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 –


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.<https://mail.campus.g

7 people like this post.

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

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.’(

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:



8 people like this post.

Making Changes by Making History: Women in Construction

 - by whnadmin

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

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

Thanks to:

 (accessed 4 July 2015)

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

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

Roma Agrawal

Thanks to: (Accessed 4 July 2015)

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

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

Bethany Cornell (c) June 2015)

6 people like this post.

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

 - by whnadmin


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

 ‘Call to Arms’


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

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

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

Stella Bingham (c) June 2015

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

STELLABINGHAMuntitled ) (accessed 20 June 2015)


6 people like this post.


 - by whnadmin

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

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

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

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

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

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

CohenRescue Cover WHN Blog

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

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

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

Susan Cohen (c) June 2015

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


See also: (accessed 5 July 2015)

7 people like this post.

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

 - by whnadmin

Cheshire County Lunatic Asylum

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

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

Chester Street Heritage – Chester Workhouses [A]

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

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

From Daily Mail [B]

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

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

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

Carol Coles (c) May 2015

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

1829 Building – Chester County Lunatic Asylum

[1] Chester Chronicle – Chester, 1915 [ accessed February 2015]

[2] Chester  Chronicle – Chester, October 27th 1917, p.3 [ accessed February 2015]

[A] (accessed by WHN Blog 7 June 2015)

[B] by WHN Blog 7 June 2015)

7 people like this post.

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

 - by whnadmin

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

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

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


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

Bruce Fitzgerald photographer


BBC ‘Look North’ cameras filming the opening lunch party

Ruth Beazley photographer

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

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

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


TriangleSisters4 (3)

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

Donated Photographs 

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

TriangleSisters5 (3)

TriangleSisters6 (3)

Hostel women enjoying their leisure c1950

Photographs from Ted Fenton’s collection

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

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



Hostel women working in Morris’ s Mill c 1950

Photographs from Ted Fenton’s collection 

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

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

Venues wishing to enquire about the exhibition should contact 01422 823110 A web-based resource is projected.



Two digital prints merging images of hostel women from the past

into present day ex-industrial settings

Ruth Beazley photographer

Ruth Beazley (c) May 2015

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

16 people like this post.

WALKING WITH WOMEN – Aberdeen’s Women’s Trail …

 - by whnadmin



In 2011,  GirlGuiding Scotland set up The Big Name Hunt.  This was a year long project for girls to find memorials to women in their area, research them, and post them onto a website.  At the end of the year, the website was taken over by Glasgow Women’s Library in conjunction with Women’s History Scotland, with the continued support of GirlGuiding Scotland.

The website – Mapping Memorials to Women ( )  – has gone from strength to strength. Over five hundred memorials have been mapped to date, with new additions appearing regularly.

In February 2013, at the request of Aberdeen Women’s Alliance, Glasgow Women’s Library held an outreach meeting in Aberdeen’s Central Library to encourage more people to add to the site. All those present were enthusiastic, but the Women’s Alliance noticed that few memorials had been added as a result of the workshop.  They contacted the attendees and discovered a lack of confidence about researching memorials and the women they commemorate. As a result, a series of events was organised, introducing women to the City Council archives, Aberdeen University archives and the local studies section of Central Library. For many of those attending, this was their first visit to e.g. the University library, or the first time they had met an archivist.

From this evolved the idea of presenting research to the public in the form of a Trail.  Glasgow Women’s Library, which has produced several Women’s Trails, gave invaluable advice. Aberdeen City Council provided funding.

The first difficulty soon became apparent – Aberdeen had produced far more interesting women than could be included in a single Trail!  The decision was made to concentrate on a small area in central Aberdeen.  Other issues, such as access to toilets and accessibility for wheelchair users, had to be addressed.   A route was chosen, starting and finishing at the Town House.  The route included the historic Castlegate area.

Aberdeen Town House (accessed 17 April 2015)


Trail leaflets were produced and distributed round libraries and other public buildings.

After several practice walks, to finalise timings, the Trail was launched on International Women’s Day, 8th March 2014. For the first walk, costumes were hired and the volunteer Guides wore a variety of outfits. Since then, some of the volunteers have created their own costumes, which may be worn if requested.

The group led walks through the summer, with appreciative audiences. The walks were free of charge, but tickets had to be booked through Eventbrite, in order to ensure that numbers remained manageable.  Health and Safety was always paramount.  An arrangement was made with  Shopmobility Aberdeen,  to provide wheelchairs and other mobility aids, if requested in advance.

The Trail has twelve stops.  As more than one woman is connected to some stops, twenty one women are included.  These women’s lives span over four hundred years, although the majority died in the twentieth century.  Within the Trail it became apparent that there were themes, such as health and civic life.  At the site of the former Children’s Hospital (stop Four) four women are commemorated:  Clementina Esslemont who founded the Aberdeen Mother and Child Welfare Association in 1909, Fenella Paton who founded the first birth control clinic in Aberdeen in 1926,  Dr Agnes Thompson who pioneered services to children and Dr Mary Esslemont (Clementina’s daughter)  who worked, inter alia, as a gynaecologist at the hospital.  Pioneering speech therapist Catherine Hollingsworth’s story is told at stop Six.  At the site of the former General Dispensary (stop Eleven), Maggie Myles, author of  a Textbook for Midwives, which has been in print continuously since 1953, is commemorated.

Civic life (stops One, Five and Twelve) includes two C17th benefactors, Lady Rothiemay and Lady Drum, who founded a school for girls, and a home for “aged virgins” respectively, Hilda Wernham, pioneered “wet” shelters for homeless people who were unable to access night shelters if they presented themselves while drunk.  Isabella Fyvie Mayo (the first woman to hold an elected post in Aberdeen), Isabella Burgess( Aberdeen’s first female councillor) Margaret Farquhar (First female Lord Provost) and Margaret Smith (first female leader of the Council). The last two women are still alive and both attended the launch of the Trail.

Dancing with the Devil (accessed 15 April 2015)

Other stops include the site where witches were accused of dancing with the devil in the late C16th,  as a result of which Janet Wishart was burned in 1597, and other witches were strangled then burned (stop Three).  The spot at which the last woman to be publicly hanged in Aberdeen, Katherine Humphry, met her end in 1830 is stop Two.   The site of the now-demolished hotel where the Female Chartists met between 1839 and 1841 is stop Eight.

However, we realised that the majority of the women on the trail had one thing in common – they recognised a problem, and they worked to solve it.  In every case, solving the problem was more important than their own self-aggrandisement, which may partially explain why most of these women have been forgotten.

Some of those going on the walks were able to add to our knowledge of the women, for example we were delighted to have Dr Agnes Thompson’s niece on one walk. Several women recollected Annie Inglis children’s classes, and some older walkers recollected Miss Moffat and Miss Walker, who founded the St Catherine’s Club (stop Seven). Many women were familiar with Myles Textbook for Midwives, but had no idea the author had been born and brought up in Aberdeen.

Most of those involved in the creation of the Trail had no previous experience of, or involvement in, Women’s History.  Instead, the project grew organically from the initial outreach workshop by Glasgow Women’s Library.  Future projects are now planned, to further develop Women’s History at grassroots level in Aberdeen.

 Alison McCall (c) April 2015

Alison McCall is a member of WHS (originally Scottish Women’s History Network), attending her first conference, Gender, Families and Relationships in Scotland in November 2002.  Her major academic interest is in women with careers in Victorian Scotland.  Most of the women she has studied have been teachers, a profession replete with a plentiful and rich variety of original source material. She also has an historical interest in nurses, clerks, journalists and translators. A side interest is in the life and work of poet and translator Elizabeth (Bessie) Craigmyle (1863-1933), a trained teacher and probably Scotland’s best Victorian lesbian poet. Please get in touch if you’d like to read some of her poems.

See: Alison McCall, Guest Blogger, (accessed 15 April 2015)

On Elizabeth (Bessie) Craigmyle see: ‘LGBT History Month – Elizabeth (Bessie) Craigmyle (1863-1933), (accessed 15 April 2015)

In The Morning
Love, I am here.
Wild words passed yesterday ‘twixt me and you,
My careless hands wrought the deep wrong I rue,
You swore I should repent it.  Was it true?
Close, come more near.
Shuddering and white?
Why?  Let your lips press close and warm to mine.
Ah, sweetheart! has my beauty lost its shine?
Was not this woman pledged for ever thine
Who died last night?
So.  Turn away.
We did not think to meet again like this.
A lover’s quarrel should end in after-bliss:
Last night our lips were hungering for a kiss,
Give it today!
Eizabeth (Bessie) Craigmyle

14 people like this post.

Courtship and Communication – Early American History vs Today

 - by whnadmin


Phone calls, texting, emails, and social media. Today’s technology has made communication almost instantaneous, thus greatly impacting the way relationships are formed.

In early colonial America, the only way to reach someone distant was to write letters. We would have to wait days or even weeks to receive a reply and hope our letters even made it to their doorstep. To some people today this method may seem antiquated, but are there some benefits to hand-written letters we no longer experience today?

John and Abigail Adams are known to have written numerous letters back and forth long before they were married. Luckily, many of those letters have survived today and we can gain an inside look into their courtship and how letters played a huge role in their relationship.

Letter writing was seen to be an important daily task in early American history and many, including John Adams, actually found it pleasurable. However, John Adams found writing to his beloved to be the most rewarding part of his day.

He states in one of his letters to Abigail, “Now Letter-Writing is, to me, the most agreeable Amusement: and Writing to you the most entertaining and agreeable of all Letter-Writing.”

In today’s society, one could argue that although we greatly appreciate every text or email received by someone with whom we are romantically involved, we do it with such quick mindlessness that it doesn’t hold as much value as a hand-written letter that took hours to write. Thorough these long letters, both men and women could tell how much thought and effort went into each one and appreciate, not only the long-awaited arrival of such a message, but the person who sent it as well.

Thoughtfulness is not the only benefit to hand-written letters. Many women of that period felt that letters were a way to express themselves without the fear of being judged and criticized by their neighbors.

Abigail Adams wrote in one of her letters to John, “My pen is always freer than my tongue. I have wrote many things to you that I suppose I never could have talk’d.”

Letters gave the women the confidence to openly speak their mind and form a more genuine connection with their significant other. Although today’s forms of communication also provide women with that opportunity, in early American society, this chance was much more treasured and desired.

Regardless of the form of communication, relationships have all been molded around the way we reach each other. Today’s technology allows us to instantly reach one another so relationships can build more rapidly, but when we take a moment to look back on the art of hand-written letters, we see that although old-fashioned, it may be worth giving a chance.

Jessica Bourke (c) April 2015

Jessica Bourke is a junior at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL. As a part of her history seminar, she is writing short pieces on Martha Washington’s and Abigail Adams’ handwritten letters. This blog is one of those written for her history seminar.

Images of letter writing from (accessed 17 April 2015)

Images of Abigail Adams from (accessed 17 April 2015)

21 people like this post.

Writing Fairy Tales for Australia: Beatrice Wilcken (c. late 1830s/early 40s-1910)

 - by whnadmin

AND why not fairies in Australia? Why should not our innumerable ferny glades, romantic valleys, mountainous passes, and lonesome glens, be peopled with fays and elves? Why should not Robin Goodfellow be found sitting jauntily astride the gorgeous waratah, or chasing the laughing jackass from its favourite bough? But all in good time. In the generations yet to come, unless the State schools make the little ones too learned, we shall have Australian fairy tales, stories in which goblin, kangaroos and emus, graceful sprites, and bearded magicians, will be found on every Fairyland in Australia.

Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier, 18 December 1880, p. 3


In early Australian children’s literature the appropriation of old-world fairies and their adaption to the new and unique landscape in fairy tales began with a small group of writers in the 1870s, of whom Beatrice Wilcken was one. With the exception of Ethel Pedley who wrote Australia’s first animal fantasy, Dot and the kangaroo (1899), that became an Australian classic and is still in print today, the early fairy tales (1870-1910) remain largely unknown. Of the men and women who wrote the first Australian fairy tales, many like Gumsucker (Charlotte Rowland), Desda (Jane Davies), Olga Ernst and Beatrice Wilcken published only one book. While single copies of their books were once confined to special collections, inaccessible to the general public, they are now available to a global audience through digitisation. The possibility exists for a new readership for those women writers who have been long forgotten.

Encapsulating aspects of the traditional fairy tale genre, the early Australian fairy tale writers, placed their tales in the Australian landscape, amid its distinctive flora and fauna, and transformed traditional motifs into an adaptation of old-world fairy tales that were unique to Australia. The adversaries of European fairy tales, wizards, witches, goblins and trolls managed to feel enough at home in the bush to create mischief and mayhem.  The ‘customised’ fairies adapted their magic to the Australian environment and understood the plights and challenges of a harsh and often unforgiving landscape intervening to assist the hapless hero at opportune moments. The adaptation of motifs, plots, literary references and the abundance of emigrant fairies that appeared in the emerging Australian fairy tale reflected the beliefs and principles generated by the social, political and historical contexts in which they were written.

Beatrice Wilcken (née Ivichich) was born in the late 1830s or early 1840s into minor?Austro-Hungarian aristocracy. A musician, she trained at the Hamburg Conservatoire remaining associated with this institution for five years and writing and performing her own compositions. Wilcken, with two sons, was widowed while still quite young. One son Anton settled in England while the other Ludolf migrated to Australia moving between the colonies of New South Wales and Tasmania due to business interests. Travelling extensively between England, Australia and New Zealand Wilcken’s income was supplemented by giving musical recitals and teaching piano wherever she was staying. Though there are appreciative reviews of the recitals and concerts she gave in the colonies it is her small book of fairy tales that is her most important legacy.

It is not surprising that Beatrice Wilcken chose to write fairy tales rather than the ‘Australian real-life in the bush’ tale that was prolific at the time. Although overshadowed by the success of Grimm’s Kinder-und Hausmärchen, German women had made a significant contribution to the fairy tale genre and over two hundred fairy tales collections by women were published in German-speaking countries in the nineteenth century. Wilcken’s fairy and mythological creatures are found settled easily in Australia, mainly located in the colony of New South Wales.

While the number of fairy tale books published between 1870 and 1900 were few, many fairy tales appeared in newspapers, often in children’s sections. Wilcken’s first fairy tale ‘The Fairy Cave’ was published in The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (29 March 1890, p. 703) re-appearing as ‘A Legend of the Fairy Caves in the Blue Mountains’ in her book Fairy Tales, Fables and Legends.

Wilcken suggested that she had been encouraged by her Tasmanian hosts to self-publish her fairy stories with a modesty that perhaps reflects the expectations of women writers at that time, and publication protocols of the era, than her character. Travelling unaccompanied to Australia and remembered as a ‘larger than life’ person who insisted her grandchildren address her as Madame Wilcken; a painting of Wilcken in later life portrays her as an imposing middle-aged woman dressed in jewels and finery. On her death her personal papers were found to contain many letters from important people in political and social life in England. However, the rhetoric of humility is captured in her dedication:

I have whiled away some happy leisure hours in writing these little stories. They were not originally intended for publication, but I have been strongly urged by many kind friends to have them printed. (Wilcken, 1891)  

The newly discovered Jenolan Caves[1] and the Blue Mountains formed the backdrop for many of her fairy tales as Wilcken creates literary ‘Origin’ stories to explain specific cave and mountain formations. It is her appreciation of the natural geography of the area and its influence on the characters that are drawn to it that is one of the most important features of her writing and infuses an Australian setting with which readers can identify.

Jenolan Caves – New South Wales (accessed 15 March 2015)

Within these locales Wilcken created fairy queens and sprites of traditional fairy beauty. Her tales are filled with romance and the tensions and consequences created by human men and their love of female fairy creatures. Wilcken speaks of the folly of love and her fairies are cautioned that ‘Men are a false race. They rush in at a moment’s pleasure and break the hearts of those who trust them’. In ‘The Jenolan Caves, N.S.W’, Wilcken’s hero discovers a traditional fairy, a ‘beautiful girl…her hair a mass of golden curls; her eyes of the deepest blue’.  Falling in love, ‘passionate thoughts overtake him and though the fairy does not reciprocate, when he steals a kiss she is turned to stone.  The consequences are a warning and a lesson to all maidens in the colony to be guarded and wary of men and their lust.

Like Wilcken most of the early Australian fairy tale writers (pre-Federation, 1901) wrote only one fairy tale book[2] but collectively the reclamation of their books allows an appreciation of their quest to ensure that ‘the merry children of the fair South may revel in dreams of their own Fairy Lore’ (Gumsucker, 1870, Rosalie’s Reward, preface), a scrutiny of the ideologies of the era, and their quiet contribution to early Australian children’s printed literature.

Robyn E. Floyd (c) March 2015

Access Wilcken’s fairy tales


Biography: Robyn E. Floyd is a Primary School Deputy Head. Robyn’s PhD thesis examines the creation of a bush identity in early Australian fairy tales. She is a Foundation Member of the Australian Fairy Tale Society.

The AFTS is a national not-for-profit society focused on collecting, preserving, discussing, sharing, and creating Australian fairy tales with the aim of encouraging academics, writers, artists, performers and enthusiasts from around the country to network and share all things fairy tale through a national website and annual conferences.

[1] In the 1880s, Jenolan began to emerge as a genuine tourist destination.

[2] Fairy tales, fables and legends by Beatrice Wilcken can be accessed online

All illustrations from (accessed 16 March 2015)

21 people like this post.