The Hypatia Trust – celebrating and enabling women’s achievements in Penzance

The Hypatia Trust is a charity based in Penzance, Cornwall, which strives to support women’s education and achievements. Named after the remarkable hellenistic neoplatonist mathematician, astronomer and philosopher, the trust was founded 25 years ago by Melissa Hardie . She initially set up the charity with the primary aim to protect, maintain, and develop the literary works of women throughout the ages.

Miki Ashton, the operations manager at Hypatia, says: “What we try to do is record women’s achievements, which are so often seen as a small part in the bigger picture. There’s so much out there that has never been recorded, and we do our best to put it together to make sure it doesn’t get lost.”

The overarching goal of the Hypatia Trust is to redress the gender imbalance of the stories we accept as our history, by preserving the works of female historians, scientists, and artists, as well as promoting the impactful work being produced by women today, both locally and internationally.

The Hypatia Trust archives form an impressive collection which continues to grow steadily each year. But this is only the beginning of the trust’s work. “We’re at a stage now where we’re branching out, with lots of different people working on projects,” said Miki. “Hypatia has become a sort of hub. It’s a great platform to allow people to find funding for projects.”

Since its founding in 1996, the trust has evolved beyond its archives to encompass many other strands, including Hypatia Publications, various community-led projects and educational workshops and events.

The Hypatia Library

The Hypatia Library is a collection focusing on literary, artistic, and scientific works by women. Its growing collection of books is housed all over the world, with over 3,000 placed at the Morrab Library in Penzance. Other sites include the University of Exeter in Devon, as well as locations in Spain and Germany.

Miki says: “We get lots of books donated, collections about people who’ve done something amazing – and their families want that to be recorded. So we’ll take that on and work from the archives of their life to put together a collection, which then finds a home among our other works. Donations help us preserve these books, and although we’ve got some great volunteers, it still actually costs a bit of money to be able to make sure books are kept properly, as well as diaries and artworks.”

Hypatia’s dedicated team of archivists is currently working to digitise the trust’s Library of Cornish Women for online usage, a project they hope to see go live this year.

Hypatia Publications

Hypatia Publications is another branch of the charity, and one which has seen a new lease of life in recent years thanks to Linda Cleary, the trust’s publishing specialist. Hypatia has always had a publishing imprint, mostly for non-fiction and academic work, but this now includes works of fiction. Hypatia Publications has just released an anthology entitled Invisible Borders, which comprises the work of 23 women and explores Cornwall through poetry and stories.

Other books coming out this year include Born Between Crosses by Natasha Carthew, a prose-poetry debut (out this April); a crime fiction novel by Josephine Gardiner; and a collection of poetry and art by Rupam Baoni.

Educational workshops and events

One of Hypatia’s biggest tasks is to support the education of women, in order to address gender inequality in their working lives. From its offices in Penzance, Hypatia Trust runs community events focused on this goal. These range from book launches, to short courses on oral histories, to talks by interesting people.

“The educational side of Hypatia is about providing platforms for women to present ideas or projects”, Miki explains, “and it works both ways. The ideas behind the workshops are usually generated by people who approach us saying they want to discuss a particular topic. We sit down and work it out together, so it’s about them learning how to present their topic in a way that’s accessible.”

To celebrate its 25th anniversary year Hypatia plans to host a number of exciting events, and it welcomes any new ideas. Keep an eye on the website’s events page for the latest talks, book launches and workshops, or subscribe to their newsletter to receive monthly news and updates.

Tillie Holmes is studying for an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. You can read more of her writing here.