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Females to the fore as RNLI celebrates 200th anniversary

29 February 2024

A new exhibition – Women of the RNLI – has been launched at the National Maritime Museum to mark the famous lifeboat service's bicentenary.

Looking back at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's 200 year history, the exhibition shows how women were involved right from the start.

In early decades, the role of female volunteers tended to be in fundraising, including the world's first example of street collections for charity (meaning ordinary people were fundraising for each other rather than relying on upper-class patronage).

Over the years, women also contributed to campaigning and technological innovation, and took part in some highly physical work. The exhibition includes a section on 'lady lifeboat launchers', whose efforts were needed right up until the 1970s.

Since the late 1960s, women have served as volunteer lifeboat and shore crew, with their numbers and experience increasing to the point where they can now be seen as crew trainers and station managers.

The exhibition tells their stories through a series of 42 photographic portraits by artistic photographer Jack Lowe, who is engaged in an ongoing project to make a complete photographic record of all the RNLI crew members in the UK and Ireland.

Numerous Nautilus members – male and female – have volunteered for the RNLI over the years, including second officer Nicky Boak, who is involved on the fundraising side.

She commented: 'Merchant seafarers work in dangerous and unforgiving environments day-in and day-out. The least I can do is give my time to ensure that those volunteers who'll launch into a storm to save my life have the best boats, equipment, and training available. That's why I fundraise for the RNLI.'

  • Women of the RNLI is a free exhibition running at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, from 2 March 2024 to 1 December 2024


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