Stylist is running its first ever feminist advent calendar in 2018, with a remarkable woman revealing who her feminist icon is every day until 25 December. Here, Jacqueline Wilson reveals why Jane Cholmeley is her ultimate feminist icon.
Jane Cholmeley started Silver Moon Books in 1984, which was a feminist bookshop on the Charing Cross Road.
It was extraordinarily influential and stocked every kind of book you could possibly think of that was either about women, or written by women; not in a tremendously dry or political way, but through an enormous variety of titles. It was a meeting place that put on fabulous events both in the shop and other venues, attended by international feminist authors such as Margaret Atwood. It was very much the place to go.
Jane also started a regular meetup dinner series, where a woman would give a speech about her achievements and we would all have a lovely meal. It was also about networking and having a chance to meet other people. Since that, she has conducted an oral history of women in publishing and what they achieved.
In her own quiet way, Jane achieved a great deal and put a lot of women in touch with each other. In those early days of people being aware of the whole feminist movement, Silver Moon Books was an informal meeting place where no one felt awkward. You could dive in for 10 minutes, you could browse for an hour, or you could go off and have a coffee with anyone you fancied.
Sometimes you would pop in and see a famous actress or comedian, or women who had travelled for miles just to see what the bookshop was like. And schoolgirls too. It was great; Jane was always at the cutting edge of things. She was one of the original women at Greenham common, she was prepared to suffer for the cause.
She has always taken a back seat, but I think it’s time that younger women knew what a part she played in making the feminist movement, and also the role of women in society in general, a talking point.
She was publicly recognised once, about 15 years ago, when Buckingham Palace put on an event for booksellers, publishers and writers. I was delighted to be invited alongside Jane and her professional partner, Sue Butterworth. It was the most surreal occasion, standing there in the Palace with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh sort of wandering around. We were all just having a slightly embarrassed but also delightful chat.
In person, Jane was very knowledgeable and passionate about history. If you wanted a book about a historical event, Jane was always the person to go to. Silver Moon Books helped my career. It made me feel I wasn’t alone in seeing things slightly differently from the norm. When I was young in the Sixties, women were referred to casually as ‘Dolly Birds’ and their place was still very much in the home. If you didn’t feel comfortable in a totally domestic role, then you were often considered a little strange, a little different.
It was a very strange time for women and I think a lot of us got very fed up and bogged down, thinking that our role in life was to wash our husband’s shirts and have a two-course meal ready for when they came home. Women might have had part-time jobs but they weren’t considered important, and no husband took a turn in the childcare or getting up in the middle of the night when the baby cried.
I was writing about little girls who saw things differently, and Silver Moon made me feel I wasn’t alone. It also introduced me to a lot of authors I might not have known otherwise. So I’m very grateful to it and Jane in particular. She is still going strong and is very much concerned with women’s rights in publishing and bookselling, and anything to do with helping women promote their causes.
Good bookshops nowadays do generally have sections for women’s issues or divide up different categories of their stock so you can find the books you want to see, but I can’t think of any main feminist bookshop now, and certainly not in London. There were two back in the Seventies and Eighties, one called Compendium and one called Sister Right, but Silver Moon sort of shone out. I can’t go down the Charing Cross Road now without a little feeling of regret for where the bookshop used to be.
philosophy are the official partner of Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards 2018 and, for every day in December, Stylist is asking a remarkable woman to tell us who her feminist icon is, and why. You can see more inspiring and remarkable women here.
A portrait of Jacqueline Wilson is now on display at The Foundling Museum. This is the first painted portrait of Dame Jacqueline and will also be the first commissioned portrait of a women to enter the Foundling Museum Collection, continuing their year-long celebration of women
As told to Sarah Biddlecombe
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