The DEI is a welcoming place for mothers.  The second ever Librarian was a woman, Eliza Squance, who lived in the building together with her own mother, Rachel Squance, as the 1851 census reveals.  This exhibition throws light on mothers’ lives and experiences of motherhood, both historic and contemporary.

Book display

Free and Open to All (Outer Library)

An exhibition of special and contemporary collections relating to local motherhood.  From the history of regional maternity care to notable local mothers and midwives, the forgotten stories of mothers in the South West will be re-told – and celebrated!

This display has been co-curated by Professor Muireann Maguire of the University of Exeter, with the DEI team of Emma Dunn, Bethany Howell and Sonia Llewellyn and additional research support from Emma Laws (Exeter Cathedral) and Felicity Harper (Powderham Castle).

With thanks to the Earl of Devon and Exeter Cathedral Library for photographic permissions.


Portrait of a (Working) Mother

Free and Open to All –  (Stairwell)

“Portrait of a (Working) Mother” is a series of photographs and interviews which show the pressures of family life and the impact parenthood can take on careers.

Twelve parents were photographed and interviewed about how they find a balance between family life and work.  Many had moved to Britain from abroad, adding complexity in how they navigate these issues. Their stories are told in text accompanying the photographs.

Kathryn, a primary school teacher with two children originally from the USA, is photographed with her son in a park.  She explains how she and her husband have supported each other at different points in their careers through their job choices and working part time.

Lucie, who is French, discusses decisions made about shared parental leave in her family and the impact maternity leave may have had on her career.

James, who has two children, explains why he took parental leave when his wife went back to work while Katarzyna explains why being self-employed has given her a better quality of life with her family.

Katie discusses life as a single parent and running her own business.

The exhibition was photographed and researched by Marina Cavazza and Dr Eglė Kačkutė as part of an AHRC-funded research project on motherhood in Eastern European literature led by Professor Muireann Maguire from the University of Exeter.

Professor Maguire, who tells her own story as part of the exhibition, said: “We hope many people come to see these beautiful pictures and read the stories of those who kindly agreed to be involved.  The photograph and captions are designed to make people think about motherhood and the social and career costs it can entail.  Some of our subjects have also coped with the added complication of being migrants and living somewhere new to them while bringing up a family.”


Associated events at the Devon and Exeter Institution 

Tales of Silver and Gold – Writing Baby Loss

Friday 8th July – 5pm- 7pm – (Upper Reading Room)

All welcome, advance booking recommended (please book here).

This seminar at 5pm on Friday 8th July 2022  is about one of the saddest of all parental experiences: losing an infant child.  Many parents who lose a baby, whether through perinatal loss, stillbirth, miscarriage or medical abortion, never talk about it.  We allow silence to surround their grief.  And yet, since the dawn of recorded culture, lost babies have been remembered through the written word.  In the 4000-year-old Sumerian ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’, the hero asks one who has visited the Underworld, ‘Did you see my little stillborn ones who did not know themselves?’ He is told, ‘They enjoy syrup and ghee at tables of silver and gold’.  It is a portrait of gladness that consoles the grieving parent.

This in-person seminar at the Devon and Exeter Institution introduces writers, who are also parents, to talk about writing or translating their experiences of baby loss and grieving: the Russian novelist Anna Starobinets whose 2017 memoir about the loss of her son, who suffered from a medical condition incompatible with life, was recently published in English as Look At Him; Anna’s English translator, the poet Katherine E. Young, and Devon-based author William Henry Searle, whose memoir Elowen is due out in 2022 from Little Toller Press.  We also host a parent supporter from the baby loss and neonatal death charity, SANDS.  Our aim is to allow speakers and audience to share their experiences of baby loss in a respectful, sensitive, and mutually supportive way in the peaceful surroundings of 7 Cathedral Close, where an exhibition on the history of maternal care in Devon will be on display.


Neither Wit Nor Taste – Translating Motherhood in the Post-Soviet World

Saturday July 9th  – 1pm -2pm – (Outer Library)

All Welcome, drop in / no need to book

Poet Katherine E. Young will deliver a keynote talk entitled ““Neither Wit Nor Taste”: Translating Motherhood in the Post-Soviet World”, on her experience of translating Russian-language poetry and fiction about mothers and motherhood.  Katherine E. Young is an award-winning poet and translator based in Arlington, Virginia. Her most recent collection of poetry, Woman Drinking Absinthe, was published in 2021.  She has translated the authors Akram Aylisli, Inna Kabysh, and Anna Starobinets, and she currently holds the inaugural Translator Residency at Pushkin House, London.  More information can be found at

Please look out for our forthcoming programme of Saturday and family events, from July 2022.

Photo credit: Marina Cavazza, Portrait of Kathryn