Her Name was Peta Doig …

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Her name was Peta Doig.

She was ‘only’ one of many dead women I’d found, trawling nights through the Coroners’ Findings. A depressing task, reading hundreds of accounts of deaths in care. Men and children as well as women, every state and territory of Australia; my search was restricted to only one criteria – disability.

Although I am a wheelchair user, that is not my primary disability. I’m neurodivergent, with disordered thoughts and a mind that compels me to forget important big things and allows me to remember many small details and assemble them into ordered collections of data. There’s a word for this kind of thinking – patternicity, the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data.

In the Findings, there were patterns about safeguarding, geographic areas, types of care, systemic and failures. Compulsively, I began to assemble them, using collected stories of women who had drowned in bathtubs in care facilities, men who had been murdered by other patients in hospitals, women who were endlessly abused in care. Of the hundreds of names, Peta’s name was one that became the touchstone for my project.

I remember the day that I read Peta’s story, as told by Western Australia’s Coroner. She’d been placed in the Nathaniel Harper Home, a home for children with intellectual disability, at the age of nine. She moved to Heathcote, then Graylands, a psychiatric hospital which is still open some fifty years later. The Coroner carefully explained that it was the only place for her – as a consequence of her behaviour, she was ‘hard to place’. So there she stayed, devoid of family, devoid of the types of care which would be afforded to any autistic child or adult today, ‘going through bins, eating other patients’ food’. And over the years, she was raped, sexually exploited, paralysed, beaten – subjected to atrocities that others cannot imagine. The Coroner recounts her medical history in dispassionate terms, but notes she was not able to access hospital or medical care.

After years of abuse, Peta became so traumatised that she went into cardiac arrest when she was touched. The findings are a litany of horrors, one piled upon another.

Peta began screaming again on Christmas Day in 2012, they said. There was a nursing note on 31 December, 2012, stating that she had not slept but had been lying on her bed cradling her head in her hands. Ten days later, she stopped screaming and at the age of 58, she’d died.

The day I read this, I went to the cemetery to find her grave. The grass had grown and I had to push my wheels through. There was a headstone and I laid white flowers.

The other stories emerged, one by one. Amanda Gilbert, a woman with a mental illness and brain injury, raped thousands of times in care. Rebecca Lazarus, murdered at the hands of her partner, a man with schizophrenia who’d been identified as dangerous but placed in the same ‘low care’ group home as Rebecca. Stabbed, she choked out her last gasps on the grass outside the facility, whilst staff were left to ruminate on their lack of action following previous violent attacks. Kyla Puhle, the daughter of a middle aged couple from South Australia, starved to death in a beanbag whilst her parents went to school. Her mother was a high school principal – in court, she was praised as a dedicated and loving parent, and walked free on a suspended sentence. Upon being arrested, Kyla’s father shot himself.

The women had died for one common reason – because they had a disability. Yet domestic and family violence legislation could not protect them, nor would most be able to access justice or clear pathways to safety.

In 2012, Jill Meagher, a 29 year old Irish woman living in Australia, was raped and murdered while walking home from a pub. She did not have a disability. Jill’s image went viral, her face an instantly recognisable reminder of a violent act. In one day, over 12 million Twitter timelines referred to Jill Meagher, and candlelight vigils were held around the country. Two days after the discovery of her body, 30,000 people walked along Sydney Road in her memory. And yet nobody knew the names of Amanda, Rebecca, Kyla, Zahra. Nobody knew the name of Krystal Fraser, missing, presumed murdered and nine months pregnant.  Nor Shellay Ebony, Janene or Peta.

I have never been able to find a picture of Peta Doig.

That sharp discrepancy between the remembered and the forgotten haunted me and others. I belong to the board of People with Disability Australia (PWDA), who joined me in telling the stories of those who had been lost to violence, neglect and abuse, especially those in institutional settings. Women with Disabilities Australia, PWDA and other disability groups lobbied vehemently for a national inquiry. Over the past twelve months, the Senate has heard thousands of stories like Peta’s, atrocities that were committed (often legally) as the result of power imbalances and oppressive social conditions.

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The stories kept rolling in. The Willow Court History group has amassed a huge body of evidence about Willow Court, the oldest asylum in Tasmania. There were startling revelations from other institutional settings like Parkside, Bribie Island, Challinor, and Peat and Milsen Islands. We learned that many of our people were buried beneath parking lots or in unmarked paupers’ graves, piled one upon each other. The 1200 inmates who died at Yarra Bend Asylum, for example, were buried in up to 400 graves along the banks of the Yarra, on what today is a practice fairway of the Yarra Bend public golf course. There are no markers – like the inmates of Peat Island at the nearby Brooklyn cemetery, they lie unremembered.

And so on the 25th November, at the White Flower Memorial, we will call their names. The board of People with Disability, all disabled women and men, decided to publicly remember our people. A Cross Disability Alliance public procession and memorial service will commemorate the lives of an uncounted number of people with disability in Australia who have died at the hands of others in institutions, places of confinement and at the hands of families and authorities.

They are uncounted but they are not forgotten.

Samantha Connor (c) November 2015

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‘Nurses at War’ – The True Story of Army Nursing Sister’s Courage in WWII: Pt 2

 - by whnadmin


Excerpt from Nurses at War –

The True Story of Army Nursing Sisters’ Courage in World War II by Jean Bowden

The following excerpt takes place at St. Albert’s in Hong Kong, a monastery of Spanish monks taken over for use as a British Military Hospital.

WHNNurses at War by Jean Bowden cover

The Q.A. was a tiny quiet little woman of about twenty-seven or eight. Perhaps the sergeant chose her because she looked as if she would be easier to order about than the stalwart Miss Currie; but poor Sister North was on the verge of fainting with terror and detestation. Currie spoke up decisively.

‘Sister North has no idea where the body is, nor where the officer’s personal effects have been stored. I can show you, if you like.’

‘Very well.’ He turned to a private soldier and ordered the release of the acting-matron. He made no move to help her up, but she scrambled to her feet, rubbing her wrists to restore circulation. With a brisk ‘This way,’ she set off across the lawn into the building. Sister North, being released simultaneously when the wire was untwisted, kept at Mary Currie’s reassuring side, and the sergeant brought up the rear.

They had to pass through North’s ward on the way to the mortuary; here North lingered to attend to a patient and, finding her absence was not even commented upon by the otherwise-interested sergeant, she stayed there while Currie led the way out of the ward.

The body of the Japanese officer was lying in calm and peace in the mortuary. The sergeant leaned over it, fingering the flag which enfolded the torso. He made a sign to a private and gave an order, in response to which the private stepped up and jabbed Currie in the ribs with his bayonet.

‘Clothes,’ he commanded brusquely. ‘Clothes.’

It seemed to be the only English word in his vocabulary. Currie, urged on by his bayonet tip, led the way to the reception room and searched there; but the clothes of the dead officer were nowhere to be found.

‘Clothes,’ was all her guard would vouchsafe when she tried to explain that they had probably been destroyed as too dirty or too bloodstained. ‘Clothes. Clothes.’

He was growing impatient and very angry. Currie found herself hoping that he would not kill her there in the reception room, because nobody in the hospital knew where she was or would be able to guess what had happened to her.

When the private seemed on the verge of digging his bayonet in in real earnest, the English-speaking sergeant appeared in the door.

‘Come,’ he ordered.

She followed him into the corridor. There the body of the dead officer was brought out on a bier and placed in a position of honour in the middle. Meanwhile all the British staff had been rounded up. These were now lined up, and while the acting-matron rather unwillingly stood by the head of the corpse at the command of the sergeant, the others were marched past as if paying the last respects. They were prodded into a storeroom at the other end of the corridor and when they were all in, Currie was thrust in after them.

And then along came another private with a machine gun, which he trained on them with the greatest relish.

‘Well,’ observed an M.O., ‘I rather thought we’d got past this stage ?’

But the sentinel with the machine gun was averse to conversation. He motioned them peevishly to be quiet. He fingered the trigger and swivelled the barrel to take in the entire group ? forty V.A.D.s, five medical officers, three Q.A.s including the acting-matron, and several orderlies. They all mentally said their farewells to life; it seemed clear that, far from being pleased at finding one of their own dead reverently treated in a British hospital, the Japanese were treating it as a matter calling for revenge.

A private flung open the storeroom door and pointed at Mary. She did not understand his words but his crooked finger was eloquent. She went with him.

Standing by the bier was a senior Japanese officer. His rank appeared equal at least to that of colonel. Tears were streaming down his face, and he was talking in a stream of broken words to the English-speaking sergeant. Mary paused at the side of her guard and looked at the grief-stricken colonel. His eyes took in all the details of her appearance, and he pointed in her direction, speaking with the greatest vehemence to the interpreter.

‘My commanding officer says you have been very good to this man,’ the sergeant told her, indicating the dead body. ‘He says you may ask a favour in return.’

At this point Mary Currie showed the good sense rarely exhibited by characters in fairy stories who are granted a boon. Although taken completely by surprise, and although afterwards she declared there were thousands of other things she should have asked for, what she said was this: ‘Thank you. I would be glad if you yourself could be detailed to remain in the hospital and accompany me until your troops have withdrawn from it.’


Nurses at War remembers the brave nursing sisters of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), known with admiration by their grateful patients as the ‘Q.A.s’. These dedicated women faced danger and sometimes death to care for wounded servicemen during the Second World War. They worked tirelessly in the field – their lives constantly at risk, but throughout they showed courage, spirit and even humour. Among tales of fear and heartbreak, there are also many moments of compassion and hope. The inspiring nursing sisters worked in the most dangerous places of action during World War Two – including Dunkirk, Malta, Hong Kong and El Alamein. They encountered death and disease on an unprecedented scale, suffered harsh imprisonment by the Japanese, and were bombed while on board hospital ships and trains. But wherever they found themselves, the sisters continued to carry out their duties with professionalism and a plucky determination. First published to great success and acclaim in 1959 as Grey Touched with Scarlet, this book has been written based on the first-hand accounts of the army nursing sisters.





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‘Nurses at War’ – The True Story of Army Nursing Sister’s Courage in WWII: Pt 1

 - by whnadmin

Excerpt from Nurses at War –

The True Story of Army Nursing Sisters’ Courage in World War II by Jean Bowden

The following excerpt takes place at St. Albert’s in Hong Kong, a monastery of Spanish monks taken over for use as a British Military Hospital.

WHNNurses at War by Jean Bowden cover


A Japanese officer was brought in, severely wounded in a nearby incident. Everything was done for him that could be done, but he died the same day. He was laid out by one of the V.A.D.s with the same reverence that would have been accorded to a British soldier. And in looking through his kit Sister Currie found a Japanese flag.

Now in some book or in some conversation Currie had heard that the Japanese warrior wishes to be buried wrapped in the flag of his country and, at the stirring of this vague memory in her mind, she shook out the folds of the cloth and wrapped it about the torso of the dead officer.

The Colonel took her aside and told her in confidence that the Japanese troops would very likely reach the hospital next day. And next day, as they were preparing to operate on a man who had been sniped through the window, Sister Currie was told that the conquerors were in the hall.

She put on her tin hat and her jacket and turned to go. ‘But you can’t go down there!’ the surgeon said in horror. ‘God only knows what they’re doing!’

‘But I must go down,’ Currie pointed out simply. ‘The sisters are down there.’

As soon as she reached the wide corridor on the ground floor she was seized by a man in a badly fitting battle dress with camouflage net and foliage draped over him. He jerked her roughly round, tied her hands behind her back with wire. Then he hauled her down the corridor towards the front door.

The O.C. was being dragged with her. Outside they were thrust into a group comprising another sister, an M.O., two of the men. With the Colonel and Sister Currie, this made a huddle of six, trussed at the back like game on a stave.

A wizen-faced private set up a machine gun in front of them and aimed it with acute attention to detail. All around stood the stocky troops of the Imperial Japanese Army, enjoying the sight of British men and women brought low.

The prisoners had no doubt that their last moments on earth were ticking past. They knew that on the Kowloon side death had been dealt out plenteously and indiscriminately, along with other treatment specially reserved by the conquerors for their women victims. Matters were made worse by the lack of an interpreter; nobody could tell what was intended, nobody could understand the shouted and anger-filled orders of the guards, and for half an hour this dreadful nightmare of a charade went on uninterrupted.

Then came an unexpected climax. One of the Japanese soldiers, swaggering across to speak to a comrade, tripped and nearly fell over Sister Currie’s feet. In fury he turned and dealt her a vicious blow over the legs with the butt of his rifle.

And Currie lost her temper. ‘But this is barbarous!’ she cried. ‘What sort of treatment is this? You’re supposed to be civilized? Aren’t you?’

The soldier turned and gaped at her.

‘For heaven’s sake,’ muttered the M.O. at the end of the line of prisoners, ‘mind what you’re saying, Sister. They’ll finish us off ?’

‘I’d rather be finished off than sit about like an Aunt Sally.’ And to the guard, who was still staring at her with a face that grew gradually darker, ‘Civilized! What about the Geneva Convention? Every civilized nation respects it! “Personnel tending the sick shall be respected and protected” …’

The guard had decided that she was simply asking for trouble and was raising his rifle for another crack when a figure stepped forward.

‘Yes, we have heard of the Geneva Convention,’ said the new arrival in good English.

He was a non-commissioned officer in his late twenties, smarter than the others now pressing forward to see the show, and with a more intelligent cut to his features. ‘The Imperial Japanese Army,’ he went on confidently, ‘subscribes to all humanitarian principles. We intend …’

‘Then why do you allow your troops to treat doctors and nurses in this disgusting way?’ Miss Currie cut in swiftly. ‘This isn’t like the Geneva Convention.’ She liked to hear the sound of those words – Geneva Convention. She could see that the English-speaking officer understood their implication and was trying to impress them with his education. So she went on, ‘You speak English very well.’

He looked pleased. ‘I was at Oxford,’ he announced.

‘Then will you try to explain to your men that their behaviour is wrong, dreadfully wrong, and can only harm the reputation of the Japanese Army?’

He turned to his comrades and talked vigorously for a few minutes; there was a great deal of arguing and fist-shaking. He said to Sister Currie, ‘British troops have not deserved good treatment …’

‘A Japanese officer was brought into our hospital yesterday,’ the acting-matron interrupted. ‘He was very seriously wounded, but we gave him all the care and skill that we would have given to one of our own men. Isn’t that true, Colonel?’

The O.C. nodded. ‘Quite true. Our work is done irrespective of nationality.’

‘Where is this officer?’ the sergeant said suspiciously.

‘Despite all we could do for him, he died. We laid out his body in the same way we would have laid out the body of a dead British soldier.’

He eyed Sister Currie with some disbelief. Then he pointed suddenly at the other Q.A. tied on the wire.

‘You!’ he ordered. ‘Show me where is this Japanese officer.’


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Celebrating the Life of Winifred Holtby

 - by whnadmin

winifred holtby please credit courtesy of the Hull History Centre.

Winifred Holtby

Picture Courtesy of Hull History Centre

A friendly day out devoted to celebrating a woman who treated her pen as sword is a treat to be savoured, especially when the modern equivalent of a charabanc trip is attached. So it was with much pleasure that on Saturday 19 September a very broad group of people from all the UK were feting Winifred Holtby (1898-1935), the Yorkshire socialist-feminist author/poet/reviewer/ journalist/activist.

Many later signed up for the Winifred Holtby Society. Still more resolved to use the Holtby archives which are stored in the building that hosted us, the dazzlingly modern, crustacean-shaped History Centre in the ancient heart of this Humberside port.

A woman’s history event?  Not exactly. Many of the 60-odd attendees were, instead, experts on – or just lovers of ­– Edwardian literature. I was there because Holtby, like Storm Jameson, had been an important northern role model in the 1970s when Virago Modern Classics first started re-introducing second-wave feminists like me to our regional foresisters. But much of the day was fascinatingly about the history of Holtby and her early twentieth-century world, including her mother Alice Holtby nee Winn (1859-1939), and Winfred’s friend, writer Vera Brittain.

Hull City Archivist Martin Taylor welcomed us and Professor Marion Shaw, the writer of Holtby’s 1999 biography, The Clear Stream made a brief opening address. Angela V John (Swansea University, and author of Turning the Tide: the Life of Lady Rhondda) led proceeding with her talk about Holtby’s connections with the journal Time and Tide, in Bringing out the best? Lady Rhondda and Winifred Holtby.

In her paper ‘Sides to Middle’: Winifred Holtby and the Regional Novel, Lisa Regan (University of Liverpool, author of Winifred Holtby’s Social Vision: ‘Members One of Another’) not only reminded us of the author’s literary and spatial locations. Delightfully, Lisa also enlightened younger people about the practice of conserving old bedsheets by stitching the worn sides together to create a serviceable new middle.

The much-appreciated organiser of the entire event Gill Fildes (University of Wales, Trinity St David) spoke about Holtby and Education: Teachers in fact and fiction. Indeed, one of the lesser-known facts about Holtby is that she regularly wrote articles for the National Union of Women Teachers’ magazine, The Schoolmistress as well as importantly revealing a picture of pioneering professional women in the education service, with her fictional teacher Sarah Burton in South Riding.

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The Hull to Scarborough Line’s 

Take Back Your Freedom – the life and times of Winifred Holtby

Picture by Jo Stanley


Lunchtime brought not only the opportunity to revel in a burst autumn sunshine, but to see extracts from the play Take Back Your Freedom – the life and times of Winifred Holtby. Performed by The Hull to Scarborough Line, its wide scope offered a whole-life perspective on this famous East-Riding resident, Somerville alumnus, supporter of South African black people’s rights and habitué of Bloomsbury.

In the afternoon a specially-organised minibus took us 29 miles towards the coast, to the village of Rudston. This is where she lived. Her first home was Rudston Hall. The village church is where her family worshipped (in the second pew back from the Laird’s) and she lies in its graveyard. And there’s a commemorative tree planted there, which flourishes as it marks her personal and literary friendship with Brittain.WHNBlogHoltbyrudston hall 4 small


Our Group outside the Hall and at the Stables

Picture – Jo Stanley

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The Plaque Commemorating Winifred Holtby & Vera Brittain

Picture – Jo Stanley

On the return trip down many sunny lanes in this flat landscape we got the chance to reflect on the proxemics of Winifred’s life and that of her significant mother Alice Holtby, nee Winn (1859-1939). In driving back through Beverley (23 miles from Hull) we saw the former East Riding’s capital, where Alice, had first been active in local politics in the 1923. We then went on to Cottingham, now a posh Hull suburb, to which the family later moved – and which Winifred hated. The exterior of the grand-ish house was visible, Alice was the first woman alderman of the East Riding County Council in 1934 and being nearer Hull was helpful to her political work in Hull. In South Riding Hull was Kingsport.  Alice felt it ethical to resign after the exposing novel was published.

The day was a pleasure because so many diverse people were involved, not only academics. The atmosphere was amicable. And attendees were happy to be sharing their enthusiasm for a woman whose novels keep on enriching their lives. For historians interested in pioneering interwar women, it was a treat to learn more about women teachers and political activists of the period too.

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The Plaque Commemorating Winifred Holtby & Vera Brittain

Picture – Jo Stanley

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Gill Fildes laying a Commemorative Bouquet

Picture – Jo Stanley

Jo Stanley (c) October 2015

Dr Jo Stanley is a creative historian who usually works on gender and the sea. She is based in the Pennines and is part of the Yorkshire Women’s History Network.

You can join the Winifred Holtby Society. Contact Gill Fildes, the organiser, at corbinhwood@talktalk.net. There’s more information about the Holtby Archive at the website http://www.hullhistorycentre.org.uk.


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Feminism is Real – Reinvigorating Research & Writing

 - by whnadmin

WHNBlogCGH logo

Scotland has a fine history of women’s struggle for recognition and respect. Identities such as Sophia Jex-Blake – in her 1860s campaign to enter university to study medicine is one of the most prominent. She is not alone, and today The Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow continues to ensure that women not only have a voice, but that women’s voice – and indeed voices … are heard. The Centre for Gender History has a sharp focus on women’s history through the prism of feminist research and writing, running an annual research seminar series to which all are invited. The seminars run on Monday afternoons (4pm, Room 209 in 2 University Gardens,), and are open to everyone.

The new (academic) year begins with creativity as the Centre welcomes Dr Sarah Moss, reader on the English and Creative Writing programme at the University of Warwick and author of five novels. On Monday 12 October 2015 the Centre has her talk on ‘Writing fictional history and historical fiction: a novelist’s view’ (co-hosted with Creative Writing).

The following two weeks comprise celebration of two book publications: ‘Militant Around the Clock? Left-wing youth politics, leisure and sexuality in post-dictatorship Greece, 1974-1981’ by Dr Nikolaos Papadogiannis from St Andrews University (21 Oct 2015 – a Wednesday), co-hosted with the Southern Europe Research Network;  and Dr Natalya Vince’s (University of Portsmouth) ‘Our fighting sisters: nation, memory and gender in Algeria, 1954-2012’ (26 October 2015), co-hosted with the School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

On 16 November 2015 a double seminar has Mary Jacobs and Catriona Macleod, two (current and former) PhD students at the University of Glasgow, present their work on ‘Military manhood and the people during the English Revolution’, and Widows & business families in Glasgow, 1740-1830′. Then on Monday 30 November Dr Mark Seymour (University of Otago) presents ‘Against nature? The prosecution of same-sex sexual acts in late 19th century Italy’. The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research cohosts.


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Monday 18 January 2016 Dr Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow) presents her current research on ‘Gendered play provision for children in high rise estates in post-war Glasgow’, with Professor Jane Whittle (University of Exeter) visiting Glasgow (18 February 2016) presenting on ‘What is “work”? A perspective from studying rural women in early modern England’. Then, Dr Vikki Turbine (University of Glasgow) enlightens on ‘The role of “inherited/imagined” memories: Why do young women discuss Soviet pasts in contemporary Russia?’ (29 February), and 2016 ends with a founding member of the Centre, Professor Julia Smith (University of Glasgow), her presentation’s title being ‘Gender and Authenticity in the Medieval Cult of Relics’ (14 March).


(accessed 4 October 2015)

About the Centre: established in 2008, the Centre for Gender History brings together staff and students from different areas within the University of Glasgow and partners in other local institutions. Its research interests cover four main areas of research: family and marriage; feminism and social movements; personal testimonies and work. Since 2014 the Centre offers a Masters degree on Gender History, and it runs a postgraduate taught programme. It also supports a reading group run by postgraduate students, the Hufton Postgraduate Research Group. The major international journal Gender & History is edited from the Centre.


Andrea Hajek (c) October 2015

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Serendipity in the Archives – Finding something when least expected!

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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!

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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

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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 …

 - by whnadmin

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.


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

 - by whnadmin


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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