The First 40 Years – The Working Women’s Charter

 - by whnadmin


Why we need a new Working Women’s Charter


2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Working Women’s Charter – a landmark list of 10 demands aiming to create a more equal world for women. The Charter linked trade unionism to feminism and other kinds of activism. It connected women’s social, economic, and sexual rights in new and powerful ways.

Forty years on, many of these rights have been won but deep inequalities persist around pay, opportunities, pensions, caring responsibilities and much more. What should a Working Women’s Charter for the 21st century include? What should women demand of political parties in the 2015 election?



In 1974, I was four. Things were on the up for my family. My own mother was picking up her career in the health service, having had ten years out with three children. She was able to do this for two reasons. First, her mother – my grandmother – had come to live with us and to look after me and my sisters. Second, my dad was very hands on. All this allowed my mum to combine home with full-time work as well as finding time to study as a mature student.

My mum – and many women like her – were part of a quiet but powerful revolution in British life. Today we’re all very familiar with the working mum. But she is a relatively new ‘returner’ to the labour market – with most only taking up paid work in large numbers from the 1960s onwards.

As soon as they did that, they had to find ways to juggle the demands of work and family. And in that moment, a new political agenda was born. It’s one we still struggle with today.






The first Working Women’s Charter – back in 1974 – was an early response to that struggle. At that point, that women’s movement was still gathering momentum. Its landmark moments were still fresh. In 1968, sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham car plant had won a major victory on the road to recognition– a story played out today on the West End stage in Made in Dagenham. They helped pave the way for the 1970 Equal Pay Act – passed in the same year that the first National Women’s Liberation conference was held. But the women at that conference and on the Dagenham assembly line knew then – as women know now – that legislation alone wouldn’t be enough.

The 1974 Charter was drawn up by women in trades unions and trades councils. It set out to change culture, not just change the law. From the start, it tried to bring the very different needs of very different groups of women workers under one banner: the needs of the minority heading into the higher professions and the needs of the majority employed in the mass labour market – women in shops, offices, assembly lines and more.



It was influenced by an earlier Australian feminist initiative. In 1943 Australian Women’s Charter was drawn up at the Australian Women’s Conference for Victory in War and Victory in Peace. It called for a wide-ranging program of reforms – from women’s right to paid work and child care to the particular needs of rural and Aboriginal women.

The 1974 Working Women’s Charter demanded equality in pay, opportunities, education, working conditions and legal rights. It demanded free childcare, free contraception and abortion, increased maternity leave and family allowances, job security for women returning from maternity leave. Finally, it called for more women in public and political life.

It was a classic statement of the women’s movement – insisting that the personal was political, that what happened in the workplace and public life could not be separated from what happened at home and in hearts, minds and bodies.





The Charter was much debated. Its cause wasn’t helped, however, by its rejection by the TUC – the Trades Union Congress – at its 1975 conference. TUC delegates opposed the idea of a women’s minimum wage as a route to equal pay and did not want to address abortion. They also argued that the TUC’s own 12 point charter covered much of the same ground. By contrast, the earlier Australian Women’s Charter seems to have been more influential in shaping postwar reconstruction plans.

Today, interest in the 1974 Charter stems from a concern with how far we have come since then. Forty years on – how many of those 10 demands have been met?

I’d say that a just four out of the 10 demands have been met over the last four decades. Women now have broadly equal access to (1) education and (2) legal rights. Most have much improved access to (3) contraception and abortion. There have been increases in (4) family allowances although recent reforms have undermined that gain.





We are still chasing the other six demands: (1) access to free or affordable childcare, (2) equal pay, (3) equal opportunities, (4) equal working conditions, (5) job security for women returning from maternity leave and (6) more women in public and political life.

In all these areas, there’s a long haul ahead. In 2013, Price Waterhouse Coopers ranked the UK a shocking 18th out of 27 OECD countries in its Women in Work Index based on a measure combining five key indicators:

  • the equality of earnings with men;
  • the proportion of women in work;
  • the gap between female and male labour force participation;
  • the female unemployment rate; and
  • the proportion of women in full-time employment.

And here are some equally outrageous figures on the under-representation of women in public life, political life and private sector leadership today. In national politics, only 23% of MPs and 21% of peers are women. In local politics, around one third of councilors and one tenth of council leaders are women. In the boardroom, women make up just 17% of FTSE 100 boards and 11% of FTSE 250 boards. In higher education, just 14% of UK universities have a woman Vice Chancellor. This is also, of course, a personal challenge for us as women ourselves.

In the nineteenth century, we were formally barred from the professions and from public office. Now there’s apparently nothing to stop us yet we don’t see change on the ground at the pace we want. I’d agree that more women need to step up, lean in, hang in, and strike all the other poses currently recommended by management gurus. But old cultures die hard. And structural barriers – of the kind identified by Price Waterhouse Coopers – are hard to overcome. I believe that a new Working Women’s Charter would help us to overcome them. With an election coming, this is the perfect time to draw one up.



Elections are often won and lost on women’s swing votes. The next one will be no exception. What better time to start a serious debate on the things that matter to women – and to working women in particular?

Of course, this debate is already taking place across the country in organisations from Mumsnet to the 30 Per Cent Group, and from the Fawcett Society to many employers. Just this week, Asda finds itself forced to into the debate via a legal challenge from thousands of its women employees embarking on a new battle for equal pay and recognition.

And in Newham, the women activists of Focus E15 may have ended their occupation of empty flats but their battle for basic housing continues.A new Working Women’s Charter could transform these debates – not because a new list of new demands will change anything on its own but because it could harness the energy and promise of growing ‘third wave feminism’. It could help to find common cause between many different women across many different workplaces.

And that will be the key to scoring more than 4 out of 10 in the next 40 years.

Pam Cox (c) October 2014


Pamela Cox is Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Essex and one of the impressive list of speakers at the 1 day event held in London on Saturday 8 November 2014, King’s College London, to celebrate the 1974 Working Women’s Charter, explore the many challenges that women in Britain still face, and spark ideas about how these might be overcome.

‘Why we need a new Working Women’s Charter – Celebrating the 1974 Working Women’s Charter’, (accessed 7 November 2014)







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Vale Leonore Davidoff (1932-2014)

 - by whnadmin


Leonore Davidoff (1932-2014)

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Professor Leonore Davidoff on 19th October at the age of 82. Leonore had a long and continuous association with the Sociology Department at the University of Essex dating back to 1969 when she was first appointed as a Research Officer, right through to her recent Professor Emerita. In the years between she was a lecturer and senior lecturer in the Department and a Research Professor from 1990. Her contribution to the study and teaching of gender, women’s history, gender history and social history more generally is incalculable and deeply appreciated by generations of students from around the world, many of whom have become eminent scholars in their own right, inspired by her work.

Leonore was born in New York to Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe, and originally studied music at Oberlin College (breaking with the family tradition of studying medicine) before switching to sociology. At 21 she left the United States to pursue graduate studies at the London School of Economics, writing her MA on `The Employment of Married Women’, a substantial 300 page dissertation by research. Her topic had not previously been studied, nor indeed been considered a serious field for research, but this prescient work broke new ground, signalling a first step in founding the new research field of women’s history.


At LSE also she met her husband, the sociologist David Lockwood (who died earlier this year), and moved with him first to Cambridge and then to Essex, while bringing up their three sons. Leonore was acutely aware of the marginalisation of ‘faculty wives’ at this time and the lack of seriousness accorded to the work of women academics, especially if they were wives or mothers. She greatly valued her membership, as Senior Fellow, of Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge which had been expressly established by marginal women for mature women scholars who were otherwise ignored and isolated.

In Essex her research developed with a project on domestic service and household management in the 19th and 20th centuries. She went on to undertake a series of innovative studies on the relationships between public and private, servants and wives, lodgers, and business, work and family. These revealed the complex intertwining of kin, surrogate kin and business relationships in England from the late 18th century. During the 1970s she published The Best Circles: Society, Etiquette and the Season, as well as a series of influential articles including ‘Mastered  for life: servant and wife in Victorian and Edwardian England’, ‘Domestic service and the working class life cycle’, ‘Landscape with figures: home and community in English society’ (with Jean L’Esperance and Howard Newby),  ‘The rationalisation of housework’, ‘The Separation of Home and Work? Landladies and lodgers in 19th and 20th century’, ‘Class and gender in Victorian England’, ‘The role of gender in the first industrial nation: agriculture in England 1780-1850’. As the titles suggest, these groundbreaking articles highlighted and dissected differing aspects of the intertwining of family, home and work in a completely novel way.  Many were republished in Worlds Between: Historical Perspectives on Gender and Class (1995).


During the 1980s, Leonore collaborated with Catherine Hall to produce their seminal Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850 (1987), a book that has been recognised as transforming understanding of nineteenth century life.  Based on detailed case studies of urban Birmingham and rural East Anglia, Leonore and Catherine chart the advance of capitalist enterprise in England at the end of the 18th century, and the emergence of its particular family form among the middle class that stressed separate spheres for men and women, demonstrating the centrality of the gendered division of labour within families for the development of capitalist enterprise. Now a classic, this book achieved worldwide acclaim.


From the 1970s Leonore combined her scholarly studies with support for women’s history and women historians. She was actively involved in the Feminist History Group based in London, and was co-founder of the Women’s Research and Resources Centre, later the Feminist Library. She devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to creating the international journal Gender and History and was its founding editor from 1987 until 1994, establishing it as the foremost and most successful journal in its field. At a 2004 event marking Leonore’s retirement from active involvement in the journal, speakers from around the world attested to her influence as researcher and author, teacher and mentor, and colleague, collaborator and friend.

Retirement did not, however, imply withdrawal from scholarly research. She dedicated almost a decade to the meticulous research and writing that culminated in her final book Thicker than Water: Siblings and their Relations, 1780-1920, published by Oxford late in 2012 just before her 80th birthday. This pioneering study is yet to receive its full recognition. Leonore demonstrates the significance of sibling relationships and their key role in the extensive family networks that provided the capital, personnel, skills and contracts crucial to the rapidly expanding commercial and professional enterprises of the era, and how these changed as families became smaller from the end of the 19th century. Through studies of particular families (including the Freuds, Gladstones, Wedgwoods and Darwins), she explored sibling intimacy and incest, and some famous brother-sister relationships.


Leonore and her work are held in the highest esteem around the world. She played a central role in establishing the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, an organisation including over 26 member countries. She was a regular speaker at the annual Berkshire Conference on Women’s History, and held visiting professorships and fellowships at Rutgers, Harvard, Madison and Melbourne amongst many other universities in North America and Australia, as well as in many continental European universities. In 2000 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Bergen for her path-breaking analyses and their international impact.

Despite her international reputation, Leonore was extremely modest, not one for self-promotion. She never forgot the obstacles encountered by women in the academy, and remained vigorous in their defence and generous in her support of younger colleagues. On hearing of her death tributes have flowed from all over the world from her former students and colleagues, many echoing the sentiment that ‘Leonore visited several times and had many, many friends. She was a great inspiration to us all, and she will be very sorely missed.’ This is also true of us here at Essex. Her legacy will live on and be taken up by others.


Leonore Davidoff (1932-2014)

Miriam Glucksmann (c) 21 October 2014

Professor Miriam Glucksmann holds a BA and PhD from the University of London and is Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex. Previously having taught at Brunel, Leicester and South Bank Universities in the United Kingdom, she began at Essex University in 1991. She has held research fellowships in the UK (the Ginsberg Research Fellowship at the LSE and the Hallsworth Senior Research Fellowship at the University of Manchester) and abroad (in 1998 at the Research School of Social Sciences at Australian National University in Canberra and at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences in Uppsala).  Professor Glucksmann was Head of the Sociology Department at Essex between 1999 and 2001.  From 2004 to 2006, she was funded by an ESRC Professorial Fellowship to undertake a 3 year program of research in - Transformations of Work: New Frontiers, Shifting Boundaries, Changing Temporalities ( and is currently writing a book based on this research. Elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2005, she was awarded the ‘Kerstin Hesselgren’ Visiting Professorship for 2007 by the Swedish Research Council, hosted by the Economic History Department of Stockholm University. Presently Professor Glucksmann is funded (2010-2013) by a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Grant to undertake a programme of research on ‘Consumption Work and Societal Divisions of Labour’.

Note: This obituary first appeared on the University of Essex website: (accessed 5 November 2014). Thanks to Professor Glucksmann and the University of Essex for permission to reproduce the obituary here.




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Ethical Food – Food, Production & Ethics

 - by whnadmin





Unless we have a smallholding and are self sufficient, the food we eat is brought to us by a complex global food system. Issues of justice and fairness are evident across the wholesystem.  Women play a key role in food: in much of the developing world, women make up over 50%, in some cases 70%, of the workforce in agriculture. In the west, nearly 3/4 women remain responsible for food buying, cooking, and maintaining the health of their children. (Global Trends Survey 2014)



1. Poverty
• The world population is increasing -

7 billion now, rising to an estimated 9 billion in 2050. There are immense inequalities in access to adequate, healthy food – Food and Agrictural Organization (FAO) estimates that 16 million people are undernourished in developing countries.

• Role of women in agriculture in developing world -

Women are not only involved in crop production, but also have diverse roles as labourers and in animal rearing. Women often can be the first to be marginalised as agriculture is increasingly mechanised. Women tend to have less access to resources, finance or training than men, so land farmed by women is often less productive. If women worldwide had the same access to productive resources as men, this could increase yields on women’s farms by 20–30% and raise total agricultural output by 2.5–4%. Gains in agricultural production alone could lift 100 to 150 million people out of hunger, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate. A key to achieving this is to strengthen women’s land rights in parts of the world.




• Food poverty is also an issue in the United Kingdom, with unequal access to good quality food. Foodbanks are opening at the rate of 5 a week ( and rickets is on the increase. In late October 2014, CEDAR reported that the price gap between more and less healthy food is growing.



2. Land who owns the land?

• Land grabs, many for biofuel production or to ensure food security for the new land owners mean poverty increases as food production is removed from the hands and power of local people. Action Aid uses a definition of land grabs that draws on the Tirana Declaration, agreed at a 2011 international conference. The Declaration defines land grabs as deals  that are “in violation of human rights, particularly the equal rights of women, not based on principles of free, prior and informed consent, or are in disregard of, or fail to thoroughly assess, social, economic and environmental impacts, not based on transparent contracts  … ” or are not based on “effective democratic planning, independent oversight and meaningful participation”.

• Impact of land grabs – people forced off their land and deprived of livelihoods.

• Oxfam observes that more than 60 per cent of investments in agricultural land is by foreign investors, between 2000 and 2010 these investments took place in developing countries with serious hunger problems. However, two-thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce on that land.

• Food sovereignty - puts the people who produce, distribute and consume food at the centre of decisions on food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations believed to have come to dominate the global food system.



3. Trade and ethics

• Fair trade and ethical trade play a part in ensuring the grower and producer gain a better  income and supports community infrastructure.

• Food commodity trading, resulting in profits for the investors rather than the producers. Should food be a commodity that attracts speculative investment and the hope of fast profits?

• The food system is controlled by a few multinationals (for example, Cargill, ADM, Bunge).


• Concern over the impact of GM and control of access to seeds by the seed suppliers, rather than the farmer being free to save seed or seek alternative supplies.

• Example of asparagus growing in Peru – Felicity Lawrence in the Guardian – for every $ US 1.00  spent by the United States consumer, 70c stays in the US, but Peru doesn’t even gain the full benefit of the remaining 30 cents, because a large portion of the 30 cents Peru makes returns to the US anyway: it is spent by Peruvians on US seed, US materials for processing, US fertiliser
and US pesticides. US-based vegetable corporations, Del Monte and General Mills Green Giant, have been able to enjoy lower land values, cheap labour and low environmental costs by moving some of their production to Peru. The handful of corporations that dominate the global markets in seed, fertiliser, pesticides, trading, distribution and retailing take care of the rest.



• Rise of supermarkets in Asia – bypassing local traditional food production systems.

• Western subsidies for agriculture – much of European Union (EU) budget goes to large corporations or transnational companies (for exmaple, in the UK, Tate and Lyle).

• TTIP – the trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and US contains the Investor State Dispute Settlement, which would enable companies to sue governments for loss of profits if their product could not be sold – for example, currently there is a ban in the EU on the use of growth hormone in beef; if this trade agreement is enacted, EU countries including the UK could be sued, or let the product in.




• This years grain harvest (2014): The ‘Financial Times’ of 23 September 2014 reports: ‘Global grain supplies this year are soaring’:

‘The new abundance will have broad effects, weakening incomes of farmers and companies that supply them, fattening profit margins at food and biofuel companies and - eventually – slowing price inflation for consumers in rich and poor countries alike.’

• In the UK and EU, the large supermarkets play an important role in controlling the market and prices – their relationship with farmers and producers produces unfair contracts, lack of certainty about using the whole crop, and waste resulting from artificial cosmetic standards.

4. Ethics and the environment

• I believe in the concept of stewardship, looking after the earth and leaving it in a fit state for future generations.

• The impact of climate change, caused by industrialised nations and felt by countries in developing world through increased climate unpredictability or drought is significant.

• Ethics of production – depletion of natural resources, degradation of soil through intensive farming practices, concerns about animal welfare in intensive rearing, over useof water resources to grow crops for export (for example, potatoes in Egypt, tomatoes in southern Spain, asparagus in Peru) or for grain to feed cattle. The issue of food waste is important, too.




5. Human rights

• Abuses of human rights through forced labour, or slave labour occur throughout the world, for example slave labour in Thailand on fishing boats for prawn food, child labour in chocolate production in Western Africa, migrant labour in agriculture in western Europe – for example, tomato production in Italy and Spain

• FAO May 2014 reports on Child labour – 98 million boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 17 identified as working in agriculture and fisheries globally (Western Africa, Brazil, southern India and Thailand significantly).

• In the UK there is a history of use of migrant workers in agriculture, poorly paid, poorly housed and with little job security. The recent case of a gang master in Armagh fined £500 for keeping migrant apple pickers in inhumane conditions illustrates howlightly we take abuses of this kind.


FOOD images


Final questions

The language of ethical production, social responsibility and sustainability is now common currency, all the large agribusiness companies (for example, Nestle, Cargill, ADM) include explicit claims on their web sites, but do these claims match the reality?

Can a food system, driven by market forces and an ethos of profit making, ever provide a truly ethical food system, where natural resources are nurtured, people are valued and access to adequate healthy food is a reality across the globe?

Ann Mitchell (c) October 2014

Ann Mitchell spent nearly forty years in primary education, first as a classroom teacher, then as head teacher in schools in Hertfordshire and Cambridge. After she retired, a television programme about food waste sparked an interest in the food system and its environmental impact. Galvanised into action, she joined Transition Cambridge Food Group and has taken part in food related projects aimed at encouraging people to grow more of their own food and to eat more sustainably. She is now secretary of the recently formed Cambridge Sustainable Food (part of the national Sustainable Food Cities Network), bringing together individuals, community groups and public and private sector organisations, as well as local food producers and health professionals, to promote food that is good for people, good for community and good for the planet. She has given talks on a range of food issues at local conferences and events.

Sources For Further Information

Oxfam. The Food Transformation 2012 and The Future of Agriculture

CEDAR grows/

Note: Presented as ‘Producing What We Eat – food for life’ at the WWAFE (Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality) seminar at the House of Lords, Westminster, London on 23 October 2014.


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WOMAN SLAYS VAMPIRE vs READER, SHE MARRIED HIM … Buffy the Vampire Slayer vs Twilight

 - by whnadmin


The contrast between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight could not be greater. In character and character development, as well as plot, Buffy eclipses the anodyne Twilight series. Buffy is a character in her own right, a woman who, albeit a student still, knows her own mind, acts independently, and leads her team. Even when she consults with her teacher – the school principal, a man ‘in charge’ of the educational institution where Buffy meets and matches the vampires she slays, she consults with him on a basis of equality. He may advise and mentor, but on Buffy’s terms and on Buffy’s ground. She seeks when she chooses to seek information. She assesses and assimilates where she makes the decision that the information imparted is ‘right’. It is no surprise that followers of Buffy included women who took on powerful roles in the polity – at least one, the former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja -  going on to lead her political party (the Australian Democrats – AD).




Sadly, it is difficult to imagine any of Twilight’s adherents being propelled into independent action, much less political leadership. Publicity for the books, now film series, stays true to the idea of woman-as-server, woman-as-marriage-material, woman-as-secondary-to-leader (and leading) man. Film advertisements show Bella as secondary to Edward – his junior in height as well as intellect (although attributing to one or the other this capacity overstates the fictional reality). Edward invariably looms, Bella invariably succumbs, diminished, supplicant, seeking his protection, his strength to her weakness: after all, she is but a ‘girl’.


Buffy played on US and global television screens from 1997 to 2003. Twilight came shortly after, first as a series of novels, then a series of full-length feature films. Publication of the novels upon which the films are based commenced with the first volume, Twilight, in 2005 with the films released in 2008, 2009, 2010, climaxing in the final two full-length features manufactured from the fourth novel – these films being released in 2011 and 2012.

Comparing and contrasting these two popular series – one playing on television (with one feature length film in 2002), the other screening in multiplex cinemas throughout the Western world at least, provides insights into the struggle between popular media creating and promoting strong, independent women characters, and providing viewers (and readers) with submissive, male and marriage dependent ciphers.



Though Buffy as the leading character in the series bearing her name was played by a slim, blonde beauty, this did not detract from her obvious vigour, ‘fight’ capacity and generally powerful demeanour. The ‘main’ female character in Twilight (no leader nor leading character, she)displays none of this: droopy, pale, bedraggled of hair, her expressions (when they appear) confined to soupy looks directed at the principal male character and, at times, at his rival, it is impossible to see her acting independently, much less playing the major role. Buffy exists as a woman who can act on her own, albeit leading a committed team. Isabella (Bella) Swan’s existence is entirely framed on her relationships with the male characters. When Buffy interacts with male characters, it is as an equal – even where one major male character is far older and in an authority position.





How is it that in less than twenty short years, popular media went from Buffy, powerful, strong, committed and a leader, the main character in her own television series, with the task of destroying the vampire, whilst pale, wan, characterless Bella marries him? Even the titles of these popular vehicles indicate the heights from which a woman can fall – Buffy, the Slayer, to Bella, the housewife … ‘Twilight’ is too aptly named, indeed.

Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) October 2014

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19th Century Women – Possessions, Photographs, Posters & Postcards …

 - by whnadmin



The University of Wisconsin-Madison, has launched an important collection of 19th and early 20th century women’s everyday possessions. Situated online through the University Library, the Dovie Horvitz Collection of objects and printed works came  into being through the dedicated work of Illinois-based collector Dovie Horvitz. Women’s Studies Librarian Emerita Phyllis Holman Weisbard writes that the collection ‘comprises photographs of women’s everyday possessions, as well as numerous digitized texts (magazines, books, postcards, posters and more)’. Dovie Horvitz ‘hopes to find an institutional home for the entire collection some day’ and, adds Phyllis Holman, ‘perhaps the presence of the photographs and digitized works will spark that interest’.

As Phyllis Holman Weisbard reports:

Objects in the collection include clothing (dresses, hosiery, bustles, garters, swimwear, undergarments, aprons, and more), accessories such as shoes and boots, hats, gloves, purses, fans, handkerchiefs, furs, and parasols; menstrual and other health products; cosmetic and grooming its, powders, and related make-up items; dresser sets (combs and brushes); curling irons and other hair care devices; perfumes; boudoir pillow covers; eye glasses; and exercise equipment. The printed matter includes numerous women’s magazines, Sunday supplement illustrations, sheet music about women, suffrage postcards, World War I and II posters, photographs of teen parties, and pamphlets about sex, health, and menstruation. Page after page of ad-filled women’s magazines, as well as pckaging elements such as hairnet envelopes, hosiery, handkerchief and hat boxes, constitute an important part of the collection …


The majority of items are American in origin. However, some come from elsewhere, with a set of suffrage postcards from the United Kingdom and several other items from France, Germany or the United Kingdom.  This should not be surprising, because the 19th century saw women travelling all over the world in pursuit of sisterhood and Women’s Movements ideals. US journalist Jessie Ackerman visited Australia so often that she has been labelled a major force in the Australian women’s struggle for the vote. As WCTU world representative, she spent three months in South Australia having travelled via Aotearoa/New Zealand. The following year she returned to Australia, building on her earlier work in supporting the antipodean arms of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and in 1891 becoming inaugural president of the federated Australasian WCTU – at the time ‘Austalia’s largest women’s reform group’. In 1893 she was back in Australia, then was off to Europe, living in London and returning to Australia in May 1907 as world president of an Anglican organisation, the Girl’s Realm Guild of Service. In 1910 she returned to work in Western Australia for the Australian Women’s National League as a political organiser. In 1913 her book ‘Australia From a Woman’s Point of View’ was published. As Ian Tyrell in the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on Jessie Ackerman says:

… record[ing] her forthright impressions of her Australian W.C.T.U. work and travels, and … a significant commentary on the position of women in Australia in the early twentieth century. By the time she moved to Johnson City, Tennessee, in the 1920s she claimed she had circumnavigated the globe eight times.

Returning to the Dovie Horvitz Collection, for information and ease of reference, each object comes with a description and metadata. Phyllis Holman notes that as far as possible, LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) and AAT (Art & Archicture Thesaurus Online) have been used for descriptors, however:

… some of the objects had no obvious heading in either system. That says something about women’s things …

Phyllis Holman concludes that the Collection:

… seems of most immediate interest to women’s history classes, but American literature, communication arts (especially marketing), medical history, design, and other fields should also find it useful …

And, as she says: ‘It is also simply a pleasure to browse!’

DOVIEHORPhyllis Holman Weisbard TZdh0087l-300x190


Compiled by Jocelynne A. Scutt from material provided

by Phyllis Holman and Dovie Horvitz (c) October 2014

Note: The fully searchable and browsable online collection homepage is at

An article about the collection is at

Phyllis Holman Weisbard, Women’s Studies Librarian Emerita,<>




Blair’s Snow White bleaching cream 2010.29.3b

From the Dovie Horvitz Collection / UW Digital Collections


Bum pad, ca. 1877
2010.1.2 From the Dovie Horvitz Collection / UW Digital Collections


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Herstory – Women’s Liberation Halfway House

 - by whnadmin


In 1974, a group of women formed the Women’s Liberation Halfway House (WLHH) in Victoria to provide support and accommodation for women and accompanying children fleeing from domestic and family violence. Forty years on, the need for high security refuge services like WLHH has not diminished and, with the incidence of domestic and family violence rising by 400 per cent in Victoria over the last ten years (Bucci 2013), the need is only increasing.  Yet in the context of the increasing corporatisation and privatisation of NGOs, small, feminist-based organisations such as ours are under threat.  Our precarious position has been recently highlighted with the merging of our sister organisation, Elsie’s Women’s Refuge, in Sydney with the Catholic St Vincent de Paul (Summers 2014). In this context, The Board of Management of WLHH has begun writing a herstory of our small organisation. The purpose of this project is twofold: to mark our forty-year anniversary; and to map the distinct and important role WLHH has carved for itself in the sector.  We hope this herstory will raise public awareness of our organisation and the importance of feminist analysis and organisational principles in the ongoing struggle to combat and deal with the effects of domestic and family violence.


Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay has recently condemned the State’s figures on domestic violence—predicted to be a whopping 60,000 in 2012-3—as ‘insidious. It reaches across all of our data, and we’ve still got a way to go’ (Bucci 2013). Australia’s first female Governor General, Quentin Bryce, similarly drew attention to the global rise in violence against women in her second Boyer Lecture (ABC Radio, 10/11/2013), linking this to the ‘reality … that women do not have nor are they acknowledged as having, equality of power and rights with men’.

Issues of gendered power, first raised by feminists in the 1960s and ‘70s are still at the core of domestic and family violence. WLHH is now the longest continuously run feminist refuge in Victoria that has resisted amalgamation, either with large charities or within the DV sector, giving it a critical role in the ongoing struggle to run feminist services managed by and for women. But very few Victorians know of our existence or of the obstacles that face our organisation.


The major issue currently facing WLHH is fighting for our own survival in the face of government attempts to reform the homelessness sector. In Victoria, services like ours are funded under the gender-neutral category of ‘Homelessness’. There is no sector funding specific to the women and children who seek protection from domestic and family violence.  Inadequately classed as ‘homeless’, funding is given only to provide services to women, with services expected to stretch costs to cover their dependent children.  Tony Nicholson, executive director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, has described current sector reform efforts, based on the review by former Howard government bureaucrat Peter Shergold, as follows: ‘[T]he changes could result in some voluntary organisation and charities merging into large businesses and becoming mere “extensions of government” with many smaller groups “sidelined and left to whither”’ (Tomazin 2014). Opposite spokeswoman Jenny Mikalos similarly warns: ‘Under the Liberals, service sector reform has become code for commercialisation of our NGOs, and privatisation of government services’ (Tomazin 2014).


In a climate where the government is bent on following their business-oriented ideology and refuses to see the value in small feminist domestic/family violence organisations, recovering the history of Victoria’s first and longest-running refuge is incredibly important. In taking on this project, the small group of women who volunteer our services to the Board of Management are following in the footsteps of the original members, who documented the first four years of WLHH in a similar project in 1978. Luckily these women and their successors had the foresight to collect together records of their work and preserve them in the archives of Melbourne University. Although much of this archive is embargoed until 2070, the current Board has generously been granted access. Archival research will be supplemented with interviews from the women who have used and ran our service and secondary material, including Jacqui Theobald’s dissertation on the beginnings of refuge services in Victoria (Theobald 2011).  This is a large project—to begin with there are one hundred boxes of archival material in need of thorough investigation, issues of how to treat material that is embargoed, and the ongoing issues of safety for women who give their permission to be identified in our history.


Our story will highlight the difficulties that continue to face women and children who need to utilise WLHH to protect and improve their lives as well as the women who run the service. Women and children have the right to safety and freedom from violence.  WLHH is a small but crucial element in this core feminist project.


We thought the WHN would be interested in our project, but we also welcome any offers of assistance—in terms of publicity, funding or research work. Please contact us on 1800 811 565   or by email for any enquiries.

WLHH (c) October 2014



Nino Bucci (2013), ‘Domestic Violence Drives State Crime Rate Higher Victoria Police Say’, The Age, 28 August.

Anne Summers (2014), ‘Prue Goward’s Tender Touch Brushes Women Aside”, Sydney Morning Herald, June 26.

Jacqui Theobald (2011) A History of the Victorian Women’s Domestic Violence Services Movement 1974 – 2005 (PhD, RMIT)

Farah Tomazin (2014), ‘Fears Charities Are Doomed’, The Age, 25 May.

Women’s Liberation Halfway House Herstory/history Project

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Women as Renegades – Fighting for Peace during War

 - by whnadmin



The split in the Women’s Movement occurring in the United Kingdom over engagement in war was replicated in other parts of the British Empire. When the 1914-1918 war broke out, Emmeline Pankhurst’s rhetoric and actions in unreservedly ‘voting’ to supporting the war and the war effort met with approval and disapproval not only in Britain. The WSPU’s approach in putting women’s rights to one side was complied with or renounced by women in Canada, Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australia.


In Australia, where women had fought for and long since gained the vote, Vida Goldstein led the Women’s Peace Army, attracting to its ranks Adele Pankhurst and activist women who were joined in political struggle. They spoke out strongly against war, for peace, and for men to exercise their right of conscientious objection. They lobbied against proposals for compulsory enlistment, demonstrating, collecting signatures and presenting petitions. They demonstrated against the export of bread for troops in Europe, arguing that wheat shortages led to rising bread prices, so taking this staple out of the reach of the ordinary people, particularly the working class.



 Goldstein and her confreres were assailed by the Prime Minister and government ministers, state and federal, who saw their actions and words as treasonous. State police were admonished to utilise federal laws against demonstrators, with women (Adele Pankhurst, Jennie Baines and Alice Suter) being the first to be charged under these regulations. When state police did not comply with the wish of federal authorities, a federal police force was created. Secret police followed the women and documented their activities in records now held in Australian archives.


The challenge women made to the establishment in rejecting the call to support the war is an area rich in history. It confirms that exploration of the reasons for women to take a stand that put them at odds not only with government but with women who sided with the war effort is esential for undertanding women’s activism during wartime. That women were a particular target of repression indicates the fear held by the establishment of women as renegades.


 Jocelynne A. Scutt )c) June 2014



This is an extract fro mthe paper presented by Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt to the 2014 Women’s History Network Annual Conference at Worcester University, 5-7 September 2014

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Can We Talk? Gossip in American History and Culture

 - by whnadmin

KFwhen private talk cover

Rumor, hearsay, tittle-tattle, scuttlebutt, scandal, dirt. From mid-to-late 1600s colonial Virginia churchyards and New England courthouses to the early-twentieth-first-century blogosphere—and in many places and times in between—gossip has been called many things. It is one of the most common—and often condemned or dismissed—forms of communication.  Religious injunctions against gossip appear in Christian, Jewish, and Islamic texts.  The long association of gossip and women has strengthened such largely negative connotations.  Indeed, the late comedian, performer, entrepreneur Joan Rivers built a long, tumultuous, and ultimately wildly successful career on the persona of the simultaneously formidable and frivolous female gossip, whether she was doing a stand-up routine, exchanging barbs with Johnny Carson, or later hosting the popular and influential Fashion Police.   

Obit Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

Gossip’s contradictory status as both frivolous and formidable has led some scholars to ask why, including in our new, edited collection When Private Talk Goes Public: Gossip in American History.  Those of us who study gossip want to reassess and redeem it as a common cultural practice: as noun, verb, adjective, and adverb.  And to underscore the relevance and legitimacy of gossip as evidence for understanding the world—past and present.  When Private Talk Goes Public provides a much-needed and systematic historical overview, identifying significant continuities as well as changes in the definition, form, and function of gossip in America over the last four centuries.  While history is our focus, our contributors come from and use the tools from a range of disciplines: history, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, visual and media studies, cultural studies, mass communications and journalism, American Studies, law.

Gossip as a word originated around the twelfth century in Old English as a noun, “god-sibb,” meaning a godparent or other intimate at a christening.  The word evolved, taking on the broader, more secular meaning of close friend or neighbor.  By the 1600s, however, a new, gender-specific definition had emerged: a woman assisting at childbirth.  This transformation in meaning was driven by the rise of separate spheres: i.e., the identification of the public, political sphere with men and the private, domestic sphere with women in Anglo-American society.  Popular understandings of gossip continue this negative association with women’s talk, even though scholars have long since disproved this pejorative and gendered association.

Here’s how we are broadly defining gossip across this volume: information—more often about other people and things, but sometimes about the self—that might be positive or negative, accurate or not, which can be distributed in many ways: via face-to-face talk in the bedroom, backyard, churchyard, courtroom, embassies; via print culture; via the modern mass media.  The in-person exchanges that predominated in the colonial period persist even as mass-media platforms have proliferated over the last century.  Mass-media dissemination has highlighted a central function of gossip as a promotional tool in a market exchange—selling a media product, securing a job, defining a brand.  As a result, modern gossip purveyors have been greatly empowered and enriched—we need look no further than the multi-million dollar estate and cultural influence amassed by Rivers rooted in her embrace of the female gossip persona.

In When Private Talk Goes Public, we take gossip seriously for the cultural, political, social, and economic work it performs.  Gossip can provide personal enlightenment, pleasure, and pain; it can serve as a tool of the powerful, the disenfranchised and everyone in between.  Gossip can celebrate or condemn; it can include or exclude; it can build or undermine community.  From the New England witchcraft crisis to colonial and antebellum political and racial discourse to the Cold War lavender scare to modern diplomatic, legal, celebrity, media, and digital cultures, our authors explore the meaning and significance of gossip exchanges in shaping American political, cultural, social, and economic life.  When private talk goes public, the results can be history making.


Kathleen A. Feeley (c) September 2014


Kathleen A. Feeley is department chair and associate professor of history, University of Redlands, USA.  She is the author of Mary Pickford (forthcoming from Westview Press).

Jennifer Frost is associate professor of history, University of Auckland, New Zealand.  She is the author of Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism (2011) and “An Interracial Movement of the Poor”: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960s (2001).





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Reading as Life Line: A Literary Mother from 11th Century Japan

 - by whnadmin

“For we think back through our mothers, if we are women,” wrote Virginia Woolf  in A Room of One’s Own, the book in which she reflected on women as writers and pondered the scarcity of women’s writing in world literary history, and therefore the paucity of mothers for women to “think back through.” I was deeply influenced by this comment of Woolf’s when I first read it.  I am a scholar of Japanese classical literature.  An engagement with feminist criticism that began with reading Woolf stimulated me to devote my energies to making the literary works of the women of the mid-Heian period 900 to 1100 CE better known, primarily through translation. After all, this is one of the most remarkable eras for women’s literary production in pre-modern history, and the authors are potential “mothers” for us all.

The extant body of texts includes five major autobiographical works, the now world-renowned novel The Tale of Genji, and reams of poetry.  That so much writing by women before the advent of print culture has been preserved is the first miracle. Moreover, this is a body of texts that was never completely marginalized.  The Tale of Genji, in particular, had an extraordinary reception in every age, until it has come in the modern era to occupy a place of importance in Japanese literary history roughly equivalent to the position of Shakespeare’s corpus in English literary history.

whn bog tale ofuntitled


whnblog tale of guntitled



My most recent contribution to the project of making womens’ texts of this era more accessible has been to collaborate with a Japanese scholar It? Moriyuki to produce a new translation and study of the Sarashina Diary  (Columbia University Press, July, 2014). The author of the Sarashina Diary, Takasue no Musume (1008 -?) gives an autobiographical account of her life from the age of twelve to her late fifties. Rather than dated entries giving synopses of events, her account of her life focuses on heightened moments of consciousness that are often crystallized in a poem. She portrays herself as a passionate reader of fiction, particularly of The Tale of Genji.  In fact, her work is a testimony to the enthrallment that The Tale of Genji cast over its first generation of readers. On the surface, the Sarashina Diary author spins a narrative line lamenting her addiction to romantic fiction and the fantasies it generates; she reveals that she worries that she has wasted her life on illusions instead of being more assiduous about religious devotion.  Yet, the lyrical passages which predominate in her text tell another opposite and deeper truth, that to be able to read and write, to bring the magic of imaginative language to bear on the unavoidable suffering of life is as much a consolation as religious faith itself.

This is a subtle work produced for subtle readers, which gives it a curiously contemporary aspect. The author identifies herself primarily as reader and writer rather than wife or mother and this too makes her seem somewhat “modern.” Certainly in this respect, Virginia Woolf would have found the author congenial. The diary also contains a number of exchanges with the author’s working colleagues at court, for she did serve at court in her early middle age, even after marrying.  The tone of the communications range from bantering to melancholy nostalgia, and while the fact that they are all centered around the exchange of poems distances them from our world, they remain fascinating windows into the social dynamics of fellow women workers a thousand years ago.

Sonja Arntzen (c) September 2014

Should this brief description intrigue anyone reading this blog, I recommend the Columbia University Press website for further information.

At the risk of blatant advertisement, I should also add that the press is currently offering a 30% discount on orders from their website with the use of the promo code “SARSUG”

whn blog jaanese womenimages

 whn blog imageuntitled

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Remembering Naomi Jacob (1884-1964)

 - by whnadmin



  August 27th 2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the prolific author Naomi Jacob. Although her books were widely-read during her lifetime they have been somewhat neglected in more recent years. With the first digital editions of her Gollantz Saga being published to commemorate this anniversary, now seems a fitting time to revisit Jacob’s life and work.

Naomi Jacob was born in Ripon, Yorkshire. Her family were well-established in the town – her maternal grandfather was twice the mayor of Ripon, while her father was the headmaster of what is now Ripon Grammar School. Her mother’s family had a centuries old association with the area, whereas her father was a German Jew. This dual heritage was to be a great influence on her writing throughout her career. Many of Jacob’s books celebrate the Yorkshire people and landscape, but she also wrote about anti-Semitism, particularly in her seven novel series about the Gollantz family.



Jacob had a comfortable upbringing, but the family’s fortunes changed when her parents separated. At fourteen, she moved to a deprived part of Middlesbrough to become a student teacher. It is around this time that she contracted TB, which affected her health for the rest of her life.

At eighteen, Jacob began to visit music halls in Leeds. By going to the Stage Door she met the actress and singer Marguerite Broadfoote, and became both her secretary and her lover. Jacob loved the theatre world, and mixed with the big names of the day, including the Du Mauriers, Henry Irving, Sarah Bernhardt and Marie Lloyd. In time, Jacob herself became a character actress, and had a successful career in the West End and in touring productions. Most notably, she played opposite John Geilgud in the Edgar Wallace play The Ringer. Shortly after Marie Lloyd’s death, Jacob wrote the star’s first official biography. A friend at the time commented on the book: “[Naomi Jacob] doesn’t let facts get in the way of the truth.”

Jacob also had a great interest in politics. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, and in 1912 joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She also stood, unsuccessfully, as a Labour PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) in East Ham, London.

In 1925, Jacob published her first novel, Jacob Usher, which she described as a “very free adaptation of the play Birds of a Feather by H.V. Esmond”. The book became a bestseller, and so began a writing career that was to last the next almost forty years.

Jacob appeared for the defence in the 1928 obscenity trial of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. She developed a life-long friendship with Hall and her partner Una Troubridge. However, Jacob never broached the subject of lesbianism in her own work, in either her fiction or non-fiction.



A worsening of her TB prompted Jacob to move to Italy in 1930. She took a villa in Sirmione on Lake Garda in Italy. It was called “Casa Mickie”, Mickie being the name Jacob was known as to family and friends.

Although she was brought up in the Church of England, Jacob converted to Roman Catholicism at around the age of eighteen. But she remained proud of her Jewish heritage. This is most clearly demonstrated in The Gollantz Saga, which she began writing just before the Nazis swept to power in Germany. Beginning in early nineteenth century Vienna, it follow several generations of a Jewish family, as the head of the house establishes a business and life in England, moving among the British upper classes. The series is an engaging and warm exploration of family ties and rivalries, and the principles of honour and loyalty.

In 1935 Jacob was awarded the Eichelberger International Humane Award, for her novel Honour Come Back. Initially delighted, she was moved to reject the award on discovering another recipient was Adolf Hitler. In a letter to a newspaper at the time, she wrote: “…it was impossible for me to accept an award which was given to me and to Herr Hitler, because of the terrible persecution, the monstrous injustices and the abominable cruelties which are even now being laid upon the Jewish race in Germany. To have accepted it would have been to almost betray those people to whose race I partly belong, and who have been my good and loyal friends all my life…”

When Italy entered the Second World War, Jacob returned to England. She joined the Entertainments National Service Association, which provided entertainment for British armed forces personnel. During this time she became well-known for her appearance of crew cut hair, a monocle and a First World War Women’s Legion uniform.

After the war, Jacob went back to live permanently in Sermione. But she continued to visit England often, returning to her beloved Yorkshire, and making regular appearances on BBC radio’s Woman’s Hour programme.

Jacob had a very disciplined attitude towards her writing, which enabled her to publish one or two books every year. She could write quickly, and in later years she dictated her stories to a secretary.

Jacob’s great-nephew, who as a boy spent time with Jacob in Sirmione, remembers that she liked to be surrounded by people and loved conversation. Actors and writers, among them Hall and Troubridge, were frequent visits to “Casa Mickie”. Jacob would write until lunchtime or early afternoon and spend the rest of her day in the company of friends. She enjoyed sitting in local cafés, where she would smoke cigarettes and drink grappa, speaking fluent Italian with a heavy English accent.

Fifty years on from her death, it is time to take another look at the legacy of this most fascinating literary figure.

Ian Skillicorn (c) August 2014

Ian Skillicorn established Corazon Books ( in 2012. The imprint publishes new fiction and reissues of bestselling works. For many years Ian has produced audio short stories and writing podcasts. His first audio project was supported with a grant from Arts Council England. In 2010, Ian founded National Short Story Week in the UK.

Find out more at

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