Images of female students and staff

Women and City Lit

5 March 2021
Posted in: Events, News

Throughout our history, City Lit has played a significant role in educating female Londoners. Empowerment through education – regardless of gender – has been at the centre of our activities throughout this time. Since we opened our doors millions of women have benefitted from City Lit’s broad and flexible courses, managing study alongside work, and other responsibilities. 

We have many inspiring women amongst our alumni and staff including international best-selling author Malorie Blackman who attended writing courses here at City Lit and Lucille Lewin, founder of high street fashion brand ‘Whistles’, who pursued her passion for ceramics completing a City Lit Ceramics Diploma and completed her Masters at the Royal College of Art in 2017. She has exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery and her work is held in private collections internationally. City Lit lipreading tutor Fiona Pickett won the Festival of Learning Tutor Award in 2019. Fiona was a trained secondary teacher but losing her hearing meant she couldn’t return to a standard classroom. After starting lipreading classes rekindled her passion for teaching, Fiona has gone on to master the skill, and to help others do the same as an advanced lipreading tutor at City Lit. 

As an employer, City Lit is committed to equality and inclusion, and with 46% of our Governing Body, 43% of our Executive Committee and 65% of all staff and tutors being women, City Lit certainly recognises itself in regards to the International Women’s Day campaign #ChooseToChallenge!

Throughout our broad programmes, our tutors take every opportunity to promote and celebrate the achievements of women across arts, culture, and social history.

To celebrate International Women’s Day not only on Monday 8th March but all through the coming months we have a range of online courses happening exploring and celebrating the significant contributions made by women to life, society and culture…

Upcoming online courses at City Lit: 

Great women poets: Sappho, Dickinson and Tsvetaeva

Starts Thursday 29 April, 10:15-12:15, 8 sessions
Enrol now >

125 years of women directors: from Alice Guy Blache to Greta Gerwig

Start Friday 7 May, 18:00-19:30, 6 sessions
Enrol now >

Black women’s writing

Starts Monday 7 June, 18:00-19:30, 6 sessions
Enrol now >

Shakespeare's women: Rosalind, Ophelia and Lady Macbeth 

Thursday 17 June, 10:00-12:00 
Enrol now >

Women’s prize for fiction

Starts Saturday 24 July, 10:30-13:30, 2 sessions
Enrol now > 

Representations of femininity in contemporary Independent American cinema

Starts Tuesday 15 June, 19:45-21:30, 6 sessions
Enrol now >

As City Lit has moved into its second century we will continue to inspire, champion, celebrate, enable, empower and support women from all across London through learning to work towards greater balance – in education, the arts, culture, the workplace and society as a whole.


Whether it’s Haydn or Hildegard, the journey usually begins with a look at the social and political backdrop of their lifetime.

  • What kind of upbringing did the composer have: wealthy or impoverished, repressive or liberal?
  • Did this affect her/his development?
  • What thinking was ‘in the air’ at that time? For example, with Richard Wagner, the thinking of Schopenhauer led him to focus in his work on death and transfiguration, whereas for Richard Strauss it was all about Nietzsche’s philosophy of strength and freedom.

Cultural context

And then, of course, it is essential to explore the cultural context for a musical work or composer.

Which artists' works were listened to, read, or gazed upon at the time? And this question usually generates an interconnected web of links between musicians, writers, painters and poets – which often offers revelatory insights!

The story in the notes

Once this initial detective work has been done then it’s time to turn to the notes themselves.

Armed with our contextual information, we can now listen to recordings and examine scores. Here we begin to understand more fully, the musical choices that a composer has made, and why.

These are choices that affect the shape, or structure, of a work, the keys that are used throughout, the textures and rhythm patterns that provide the music with its energy, and, if appropriate, the words that a composer has chosen to set.

The instruments, voices, audience, and setting

And finally, this exploration of the music itself would not be complete without focusing-in on the instruments and/or voices for which the work was originally written, as well as the venue and audience that it was intended for.

For example, imagine if we could time travel back to the 1711 premiere, here in London, of Handel’s opera Rinaldo. With castrati holding forth on the stage and an audience chatting and eating throughout, the experience would be both ear and eye-opening!

And it is these issues of what we call performance practice that provide another contextual layer to the subject placed under our musical microscope.

So, as can be deduced from this brief introduction, Music History classes are a mixture of detective work and time travel!

International Women's Day

International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2021 is 'Choose To Challenge'. A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change. So let's all #ChooseToChallenge.

Find out more about this year’s International Women’s Day campaign.