still like to encourage more women to come along and take part.

Sue’s presentation on women becoming members of the Woodford and Wanstead Photographic Society will take place at Wanstead House on 13 March from 7.30pm. Visit wnstd.com/wwps

With thanks Alan Simpson for research.

Author: Editor