Launched in 2004 and part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Maids and Mistresses was the first collaborative exhibition (project) of the Yorkshire Country House Partnership. Through a series of linked exhibitions, trails and events, seven country houses across Yorkshire explored the lives, experiences and accomplishments of their female occupants, drawing out previously untold stories for the first time.
Drawing on a rich body of archival material and oral accounts, the exhibitions examined social and domestic expectations that have shaped the lives of women in country houses over the last 300 years. They also highlighted the aspirations and achievements of these women, some of whom conformed to gender stereotypes, and some who, bravely and remarkably, didn’t.
From kitchen maids to countesses, the houses illuminated the realities of womens’ lives and lifestyles within and beyond their walls, drawing out some unexpected similarities in the challenges they faced as well as exploring the more obvious differences in their roles and responsibilities.
The poignant, intriguing, and awe-inspiring stories revealed in Maids & Mistresses illustrated the instrumental/central role that women have played in shaping the history – and future – of Yorkshire’s great houses.