Serendipity in the Archives – Finding something when least expected!

 - by whnadmin

AliRonanBlogphoto 1

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In the first winter of the First World War – in 1914 – a number of women from North West England signed the Open Letter to the Women of Austria and Germany in a gesture of sisterhood and solidarity. The letter was instigated by Emily Hobhouse, a Quaker activist who had highlighted the plight of Boers in the South African concentration camps during the Boer War, and she used her contacts across the suffrage, pacifist and socialist networks to get support for the letter. The letter appeared in the radical press in early January 1915. Over 100 women signed it and most of them went on to become involved in the British Committee of the Women’s International Congress, the organising committee for The Hague Conference in April 1915.

I could identify some of the women who signed the letter as they were to emerge in Manchester as the core of opposition to the war. They were discovered through the minutes and papers from the local branches of anti-war organisations. Amongst them were the uncompromising independent councillor Margaret Ashton, whose anti-war stance was to have personal and professional repercussions for her during the war;  the passionate Scottish socialist Annot Robinson;  and the young socialist and anti-conscription activist Lilla Brockway. There were the Knutsford suffrage women like Julie Tomlinson and Minnie Hoffman, and local suffrage activists like Dorothy Smith (nee Darlington) who had been the energetic organiser of the Manchester and Salford Suffrage Society, alongside another signatory Margaret Hills (nee Robertson).

One of the Manchester signatories was a woman called Marguerite AC Douglas. I had not heard of her before. I couldn’t find any reference to her in the suffrage papers nor in the 1911 census for Lancashire. Was she a suffragist? Or was she involved in the trade union or other campaigns supported by Ashton? Was she evading the 1911 census? There is no mention of her in the wonderful book about some of the women who signed the letter, Doers of the Word by Sybil Oldfield, which is an inspirational and humbling publication. However there is nothing left about how the letter was signed or passed on so I imagined women would talk to like-minded women and encourage women in their local networks to sign it. It all seems to have been done in haste.

I could find nothing about the elusive Marguerite Douglas and put her to the back of my mind.

But then, just when I was thinking about something else completely …

In July 2015 the local archivist and I were discussing a small exhibition we are planning about Margaret Ashton and her role in the city council. The exhibition spans her election as the first Manchester woman councillor in 1908 until she was edged out because of her anti-war views, by the end of the war. One of the committees of which Ashton was a member was the Midwives Supervising Committee, a subcommittee of the Health and Sanitation Committee. (Ashton was instrumental in setting up a dedicated hospital for babies with Manchester first woman doctor Catherine Chisholm in 1914.) The archivist had unearthed the original minute books for the Committee and there in the minutes for 1915 was Dr Marguerite Douglas!

AliRonanBlogphoto 3

Margaret Hills (standing) , Margaret Ashton (left) and Helena Swanwick (right)

At a suffrage debate before the First World War

What serendipity! Marguerite Douglas had moved to Manchester from Norwich, where I found her in the census working in a city centre infirmary in 1911. She had come over from the Cape Colonies where she was born in 1881. And in 1915 she was working as a medical officer for the Public Health Office in Manchester alongside the city’s health campaigner and champion Dr Niven.

I still need to do more research about her – did she know of Emily Hobhouse’s campaign from her days in South Africa? Why did she move to England? When did she come to Manchester?

For July 1915 it is minuted that she intends to marry. Did she? And to whom?

All this has made me think of the complex network of women activated by the Open letter in 1914 and how these women brought different campaigns and knowledge into the wider arena of opposition to the war.

Does any one know any more about Marguerite Douglas? Please get in touch!

Ali Ronan (c) August 2015

Dr Ali Ronan can be reached on alironan61@gmail.com

 

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IFC – Isabella Forsyth Christie – Later Bews

 - by whnadmin

 

WHNQuiltphoto.JPG.aug15

Isabella Forsyth Christie was a schoolteacher. As far as I know she didn’t do much other than teach. She most certainly isn’t famous, she wasn’t even particularly well known in her day, apart perhaps, amongst the communities where she taught. She was a primary teacher in late nineteenth, early twentieth century Scotland where the curriculum was limited to not much more than good handwriting, bible studies, arithmetic and sewing. It was only because of the sewing that I know anything about her. I was visiting Kinloch Rannoch school in Highland Perthshire with storyteller Claire Hewitt, where we were discussing a textile and storytelling project called Felt Story with the headteacher. He had something he thought we might be interested in. It was an old red and white patchwork, each square embroidered with a girl’s name.   There were eighty odd names, plus three schools and a splendid monogram embroidered with the initials IFC, Isabella Forsyth Christie.

It seems to have been a signature quilt compiled by Isabella during sewing classes for girls in the first three schools where she taught. Her first school was Heisker, a tiny group of sandy islands in the Atlantic off the west coast of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. She went there in 1882 when she was nineteen from her home near Elgin, east of Inverness, to a windswept community of about hundred people living in traditional black houses, who made a living from crofting and fishing and were entirely Gaelic speaking. She came from an English speaking area, or more likely the form of Scots known as Doric, and a place with a very different culture to Heisker. It was a tough post, mostly filled by inexperienced young women, male teachers wouldn’t go to such a poor out of the way place, and most of the young women didn’t stay more than a year or two, though Isabella managed five years. I came across a story about one of these teachers, I like to think it was Isabella, it fits with her, who wanted to get her teaching certificate, or parchment. She’d been studying hard but the exam was set in Glasgow in December, a long and difficult journey, and on the day a terrible storm was blowing and no boats would cross to North Uist. She begged the boatmen but they were having none of it until she persuaded their women to talk to them and they eventually relented. It was a rough journey but she made it, and got her parchment.

Heisker – with thanks (1)

Heisker – or the Monarch Isles with thanks (2)

From Heisker she went to Lochmaddy and spent seven years amongst the calm, black waters of the east coast of North Uist and then, in 1895, she moved to the Highlands, to Kinloch Rannoch, maybe to be a little closer to her ailing mother in Elgin.   She didn’t stay in Rannoch long, just two years, but it was to have a great influence on her life and, after a career that took her back to North Uist and to Argyll, she retired to Kenmore, just over the hill from Rannoch and died there in 1933. By then she was a married woman, having wed John Bews in 1913, when she was forty eight. John Bews was the tailor in Kinloch Rannoch, and she must have met him there seventeen years before. She has no descendants and her life story died with her husband until the quilt reappeared some seventy years later. I think it was probably him that stitched all the names together into the quilt, and maybe he embroidered her initials too, they look too showy for a practical woman like Isabella, but they were done with care. I like to think he was making a tribute to her and her work.

From what I have unpicked from her life story she was resourceful, confident and engaging. She was also intrepid but in a way that was unremarkable for a time when people still lived ordinary lives in places that seem remote and wild now, but were just home then.   She clearly worked hard and did her best, like many other people, but she also had opportunity and independence and she made the most of it. I like what I know of her very much.

Gareth JM Saunders Blog – Thank you (3)

I have gathered a few threads from some of the girls’ lives too and I am trying to piece together a book about the quilt and the places it records, embroidered with some of the traditional stories from those places that reflect how women and girls negotiated their daily, mostly anonymous, lives.

The quilt is now held by the National Museum of Scotland (though not on display). Photographs, together with information on Isabella and individual girls, is available through www.scran.ac.uk, free to schools and through Scottish libraries. If you would like to work with the quilt, or know anything more of some of the lives recorded on it, please get in touch with me, ruth0atkinson@yahoo.co.uk or helen.foster@rcahms.gov.uk to add to the Scran site.

Ruth Atkinson (c) August 2015

Ruth Atkinson Ruth Atkinson is a botanist and ecologist who has diversified into textiles, printmaking and writing. She has been attempting to write creatively for some time, whilst also trying to make a living, though not always successfully for either. She has recently completed a book about a small woodland in Eastern England where many men, and a few women, enjoy themselves playing with sticks and birds (literally) – always enjoying themselves!

Leanne Penny – Thank you (4)

(1) Thank you to site:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Heisker&rls=com.microsoft:en-GB:IE-Address&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAmoVChMIwr3I5_yWxwIVCesUCh3H1QIs&biw=1280&bih=899#imgrc=EbIJT32knRb5TM%3A (accessed 7 August 2015)

(2) Thank you to site:

http://www.northuist.net/HE4.JPG (accessed 7 August 2015)

(3) Thank you to site:

blog.garethjmsaunders.co.uk  http://blog.garethjmsaunders.co.uk/wp-content/20071118_kinlochrannoch.jpg (accessed 7 August 2015)

(4) Thank you to Leanne Penny site:

http://www.leannepenny.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/quilt-pic.jpg (accessed 7 August 2015)

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DAD’S EULOGY: Adrian Leonard Aldrick – We all knew him as Len or Dad or Dar

 - by whnadmin

 

Meteorology Maps – Thank you (1)

Len was born at his Aunty Rita’s home on Terrigal Road Erina on 24th November 1926. The youngest son of William and Jessie, he was educated at Woodport Primary School at Erina.

Although Len was a studious and talented scholar, his parents couldn’t afford for him to continue on to High School. There wasn’t the money for the books, uniform or bus fare, so at 13 years of age he started working in the bush around Mangrove Mountain with his Father who was cutting logs for local sawmills. Len’s job was to look after, and to work the bullock team. He would round up the bullocks, hitch them up and work them all day dragging logs up the mountain.

It was a tough and lonely life for a young boy living in the bush with his father who was a very hard, demanding, and in Len’s case, an unloving man. They lived in an open-fronted hut with a bark roof and we can only imagine how cold those long nights were up on the Mountain during winter. They worked from dawn till dusk and the only outside contact was with the drivers of timber trucks that came every few days for a load. At the end of the week Len would get a lift home with one of the truckies and return again on Mondays. Despite the lack of closeness between Father and Son, Len said he would always cry when he had to leave his Dad alone in the bush. Over the years when we talked about his childhood, Len would become very emotional about his relationship with his father. He never understood his Father’s dislike of him from a very young age and it tormented him all his life. Len’s eldest brother Alf was also treated poorly by his father but both boys adored their Mother. Many in the family would be totally unaware of this as the boys put it all behind them and got on with their lives.

All the family helped around the property on Terrigal Road, in the orchard which supplemented the family income and in the vegetable garden or milking cows. Some would often recall having to bring the cows in for milking and in the winter when the frost was crackling under their bare feet, they would stand in the fresh cowpats just to keep their feet warm.

Len worked in the bush with his Father for about three years then got a job at a local orchard. A few months after the war ended, and aged about 19, Len and his mate decided to look for work further afield and ended up at Wee Waa in the North West of the State working on a property during the wheat season. Len also sought work in the Riverina. Our family would return some years later to live at that property outside Wee Waa called “Brushy Park”. By now he had met Neryl and came to live at Carlingford and they were married in 1947. Len worked in a sawmill at Parramatta then at HMV Homebush and EMI, pressing records. The record collection began to grow. Then it was back to Terrigal Road where Len and Neryl built a small house and he began cutting and carting logs for a local sawmill. By then they had two very young daughters, Phyllis and Maureen, and Len would come home from work and they would both get stuck into finishing the house working well into the nights.

Australian Sheep-farming … The Australian – Thank you (2)

In late 1952 Len accepted the offer of a job on the property at Wee Waa where he’d worked some years earlier. The family packed up and travelled the long train trip to the isolation of life on a wheat and sheep property where we stayed for 6 years. During our time on the property we experienced two severe floods and we remember watching Len swimming in the swirling waters outside the floodbank towards the wool shed to release some horses that were in danger of drowning. On that occasion, water in the Keepit Dam, miles away near Gunnedah, had been released and it spread across the land like a tsunami. It was a frightening and noisy spectacle as we watched it approaching, knocking down fences and smaller trees. We also have memories of him riding his horse into the distance one night to an adjoining station that was experiencing severe bush fires and we could see the glow of the fire from our front verandah. He stayed on the station fighting the fire and didn’t come home for days. That was life on the land.

He took up wood chopping when we lived in Wee Waa and had many successes competing in country shows. When the family moved back to Sydney he continued successfully competing in wood chopping and sawing events at local, country and interstate shows. Along the way he made many close and enduring friendships. One especially remains to this day – his good friend Toby Davis. Those were the days of being young, strong, competitive and ready for a good time and that was especially so when he got together with the likes of Toby, Reggie Chalker, Garry Smith, Neville Missen, Ron Mahon, Ron Sherriff or Doug and Bill Youd to name just a few. We can’t forget the night after a session at the Club when Toby chopped off the head of a very large Schnapper using one of Len’s racing axes. Not a problem except that he was using the back doorstep as a chopping block. So we lived for years with this big “v” shaped piece missing from the doorstep.

When Len gave up competitive chopping he judged the chopping events at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show. He had a lovely singing voice and his repertoire of Buddy Williams and Tex Morton songs was endless.   We could just ask his lifelong friends Toby and Lila – many years ago they travelled with Len and Neryl straight through from Brisbane to Sydney and Toby said to Len “You sang all the bloody way home and you never repeated one song!” Len sang every day and often into the night right up until he was recently hospitalised. On long car trips we can remember Evan as a youngster saying “sing that one about the Drover’s Dog, Dar”.

Len loved his music and became a self-taught organist and would sit and play the organ for hours and he also loved to play his mouth organ. He particularly loved Buddy Williams tunes. When he was just a young boy his brother Reg returned to the family home in Erina with a young friend – that friend was Buddy Williams, and there began Len’s love of country ballads. Buddy lived with the family for many months. Many of you here today wouldn’t recognise the song that was played at the beginning of this service. “A Mother as lovely as you.” It was one of Len’s favourites and it was one of the many Buddy Williams tunes he loved to sing and he sang it in memory of his Mother who he adored.

Buddy Williams Album – ‘A Mother as lovely as you’ – Thank you (3)

Upon our return to the city, Len got a job fencing for a company based in Granville. Then he and Neryl started their own very successful business – Carlingford Sawmilling and Fencing. He had a sawmill at the end of Carlton Road at North Rocks just near where Maureen and Richard now live. The sawmill was located partly on his good friend Ted’s property, and Ted also gave his “permission” to encroach on part of the adjoining Crown land. It’s rumoured that some good logs were appropriated from that Crown Land – but that’s another story.

Len was a jack of all trades and he could turn his hand to almost anything. Whether it was cars or machinery, or stitching up a dog’s belly that had been sliced by a barbed-wire fence or striking shrubs and trees. He loved animals and in particular his dogs. He turned up at Maureen’s work one day with a dog he’d rescued from being put down, wondering whether there was somebody who’d take him. Richard was walking past and Maureen introduced her Dad. Richard agreed to take the dog but couldn’t take him at that time as he was living in a flat. So Len agreed to keep the dog until Richard found a house. The rest is history – Len kept the dog and Richard got Maureen.

Len worked in timber all his life. He was a craftsman furniture maker and the family home is full of beautifully made Australian Cedar furniture which he was always rightly proud to show off. When travelling, he was always on the lookout for trees and would generally comment “There’s some bloody good logs in there.” He loved gardening and always had a fabulous vegetable garden – corn as high as an elephant’s eye, beetroot, masses of cucumbers, watermelons and his very favourite – tomatoes. A few years ago Parramatta Council recognised both Len and Neryl’s contribution to the beautification of the parkland next door by naming the park “Aldrick Gardens”. They had both put in enormous amounts of time and money over a period of more than 50 years to make the parkland what it is today.

Len and Neryl were married for almost 68 years. Their life was at times a bit of a struggle but they also had many many good times. They loved ballroom dancing and would regularly go to the Epping RSL dances with their friends Stevo and Betty or to the local Bowling Club. For several years they had a large caravan on-site at Fingal Bay and together with Phyllis and their pets they spent most weekends there. They both loved fishing and would often stay out overnight in their 16ft boat. Though Len was by no means a perfect individual, he worked very hard and provided well for his family. In his friend Ian’s words, “he was a big man with a big presence”. An amazingly strong man who worked physically hard all his life, but his body certainly paid for it in later life. He was feared by the local “louts” who were out to create a nuisance in the neighbourhood but they soon knew to avoid the area around Honiton Avenue. He was a very generous man and always stood up for the underdog whether it be the Aboriginal population around Wee Waa or someone who was being treated unfairly.

Len’s chief interest in life was his family. He loved kids and was delighted when Richard’s daughter Michelle entered our lives. He was also always keen to hear about Michelle and Troy’s children Zac and Jasmine. He thought Zac’s sporting achievements were marvellous and Jasmine’s dancing delightful. He was also totally devoted to Evan. Evan’s Nanny and Dar never missed a baseball match, a Grandparent’s day at school, a musical performance or pretty much anything Evan was involved with. Nanny and Dar are so proud of Evan’s many achievements in rifle shooting and take a keen interest in both Richard and Evan’s scores every Saturday, probably being secretly, or not so secretly glad when Evan takes out the day, which is more often than not these days. Len was so pleased that Evan found his lifetime partner in the lovely Renee and that he was able to attend their wedding.

Australia – Welcome to Down Under – Thank you (4)

Right up until Len went to hospital last week, he read the Sydney Morning Herald every day and looked forward to reading The Land newspaper every week. He still had a keen interest in politics and was ever hopeful he’d see the demise of Tony Abbott. Prior to Phyllis returning to live at home, Len would so look forward to her coming home for a couple of nights every week. He just hoped it could be for longer. Both Neryl and Phyllis cared for Len in every way. They worked so hard in what was often an extraordinarily stressful situation to make his life as comfortable as possible and it was a 24 hour a day job. As Len grew more and more frail he was very frustrated that he wasn’t able to do the things he most enjoyed as his life was confined to the indoors.

On a lighter note, our family have used the services of our Funeral Director Christopher Timmins on many occasions and perhaps Chris might not remember this, but when Len used to see Chris at various funerals he would say to him, “put the tape measure away – I’m not ready yet”. Well Chris, last Friday he WAS ready. In the early hours last Friday morning we said our goodbyes and in a beautiful gesture of love and respect, Evan combed his Dar’s hair for the last time. Len could never stand his hair being messy. We will miss him terribly but we all understand it was his time to go.

We would like to publicly recognise and thank our wonderful GP Dr Daniel Lee whose dedication in caring for Len and in fact the whole family is so greatly appreciated.

Thank you all for being with us today.

Neryl Aldrick (c) July 2015)

Thank you to Marion Hosking for making this insight into women’s lives through the life of their father/grandfather and Neryl’s husband available to Women’s History Network (WHN) Blog.

ZEntertainment – Thank you (5)

 (1) Meteorology Maps – thank you [http://w0.fast-meteo.com/locationmaps/Erina.12.gif (accessed 30 July 2015)]

(2) The Australian thank you [http://resources0.news.com.au/images/2014/05/29/1226936/360572-66a66624-e6f1-11e3-a93b-3d4546371b68.jpg (accessed 30 July 2015)]

(3) Buddy Williams Album – ‘A Mother as lovely as you’ – thank you [http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51f-BUGDzAL._SL500_AA280_.jpg (accessed 30 July 2015)]

(4) Australia – Welcome to Down Under – thank you [http://i.ytimg.com/vi/_C898SQMB4Q/maxresdefault.jpg (accessed 30 Kuly 2015)]

(5) ZEntertainment – thank you [http://www.zentertainment.com.au/images/dsc01701.JPG (accessed 30 July 2015)]

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Do We Need Feminism? I think I’m going to cry …

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Reflections on the one-day workshop ‘Do We Need Feminism? Gender inequality, violence and sexism in the present day’

 

On a wet Monday morning on 1st June, around 60 women and men packed the Glasgow Women’s Library’s new premises for a fascinating series of talks and discussions exploring a wide range of feminist issues relating to both the past and the present day. As a venue, the Glasgow Women’s Library was perfect as it was born from the history and achievements of the Women’s Movement whilst looking forward with its new premises and exciting vision for the future. It was also great to have the conference away from a university setting particularly as it drew together so many from outside the academy.

When asked the question, ‘Do we need feminism?’ the answer from this audience was always going to be a resounding ‘Yes’. So the aim of this workshop was more about reflecting on the different ways feminism has contributed to the expansion of women’s rights, highlighting the many ways women experience social  inequality both in the past and the present, and the important work being done by women and for women in the city of Glasgow.

Following a warm welcome from our organiser Dr Andrea Hajek (University of Glasgow), Sue John from the Glasgow Women’s Library and Dr Rosemary Elliot, Director of Glasgow University’s Centre for Gender History, Professor Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh) delivered a keynote address entitled ‘Transforming the face of politics? Women politicians and the feminist campaigns that got them there.’ In light of the recent gains made by women in the House of Commons, Fiona discussed the value of positive discrimination to increase women’s political representation by highlighting efficacy of all female short lists in getting women into the Commons. Whilst Fiona conceded that this sort of affirmative action was not a magic bullet, and gender parity in political representation will not automatically solve inequality between the sexes, she made the important point that striving for equal representation is one of many ways we might be able to achieve our goals. Responding to Fiona’s paper was Dr Victoria Browne (Oxford Brooks) who drew on the work of Susan Faludi to challenge the linear narrative of feminist progress which masks the backlash that so often accompanies any feminist gains. Victoria helpfully likened continuing gender inequality to a cake – even if the ingredients that go into making the cake change, the result is the same.

From the Scottish Book Trust – www.scottishbooktrust.com

 

Although Victoria’s comments could be disheartening, she made the case for celebrating even the smallest of victories as a way of not losing heart and staying engaged. Afterwards, Victoria and Fiona were joined by Louise MacKenzie and Judith Hunter from Glasgow City Council Equality Network, Kate Reid, Louise Sheridan and Valerie Wright, for a roundtable which lead to a surprisingly personal discussion about the challenges faced by women today – especially when trying to bring up children, and girls in particular, in a culture of intense sexualisation of women.

Following an exceptionally tasty lunch, we heard again from Dr Rosemary Elliot who presented a paper she wrote with another faculty member from Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History, Dr Annmarie Hughes, entitled Language, the law and the question of consent: Historical perspectives on sexual violence in 20th century Scotland. Rosemary discussed how the language of sexual violence in the present day is frighteningly similar to the discourse surrounding child abuse in Scotland in the early 20th century. She demonstrated how victims were tacitly held responsible both for protecting themselves from harm and for the crimes committed against them. We then heard from Dr Andrea Thompson, another member of the Centre for Gender History, who responded to Rosemary’s paper by discussing legislative changes surrounding rape within marriage, leading on to the second roundtable discussion of the day. This roundtable included Elaine McLaughlin from Hemat Gryffe Women’s Aid and Kirsti Hay from the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership. The presence of women who do the hard work of supporting vulnerable women in our society reminded us of the fact that the work of gender history does not exist in a vacuum, and prompted an interesting discussion which emphasised the challenges of putting theory into practice.

Our final panel, moderated by Dr Vikki Turbine, for the day examined some of the problems facing our conceptions of who feminist activists are and who they work for. First up was Dr Akwugo Emejulu (University of Edinburgh), with a provocative paper entitled ‘Whose feminism? Whose solidarity? Taking black feminism and women of colour seriously in feminist movements. Akwugo discussed the importance of taking an intersectional approach to feminism by explaining how Black and ethnic minority women are so frequently erased from the feminist narrative and yet so often find themselves at the sharp end of social policies, particularly – although not exclusively – austerity. Akwugo also noted that ethnic minority women are so rarely seen by society and by feminist activists as individuals, rather than simply as victims of various cultural pathologies.

The last paper came from Dr Sarah Browne, the author of The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland (Manchester University Press, 2014);  ‘Looking back, moving forward: Legacies and lessons from the Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland’. Sarah sought to emphasise the hidden histories of feminism that have fallen out of the historical narrative, focused as it is on the notion of wave periodisation which neglects the women who were active in-between.

We closed the day on a hopeful note with a third and final roundtable which put the spotlight on the next generation. We heard from Sophie Kromholz and Halina Rifai, members of the Glasgow art collective TYCI, who discussed their activities as well as their broader reflections on what it means to be a feminist today. We also heard from Hannah Brown, Hannah Houston and Niamh McGeechan, members of the newly formed STAMP (Stamp Out Media Patriarchy) project, which aims to empower young people to challenge misogyny in the media. It was especially lovely to hear from Hannah (Houston) and Niamh, both of whom are about to start university and spoke eloquently about why feminism matters to their lives. They were both concerned they might cry when speaking in the roundtable, but neither did – although I don’t know about anyone else.

Although we covered an impressive number of topics and discussions during the day, we couldn’t hope to reach all the areas that feminism touches. With this in mind, Dr Andrea Hajek expressed the intention to follow this event up with a number of smaller workshops in the near future, which will consider some of the issues raised in greater depth and where the bond that was established with people from outside academia will hopefully be developed. The Centre for Gender History is keen on engaging with the wider public, and hopefully the collaboration with Glasgow Women’s Library will also continue. Thank you to everyone who attended such a fantastic and enriching day.

Mary Jacobs (c) June 2015

Mary Jacobs is a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow

WHN Blog thanks Andrea Hajek, PhD, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow – School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Glasgow, Founding member of the Warwick Oral History Network, for ensuring that this blog/report was made available for publication.

http://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/mlc/staff/andreahajek/<https://mail.campus.g

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Black & Asian women’s history: enslaved women on ships

 - by whnadmin

JOSTANLEYWHNkimber.jpg.jul15 

Black and Asian women’s history, as we know, has been very wrongly neglected. For over 20 years until 2011 it was being usefully retrieved – and presented in short, accessible pieces – by publications such as the Black and Asian Studies Association Newsletter. But I’ve just discovered this no longer exists. (For update see  http://www.history.org.uk/resources/general_news_1566.html).

Surely this WHN blog can be one of the e-places where the history of Black and Asian women is still, and increasingly, given the centrality it deserves.

 

Black women on slave ships

Women’s maritime historiography shows us several areas we can explore, including that of enslaved women, in transit. Perhaps 4-5 million African women being transported across the Atlantic in hell ships from the seventeenth century onwards.

Enslaved women tended to be outnumbered two to one.  Female/male ratios varied according to region, as well as period, argues Jennifer L Morgan in Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2004.

 

Gendered relations on board

From the evidence it seems that on many vessels over time generally women were doubly  victimised, and sexually abused.  Ships were hypersexualised spaces, crewed by men who might have close relationships only with each other or ship’s animals.

Male crew typically took women passengers – be they convicts, enslaved women, or unprotected emigrants – as sexual partners for the duration of a trip. Sometimes they even married them. There could be tenderness and gallant protectiveness. But women almost always had the less powerful position. In some cases women managed to turn men’s desire for them, or assumptions of women’s inferiority, for their own benefit, even on slave ships.

Shipboard practices varied. But on most slave ships women were usually left unshackled. They had more freedom to rove the ship than did men. Enslaved women were also tragic murder victims, as these two stories of voyages shows.

 

‘Enslaved women’: language.

First I want to make the practical point that browsing for this subject, can, ironically, be hindered by our new use of language. The Abolition of Slavery project points out that the word ‘slave’ means someone ‘owned by another person’.

‘A slave is a human being classed as property and who is forced to work for nothing. An enslaved person is a human being who is made to be a slave. This language is often used instead of the word slave, to refer to the person and their experiences and to avoid the use of dehumanising language.’(http://abolition.e2bn.org/slavery_40.html).

But in internet searches using the search term, ‘enslaved women’ not ‘slave’ doesn’t bring  anything like as many hits.

Dramatic stories of two enslaved  women on ships reveal something about the realities of the long cooped-up and traumatic voyages and gendered relations.

 

Murdering a New Calabar fifteen-year old on the slave ship Recovery

The un-named young woman was on Captain John Kimber’s Recovery from New Calabar. They were  headed for Grenada in October 1791. Isaac Cruikshank graphically pictured the terrible situation of the fifteen-year old African ‘virjen’ who refused to exercise.  Her refusal was normal.  Many did, not least because they were too saddened by their plight to dance, that is, to be complicit in the process of making themselves into commodities that could be sold as ‘healthy and fit’ on arrival.

But in this case Kimber allegedly flogged her, repeatedly . He was said to have several times made the crew suspend her by one leg and then drop her to the deck of the ship. She died, one of the twenty seven of the 300 slaves died on the fifty-seven-day trip.  In 1792 Kimber was tried for her murder, but acquitted.

William Wilberforce used this Cruikshank image in his struggle to bring the abolition of slavery, 1800. It’s an effective image as propaganda, but it also needs discussion. For example, was Cruikshank using her nakedness in a purient way?

 

Ditching an ‘infected’ woman from the slave ship Polly.

That same year,1791, Captain James D’Wolf was indicted for murdering a woman, also un-named. He had her put  overboard because he thought she had small pox and would infect everyone on board the Polly.

Caring? No. He just didn’t want to lose his potentially profitable cargo.

Captain James D’Wolf first had the sick woman put high up in the mainmast two days earlier. Then he ordered she be put overboard. The sailors refused, according to seaman John Cranston. Scared to touch her? No, they were actually quite keen to get exposure to smallpox and thereby gain immunity. On their refusal D’Wolf: ‘himself ran up the Shrowds  … then he lash’d her in a Chair & ty’d a mask round her Eyes & Mouth & there was a tackle hooked upon the Slings round the chair when we lowered her down on the larboard side of the Vessel.’

Cranston said the mask was tied onto the woman so that she could not see what was happening to her so that she would not struggle and ‘to prevent her making any Noise that the other Slaves might not hear, lest they should rise.’ She drowned. They didn’t rise.

 

Gender brings extra abuse

Marcus Rediker writes of the D’Wolf case in The Slave Ship: A human history, John Murray, London, 2007. I started looking at enslaved women’s conditions as part of studying their regulation on ships. Convicts and emigrants had (white) shipboard matrons and conductresses to ‘look after’ but also marshall them. They were like wardresses albeit not very authoritative ones, and could almost be seen as akin to WW1 ‘lady patrollers’. Enslaved women had no such protectors on their ships.

One of the jobs of gender-aware historians is to examine, where we can, how much men’s terrible femiphobia played a part in different voyages, and how women negotiated agency where they could. Black and Asian women’s struggle was, of course, especially challenging.

 

Jo Stanley (c) July 2015

 

==

Dr Jo Stanley, FRHistS, has just written  From Cabin ‘ Boys’ to Captains: Women seafarers from 1750 to the present.  History Press are bringing it out in April 2016. It includes a chapter on matrons and conductresses. Her blog on the gendered seas discusses enslaved women in this post: http://genderedseas.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/enslaved-women-on-ships.html

 

 

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Making Changes by Making History: Women in Construction

 - by whnadmin

One of the biggest ways to have a positive impact upon the professional development of girls and young women is to acknowledge the achievements of women across all walks of life, including in fields of engineering, literature, science, art, sports, education, medicine, and even construction. While the field of construction has been traditionally dominated by men, some interesting results have come to light by a recent study into recruitment and retention of women in construction. A study by Randstad anticipates over the next five years that more and more women will be entering the field of construction, including filling more senior roles in the industry. The study shows the proportion of construction jobs held by women as of 2015 stands at twenty percent (20%). The recruitment specialists at Randstad CPE expect women to fill more than a quarter of all constructions jobs by the year 2020.

Some examples of women involved in prominent construction projects include the Waterloo Bridge, One World Trade Centre, The Shard, and the Thames Tideway Tunnel.   The Waterloo Bridge originally opened in 1817 as a toll bridge, but fell into such disrepair by the 1920s, resulting in its closure until temporary reinforcements were introduced.  The bridge was later demolished and replaced with a new structure designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.  The new bridge was opened in 1942 but not completed until 1945. It was the only bridge on the Thames that was damaged during the Second World War by German bombers. The building contractor at the time, Peter Lind & Company Limited, hired a predominately female work force on the rebuild. At that time there was estimated to be about 25,000 women in the UK construction sector. The Waterloo Bridge is affectionately referred to as “Ladies Bridge” because of the key role women had in its construction.

Thanks to: http://www.thamestidewaytunnel.co.uk/images/logo-new.png

 (accessed 4 July 2015)

This is just one early example of women making an impact on major construction projects.   In more recent years construction projects have seen women taking on more senior roles like that of architect Nicole Dosso, Technical Director of the construction project known as One World Trade Centre. Dosso was the single senior technical coordinator representing Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) on the day-to-day execution of the job. For all intents and purposes it could be said that a woman built the tallest tower in North America. For her contribution to the rebuilding of the World Trade Centre site, Nicole Dosso was honoured by the US National Association of Professional Women in Construction in 2006.

The Shard, also known as The Shard of Glass, is a ninety-five (95)-storey skyscraper in Southwark, London; it forms part of the London Bridge Quarter development. Currently the tallest building in the European Union, it is another example of a prominent construction project partly lead by a woman. Roma Agrawal, a strong minded and multi-talented woman was the structural engineer of the Shard. Architects and structural engineers like Agrawal began re-evaluating the design of tall structures after the destruction of New York’s World Trade Centre (WTC) on September 11, 2001. The Shard’s early conceptual designs were directly amended as a result of the publication of the report on the collapse of the WTC.  Already considered London’s new emblem, The Shard, with the help of Roma Agrawal is designed to maintain its stability under very onerous conditions. Attracting more women to the construction industry has also been an active campaign by Roma Agrawal.

Roma Agrawal

Thanks to: http://www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/_resources/images/Roma_Agrawal_on_74th_230.jpg (Accessed 4 July 2015)

One of the current major construction projects playing an active role in ensuring diversity in its workforce is the Thames Tideway Tunnel. While a large number of management roles on the project are already being held by women, the CEO of the project aims to have at least half of the workers to be female. The construction of the project is not expected to being until 2016 and is expected to take seven to eight years to finish.  The tunnel will run mostly under the River Thames through central London and is intended to reduce the occurrence of overflows into the river by providing storage and conveyance of combined rainwater discharges and raw sewage.

These are just a few examples of how women are directly involved in construction projects at all levels in the industry.  This is truly the beginning of a cultural revolution that will help UK construction reach its true potential.

Bethany Cornell (c) June 2015)

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‘A Call to Arms’ … The Crimea to The Blitz – Ministering Angels

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Binghamministering-angelsimage

Stella Bingham’s Ministering Angels: A History of Nursing from The Crimea to The Blitz

 ‘Call to Arms’

 

Military nursing in the Crimea had done so much to establish female nursing as a respectable career that the reformers by no means abandoned the military field when hostilities came to an end. Thanks largely to the efforts of Miss Nightingale and her friends the health of the troops gradually improved. The Army Medical School was created in 1860. New military Hospitals were built. Patients moved in to the first, the Royal Victoria at Netley, in 1863. Though Netley was completed against strenuous opposition from Miss Nightingale, because it was built to the old corridor pattern, the Herbert Hospital, Woolwich and the Cambridge at Aldershot met her approval as they were constructed in the pavilion style. In 1866, a Royal Warrant authorized the appointment of nursing sisters in any military general Hospital and eight lady nurses under Mrs Shaw Stewart took on day duty at the Herbert Hospital which was completed that year. In 1869 Mrs Jane Deeble went from St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, to Netley with six ward sisters.

Army nursing was still largely in the hands of male orderlies : in theory at least. Mrs Rebecca Strong, one of Mrs Deeble’s ladies at Netley, wrote: ‘There was normally an orderly attached to each ward, but they were often taken away for relief work such as coal carrying, etc. Each sister had from six to eight of these wards under her charge, and speedily found that the nursing must be done by herself …  A special orderly could be had in emergencies, but the nursing was nil.’

The army showed its appreciation of female nursing by dispatching Mrs Deeble with fourteen nurses to serve in the Zulu War of 1879, but the service was not given any formal structure until 1881, the year the War Office granted the National Aid Society (the British Red Cross organization) permission to train military probationers.

Stella Bingham (c) June 2015

Extract from Chapter 8, ‘Call to Arms’ – Stella Bingham’s Ministering Angels: A History of Nursing from The Crimea to The Blitz – Bingham charts the history of nursing across 1000 years of history, and the way in which this history intersects with changing cultural perceptions of gender.  (A full description can be found here, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ministering-Angels-Stella-Bingham/dp/0850453178 (accessed 20 June 2015).

STELLABINGHAMuntitled

http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/B00UQYXZ02/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1 )

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/ministering-angels/id979057333?mt=11 (accessed 20 June 2015)

 

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ELEANOR FLORENCE RATHBONE – A Woman for Our Times!

 - by whnadmin

Who today, apart from a collection of historians with diverse interests from gender studies, welfare reform to refugee studies, remembers Eleanor Florence Rathbone, an exceptional woman who was born during Queen Victoria’s reign, in 1872, and died in 1946, whilst King George VI was monarch?

Her achievements were far greater than the sum of their parts, for she spent her working life confronting ‘unsuspected obligations’, championing the cause of the underrepresented in society, challenging officialdom, and generally fighting for the benefit of others, often at great personal cost. Yet she remains in the shadows of the great and the good, and whilst Eleanor herself never sought recognition for her work, we feel a responsibility to ensure that she is remembered, and that her public and personal achievements and their enduring impact, are fully recognised.

To set matters right, a colleague, Lesley Urbach, and I decided some months ago, to arrange a series of commemorative events for 2016, to coincide with the seventieth anniversary of Eleanor’s death. As luck would have it this coincides with the seventieth anniversary of the first payment of child benefit in August 1946, an allowance which Eleanor fought so hard for over decades, but which comes under regular threat.

This is, as we see it, the ideal opportunity to celebrate the achievements of a great humanitarian activist who had such an impact on the lives of so many people, but eschewed public acclaim, preferring, as Susan Pedersen has written in her magisterial biography of Eleanor, ‘to do good by stealth.’

So, where do you start on such an enterprise, especially when it is such a steep learning curve? The logical place is Somerville College, Oxford, which undoubtedly had a huge effect on Eleanor’s future. That she actually attended the college was nothing short of miracle. With years of private tuition behind her but only one year of formal schooling to her name, the young woman persuaded her parents to secure the services of the classical scholar, Janet Case, to tutor her privately in Greek. Case then urged Eleanor to attend Henry Jackson and Archer Hind’s philosophy lectures at Cambridge University, a notion which her mother, Emily, was vehemently opposed to. So, whilst Eleanor harboured a desire to go to Newnham College, Cambridge, her parents, especially her mother, were unyielding. Eleanor made herself ill over the debacle and the relationship between mother and daughter became strained almost to the limit. Almost a year of indecision was concluded when Eleanor’s father, William, intervened, and it was agreed that Eleanor could attend Somerville, Oxford. This was not a college but a halls of residence which was overseen by a dragon of a warden, who supervised every visitor, especially if they were male, and even if they were a relative. But the best laid plans for protecting Eleanor went awry for the year after her arrival in 1893 Somerville became the first (Oxford) women’s hall to adopt the name of college, on the grounds that it would ‘not only improve the educational status of Somerville in the eyes of the public, but would be understood as implying the desire of Governing Body to raise it above the level of a hall of residence.’  [1]

Eleanor was amongst a select band of pioneering young women who immersed  themselves in the academic atmosphere of Oxford, and who enjoyed the intellectual milieu of her fellow female students. She made enduring friendships and built up what we would now refer to as a network of contacts who remained important throughout her life. The atmosphere at Somerville energized and emancipated Eleanor, including her involvement with the Associated Prigs, known affectionately as the AP’s, the debating group which provided her with the perfect opportunity to hone her oratorical skills.  What neither she nor her fellow students could do was to matriculate ie become a member of the University, or graduate, both of which were only permitted after October 1920. By then, Eleanor was deeply immersed in her lifetime career as a humanitarian activist.

CohenRescue Cover WHN Blog

Somerville College are rightly very proud of all their former students  but Eleanor holds a special place as she was the first of their students to become a Member of Parliament.  Plans are being laid for a symposium at Somerville in mid January 2016, and we are very excited at the prospect of having Professor Susan Pedersen of Columbia University, USA, author of Eleanor Rathbone and the Politics of Conscience, deliver the keynote speech. We are indebted to Dr Alice Prochaska, the Principal of Somerville, for expressing such an interest in these commemorations and for the co-operation she and the various offices at the college are offering.

Other plans taking shape include an event in March with Eleanor the focus of an International Women’s Day celebration – venue to be disclosed, but we are aiming for something high profile. Liverpool Central Library are one of numerous venues who have agreed to put on a public exhibition, and we are working hard at involving schools and universities in projects related to the wide scope of Eleanor’s work. This is of prime importance, for even though Lesley and I are especially interested in Eleanor’s work for refugees from Nazi Europe, this is one in the continuum of causes that she, as a responsible citizen, championed, and which resonates today.

One of our biggest challenges is to secure funding for a permanent memorial to Eleanor. There was a plaque dedicated to her refugee work installed at Hoop Lane cemetery in North London in October 2013, and there are various buildings which bear her name, including the Eleanor Rathbone School in Israel, opened in 1949, as well as two blue plaques, one in London, the other in Liverpool. But what would be wonderful would be to have a statue of Eleanor standing proudly in one of the two remaining niches in St George’s Hall, Liverpool. In theory this is perfectly possible, and would be welcome, but in practice it would require around £100,000 to commission and execute. That was the cost of the statue of Kitty Wilkinson, the first Liverpool woman to be so memorialised, in 2012. If there is anyone out there who has ideas of how the money might be raised, or would like to lead a fund raising campaign, we would LOVE to  hear from you …

Susan Cohen (c) June 2015

Susan Cohen is an Honorary Fellow of the Parkes Institute for Jewish/non-Jewish Studies at the University of Southampton. She works as an independent researcher, having been awarded her doctorate by Southampton in 2005 for her thesis on Eleanor Rathbone and her work on refugees. Her monograph, Rescue the Perishing: Eleanor Rathbone and the Refugees, was published by Vallentine Mitchell in 2010. Susan Cohen is currently researching the role of women in refugee organisations in Britain before and during the second world war.

[1] www.some.ox.ac.uk/3346/Somerville%20Hall%20to%20Somerville%20College.html)

See also: www.rememberingeleanorrathbone.wordpress.com (accessed 5 July 2015)

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ASYLUM STAFF RECORDS: A source for studying the Home Front in World War I

 - by whnadmin

Cheshire County Lunatic Asylum

The Cheshire Record Office hold an incomplete set of staff records for the Cheshire County Lunatic Asylum located in Chester. The female staff records that have survived cover the surnames A-G for the years 1914-1946 and P-W (excluding T, U and V) 1909-1940. These records were created principally in order to record superannuation payments under the Asylum Officers’ Superannuation Act 1909, so contain minimal personal information beyond name, date of birth, employment start and end date. In some cases details of previous employment in another Asylum is noted, as is the reason for leaving being “married”.

The majority of the records relate to nurses but there are some for domestic staff such as cooks and housemaids. Despite their limitations they do provide some insight into the pressures experienced by Asylums during World War 1. In the Asylum’s 1919 Annual Report the Medical Superintendent, Dr Grills, stated that fifty men on the books i.e. currently employed served in the forces for some time during the conflict. At least fourteen more resigned in order to join the army. The impact of this loss of men was reflected throughout 1915 in advertisements in the local press for men who are medically unfit for the armed forces to work as temporary attendants[1]. The staffing situation was aggravated by an increase in the number of patients due to Winwick Asylum near Warrington and the Chester Workhouse both being converted to military hospitals.

Chester Street Heritage – Chester Workhouses [A]

Prior to World War 1 women did not nurse on the male wards in the Asylum. However by 1916 the absence of male attendants meant that this strict demarcation had to end. In 1916 seventeen nurses were employed on male wards, a male private ward entirely staffed by nurses was opened in 1917 and by 1918 three male wards were staffed by women, eighteen of whom had been employed for this purpose. The total number of nurses employed rose from ninety-one in 1916 to one hundred and twenty in 1918. Asylum nursing had a much lower status than that in the voluntary hospitals. Practical skills such as dressmaking were frequently regarded as being more important than medical knowledge. The staff records contain several examples of women employed between 1914-1918 who started as domestic servants then became nurses, one being Ada Bowler who worked at the Asylum in 1916 and then between 1917 and 1920, first as a kitchen maid, then cook before becoming an ordinary nurse. Two hundred and twenty women were appointed between 1914-1918, according to the surviving staff records, of these 43% stayed in post for less than a year. In a few instances they were employed for less than a week, e.g. Kate Poynton, who started work on the 13th September 1916 and finished the following day!

There is no indication in the records as to why women left their post except in the rare instances when the word “married” has been noted. In the case of those women who were employed for less than a year did they leave because they were considered unsuitable for the post or did they find the job was not for them ? A newspaper report in 1917 concerning the assault of a former nurse, Mary Elizabeth Parry, stated that after nursing at the Asylum during 1916 she left to become a clerk at the munitions factory outside Chester.[2] It seems plausible that low pay, long hours, hard physical work, limited freedom and the requirement to “live in” led to many women leaving posts at the Asylum for better paid work in munitions and offices. This reflects the exodus of women from domestic service throughout the war years.

From Daily Mail [B]

However a number of the women appointed during the war years remained at the Asylum for the remainder of their working lives. Penelope Thomson, was promoted from assistant nursing matron to matron early in 1916 ( her staff record does not survive so her start date between 1911-1916 is not certain), a role she stayed in until retirement in 1948. Her replacement as assistant nursing matron, Gertrude Drower began work at Chester in May 1916 and remained in post until June 1937. It should be noted that both women had worked in other nursing roles and Asylums prior to being appointed to the posts in Chester. Among the domestic staff there are examples of long service eg. Annie Anderson, who was employed as a cook early in 1914, aged forty-two and remained until retirement in March 1939.

In 1917 limited food rationing was introduced in Britain to combat shortages. The Asylum had its own farm. During the war some of the airing courts were dug up to extend the available land for cultivation. Male staff and patients had worked on the farm; by 1917 the absence of male staff meant that fifty female patients and twenty women staff were engaged in agricultural work. A poultry farm was established in outbuildings at Bache Hall ( part of the Asylum estate ) and a Miss Hartley became poultry keeper in October 1916. Unfortunately her staff record has not survived.

In identifying the women employed, including those replacing men in nursing and administrative roles, at Cheshire County Lunatic Asylum, the Asylum staff records provide an important and immensely interesting starting point for researching this aspect of the Home Front.

Carol Coles (c) May 2015

Carol Coles worked for twenty-two years, for a number of NHS administrative organisations, in the 1829 Building, the original part of the former Cheshire County Lunatic Asylum.

1829 Building – Chester County Lunatic Asylum

[1] Chester Chronicle – Chester, 1915 [ http://www.findmypast.co.uk accessed February 2015]

[2] Chester  Chronicle – Chester, October 27th 1917, p.3 [http://www.findmypast.co.uk accessed February 2015]

[A] http://www.chesterlestreetheritage.org/page58.html (accessed by WHN Blog 7 June 2015)

[B] https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=1917+rationing&rls=com.microsoft:en-GB:IE-SearchBox&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=2YSZVfXxFqGgyAPnzITYCA&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1280&bih=899#imgrc=M7XT1UU8lS0xcM%3A(accessed by WHN Blog 7 June 2015)

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Triangle Mill Sisters: hostel life for West Yorkshire textile workers 1920 to 1970

 - by whnadmin

Cotton and wool processing mills were abundant in the beautiful Calder valley in the last century. The demand for women’s low paid labour was so great that employers recruited from all over the UK and often housed relocated workers in special hostels. This collective out-of-hours life is an unexplored aspect of British industrial history. The Triangle Mill Sisters exhibition is the first time, seemingly, that hostel women’s personal experiences have been revealed.

William Morris and Sons had a worsted wool fibre processing factory (demolished in 1987) at Triangle, next to the mill owner’s house, Stansfield Grange. In 1921 the Morris family vacated their home to create a hostel for 100 women to service their factories at Triangle and Sowerby Bridge.

‘We shared everything.’ says Vera F. ‘We were sisters, not friends – sisters.’ Many married and settled locally. Hundreds became godparents and ‘aunties’ to each others’ children and remained life-long friends.

1

Forty ex-hostel women attending the exhibition’s opening event

Bruce Fitzgerald photographer

  2

BBC ‘Look North’ cameras filming the opening lunch party

Ruth Beazley photographer

I conceived the twenty-six-panel exhibition three years ago when Ted Fenton of Sowerby Bridge happened to show me 200 photographs he had collected informally. Ted was an enthusiastic amateur photographer and had access to the hostel while he was courting one of the hostel women, whom he subsequently married in the 1950s. I subsequently used many of these images in my multimedia art work. Inspired by story fragments, I then undertook seven oral interviews and further archive research to find voices of women for each decade of the fifty-year period.

The exhibition generated a lot of interest and a range of funding and support from bodies such as the Community Foundation for Calderdale, Accent Housing Group (who now own the ex-hostel) and Calderdale libraries. Audiences of many hundreds have attended the touring exhibition and slide show. The exhibition is currently circulating Calderdale libraries and slide show talks are being presented to local organisations such as the Ripponden History Society and Halifax Rotary club.

Morris’s mills managers targeted the north east of England to recruit their workers. Out-of-work coal mining families needed income and Morris’s needed ‘hands’. Anxious parents felt happier if their daughters, some as young as fourteen years old, were looked after in a safe ‘home-from-home’, and mill owners could control their labour force better if they were housed in an attractive well-supported community.

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Hostel women posing for studio portrait photos. These were exchanged as Christmas gifts

Donated Photographs 

Two types of photos narrate the stories. To demonstrate their new-found independence many young women had their portraits taken at Gledhill’s photographic studio in Halifax. These images, carefully staged, represent the economic migrants as composed fashionable and successful young women. In contrast, dozens of informal snapshots, mostly taken by Ted and the subjects themselves, offer a less guarded picture. These show vividly the women’s exuberance and energy, sunbathing in the gardens, on holiday at Butlins, Filey and Blackpool, taking part in charity events, dancing and drinking in local milk-bars and dance halls, and getting married.

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Hostel women enjoying their leisure c1950

Photographs from Ted Fenton’s collection

In popular memory now Morris’s hostel was full of music, song and dance. Jean S sang at a local club on Friday nights. And, in 1940s, the young women put on a variety act which went round mills in Bingley and Bradford. Vera F wrote poems and Mary M did the sewing. She described one dress, inspired by Seven Brides for Seven Brothers that ‘everybody [who could get into it] wore.’ For the exhibition I used recycled materials, as in the original, to reproduce the dress.

Like nurses in a nurse’s home, many of the hostel women were the object of class prejudice, sexual disapproval, scandal stories and rivalry. Local peoples’ stories augment the women’s own versions of themselves in the exhibition panels.

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Hostel women working in Morris’ s Mill c 1950

Photographs from Ted Fenton’s collection 

The ‘sisters’ grapevine sprang into action last year. Those who contributed delighted in a sunny lunch party on their old lawn. And forty more ‘sisters’ attended the opening event and tea party. There they told their stories again and again and were feted by hundreds of local people who still remember ‘the hostel girls’.

Triangle Mill Sisters, the exhibition, is displayed at Elland library, West Yorkshire, until the end of May 2015. It will go to other Calderdale venues such as Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden later in the year.

Venues wishing to enquire about the exhibition should contact ruth.beazley@btopenworld.com. 01422 823110 A web-based resource is projected.

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Two digital prints merging images of hostel women from the past

into present day ex-industrial settings

Ruth Beazley photographer

Ruth Beazley (c) May 2015

Ruth Beazley is an artist and reminiscence collector living in a small Pennine village near Halifax. Her most recent exhibition describes the life of mill workers who lived in a women’s hostel at Triangle, Sowerby Bridge, during the final 50 years of the woollen textile industry in West Yorkshire.

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