Young Adult Literature – Censoring Teenage Sexual Autonomy

 - by whnadmin

Young Adult Literature as a genre came to be a ‘publishing phenomenon’ only as late as the 1960s and 1970s. A sub-genre of so-called ‘problem novels’ quickly emerged, most often aimed at young women and focusing on ‘divorce, drugs, alcohol- or problems associated with social life, sexual experience, and physical development.’[1] By the early 1980s, writers including Judy Blume and Norma Klein, who wrote in an adolescent rhetorical style and explored bodily, sexual, and reproductive themes that spoke directly to girls’ experiences, began gaining recognition for their literary contributions.[2] However, at the same time, others began efforts to have such works removed from bookshop and library shelves and kept away from young eyes.

The emergence of this branch of morality policing is not surprising given the context of Reagan’s Right in the 1980s. Judy Blume describes how ‘almost overnight, following the presidential election of 1980, the censors crawled out of the woodwork, organized and determined.’[3] One of the most notable aspects of this ‘wave of censorship’ was its unification of local, state, and national levels of discourse. National conservative groups including the Moral Majority and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum engaged with conservative thinkers in libraries and bookshops by encouraging more attention to what children and teenagers were reading.[4] Independently, ‘other objections to books were…of local origin.’[5] In November of 1984, trustees of the school district of Peoria, Illinois voted to ban three novels by Judy Blume (Blubber, Deenie, and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t) from the city’s public school libraries, ‘on the ground that the books’ strong language and sexual content were inappropriate for children under thirteen who might gain access to them.’[6]  A Peoria resident defended this decision in the Southeast Missourian: “It’s not as if we’re taking all the Judy Blume books and putting them in a bonfire.”[7] The assertion here was that what was happening was not total censorship in a way that impinged on First Amendment rights or echoed McCarthy era communist witch-hunts, but merely a normal concern for ‘childhood innocence.’

Other documented cases of censorship of young adult literature are demonstrative of what censors were reacting to within these texts. In a 1993 speech, Judy Blume recalled giving three copies of her 1970 coming-of-age novel Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret to her son’s elementary school, then later realizing that they had ‘never reached the shelves’ as ‘the male principal decided on his own that they were inappropriate for elementary school readers because of the discussion of menstruation…never mind that many fifth and sixth grade girls already had their periods.’[8] Blume cites a reason commonly given for wanting to ban her books as ‘sexuality (which means anything to do with puberty).’ [9] It might be assumed that these were in fact specific reactions to the stories being about young women acting with sexually agency. Individual complaints substantiate this. A male principal deemed Blume’s novel Deenie ‘unsuitable for young readers because in the book Deenie masturbates… It would be different if it was a boy.’[10] Norma Klein’s experience of censorship also reflects the highly gendered nature of the critique. In her essay ‘On Being a Banned Writer,’ Klein discussed a letter she received in complaint of her work in 1983. The writer of the letter was shocked that, in the novel Breaking Up, a fifteen-year-old girl ‘dates without asking her parents’ permission,’ and ‘makes a big deal about how special it was that she “saved” herself for a boy she really loved…I always thought girls were to save themselves for the man they married!’ [11] A pervasive consternation among such critics was that the books would influence the behavior of young readers: ‘challengers seemed to believe that what kids read about, they were sure to do….(it) represents a deep fear of the power, sexual and otherwise, of the young.’[12]

The novels themselves give more clues as to what might have triggered this level of censorship. The greatest influence on the young, female characters is undoubtedly women’s liberation. In Klein’s Beginner’s Love, the protagonist muses: ‘Leda says if men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. She read that in some feminist magazine.’[13] The plots reflect what Joan Jacobs Brumberg has called the ‘brief moment’ in American history where there were ‘few sexual constraints on sexually active girls.’[14] In the novels by Blume, Klein, et al, ‘two nice kids, in love, have sexual intercourse and no one dies.’[15] In both Blume’s Forever and Klein’s It’s Ok if you Don’t Love Me, the male love interests are the ones left alone, the girls having moved on and embodied the traditionally ‘masculine’ relationship role. The young women in these books enjoy sex, and their experiences are discussed in detail. Crucially, they enjoy sex as just one component of a rounded lifestyle, as with Blume’s Sybil: ‘Sybil Davison has a genius IQ and has been laid by at least six different guys.’[16] In flagrant disregard of conservatives’ disapproval of sexual education, Blume and Klein wrote their characters as constantly seeking this out, as with Katherine in Forever, who talks through her contraceptive options with her grandmother. They have an almost utopian level of support from their families, teachers and friends in their quest for sexual knowledge. However, this reveals urban and class dimensions that may have alienated more readers than just potential censors. Much of the freedom the young women are afforded is due to their upper-middle-class backgrounds and their East Coast location. For instance, Forever’s Katherine is able to take public transport in to Manhattan to visit Planned Parenthood and obtain birth control on her own. This critique links this debate to the wider dispute over the historical significance of the sexual revolution; as bell hooks writes in Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, ‘most women did not have the leisure, mobility, etc. to be sexually “free.”[17]

Ultimately, the sexual freedom experienced by the young women in these books was so at odds with the ubiquitous desire to silence discourse on teenage female sexuality in the 1980s that it is unsurprising that these novels were so widely contested at this moment in history.

Charlie Jeffries (c) January 2015

[1]Lucy Rollin, Twentieth-Century Teen Culture by the Decades: A Reference Guide (Westport; London: Greenwood Press, 1999), p. 266.

[2]Mallory Szymanski, ‘Adolescence, Literature, and Censorship: Unpacking the Controversy Surrounding Judy Blume,’ The Neo-Americanist 3 (Spring/Summer 2007), p. 6.

[3]Judy Blume, Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers (New York: Simon Pulse, 2001) p. 5.

[4]‘Book Banning in America,’ The New York Times, December 20, 1981.

[5]Leonard S. Marcus, The Minders of Make Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), p. 303.

[6]Marcus, Minders, p. 303.

[7]‘School Board Reverse Blume Book Ban,’ Southeast Missourian, December 6, 1984.

[8]Judy Blume ‘Is Puberty a Dirty Word? (Adapted from a speech given at conference, ‘The Sex Panic: Women, Censorship, and Pornography’ May 7-8, 1993), New York Law School Law Review 38 (1993), p. 38.

[9]Blume, ‘Is Puberty a Dirty Word?’ p. 38.

[10]Blume, ‘Is Puberty a Dirty Word?’ p. 38.

[11]Norma Klein, ‘On Being a Banned Writer,’ The Lion and the Unicorn 10 (1986), p. 19.

[12]Rollins, Teen Culture, p. 301.

[13]Norma Klein, Beginner’s Love (London: Pan Horizons, 1986), p. 168.

[14]Joan Jacobs Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of Teenage Girls (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), p. 185.

[15]Peter Gorner interview with Judy Blume, ‘The Giddy/sad, Flighty/solid Life of Judy Blume’, Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1985.

[16]Judy Blume, Forever, (London: Pan Horizons, 1986), p. 5.

[17]bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Cambridge: South End Press, 2000), p. 148.

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Who Was Miss Hooper?

 - by whnadmin

ms hooper

Who was Miss Hooper?

 Copyright: Larry Herman


My parents met Gertrude Hooper when they were out walking in the Preseli Mountains, in 1970, and my father photographed her with her sheepdog in the snow that day.

Caught at that moment by the camera, she’s always appeared afraid of any contact. She makes an intriguing sight, wrapped up against the elements. You can’t see her face, but this isn’t the only source of mystery – there is also wonder about what she’s doing out there in the hills and how she can even survive, seemingly against the odds. A woman alone in the bitter cold, she seems almost to be a relic from the past.

Gertrude was around 66 years old when the photo was taken and she was living in the fireplace (they say) of the nearby farm – by all accounts the only part of the house that was robust at this stage as the rest had been neglected for decades by then and was dilapidated.

The Women’s History Network told me that many other farmhouses in the area had also fallen into disrepair and been abandoned as industrial changes took hold over the 20th century and took their toll on farming.

For hundreds of years, small scale sheep farmers and graziers have lived out in the Preseli Mountains surviving bitter conditions to make a scarce living and forming a part of the scattered rural communities of Pembrokeshire. Historians have told me that across England and Wales, many small farmers and graziers are women, but that they are often widows, which is not the case with Miss Hooper.

When Gertrude died in 1985 she was 80, and she was buried in Little Newcastle, not a mile from where she was born. By then she had lived for almost fifty years on her own in the hills where my parents had that encounter with her years before. She had lived through a tumultuous time, with the century’s world wars and far-reaching socio economic shifts in the region. One small life, through which history can be told.

Melissa Rees Herman (c) December 2014

Melissa Rees Herman is an independent filmmaker, making a film based on the life of Pembrokeshire sheep farmer Miss Gertrude Hooper. The film is Melissa Rees Herman’s attempt to put together some of the pieces of the elusive Miss Hooper, who lived an extraordinary life.

Please get in touch with Melissa Herman if you have any information about Gertrude Agnes Hooper (1905-1985). She is also interested in Pembrokeshire life during the first half of the 20th Century, particularly women and farming, women on their own, education, culture and the Eisteddfod, and especially first hand accounts.

Melissa Rees Herman’s email address is

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UNRELENTING BACKLASH – Depoliticising Male Violence Against Women: Part 3

 - by whnadmin

Cont from Parts 1 & 2

The politics of male sexuality has been successfully obliterated and the term “sexual consent” is supposedly key to ensuring male sexual violence is not inadvertently (sic) perpetrated against women and girls! Conveniently erased is the fact girls and boys do not grow up in a vacuum; they are inundated with incessant misogynistic messages of male sexual entitlement to females via mainstream media, men’s pornography industry and popular culture. Men’s male supremacist legal institutions continue to justify/excuse/deny male accountability by claiming existing laws on rape are “gender neutral” rather than created from the male lived experience. And it is thought that focusing on teaching girls and boys individually about “sexual consent” will somehow magically erase embedded institutional structures and systems which normalize male eroticisation of sexual power over women and girls and uphold dominant beliefs that males are never accountable for their sexual actions, behavior or choices!

Implementation of gender neutrality is an insidious form of male denial of institutional and individual male domination and control over women. Currently in the United Kingdom specialist feminist refuge services are being denied central government funding and instead non-specialist generic service providers are being awarded contracts by central government to operate these refuges. Some areas of the UK have already experienced existing refuge centers being shut down, leaving women with nowhere to go. Instead non-specialist services are taking over and they are generic meaning there is no recognition whatsoever that intimate partner violence is not symmetrical whereby equal numbers of women and men are subjected to the same violence. The politics of how and why innumerable men inflict violence in all its forms on their female partners is being erased by claims of “gender neutrality”.

Why is this happening? Sadly various feminist organisations have fragmented and there is currently no collective activism opposing male controlled government policies which refuse to accept women and men are not symmetrically situated or have equal access to socio-economic means. Without a strong feminist collective this enables male supremacist policies to be enacted without any opposition. Also, as a result of dependence on central government funding, these once grassroots feminist organisations which not only provided specialist support to female survivors of male violence, but also operated to campaign for real social change concerning male violence against women had to cease this function and instead become “State funded liberal agencies…..promoting self-help and healing.” (Mardorssian, 2002: 771).

Men’s demands for gender neutrality/formal gender equality are formulated on the male presumption that women and men should be equally treated according to standards developed from the life experiences of men, when in reality women and men are differently situated. (Kaye and Tolmie: 1998: 166) Men’s rights/interests are equated with defining their own interests as those of society as a whole. This is why men believe they are not a “group or gender” because their sex is the generic standard for humanity whereas women are “other”. Therefore, men’s interests and perspectives are perceived as “neutral” whereas women’s interests/rights are biased. (Johnson: 2005: 157)

The situation concerning pandemic male violence against women and girls is dire because men’s backlash against women has been ongoing for more than two decades. Not only has male violence against women been successfully depoliticised individualism is now dominant wherein men claim that women and men are symmetrically situated and women magically have limitless choices and agency. Each act of male violence against women supposedly happens because the woman made a wrong choice or failed to enact her agency! This ensures the focus is on individual women rather than how society operates whereby male created institutions and structures remain in place and maintain male domination over women.

How do we challenge this cacophony of different voices all claiming that women have achieved equality with men, men are the real victims, violence is a human problem not a gendered political one, etc.? One of the central issues is the fact many feminist organisations have capitulated to men’s demands and men’s interests because they know men will punish them for challenging male power. But these feminist organizations have forgotten our herstory which tells us that an individual woman cannot successfully challenge male power but women enmass will change the world! Radical feminists have to keep on speaking the truth about male violence against women as men won’t willingly relinquish their institutional and individual power over women.

Jennnifer Drew (c) November 2014


Phillips D. and Henderson, D. 1999: A Discourse Analysis of male violence against women. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 69, 1:116-21.

Strauss, M.A. 1990: Physical Violence In American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,154 families, ed. M.A.

Strauss and R.J. Gelles 75-91, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers.

Kaye, M. and Tolmie, J. 1998: The Rhetorical Devices of Fathers’ Rights Groups, Melbourne University Law Review 22: 162-94.

Johnson, A.G. The Gender Knot: Unravelling Our Patriarchal Legacy, Rev. ed. Philadelphia, Temple University Press.

“UNRELENTING BACKLASH – How MaleViolence Against Women Continues To Be Depoliticised” at:  ~~~~~~~~ Rain and Thunder: Issue 60 (Fall/Winter 2014): Themed Issue on Violence Against Women: Strategizing a Radical Response for the 21st Century

Continued from ‘Unrelenting Backlash …’ Part 2, (accessed 1 January 2015)


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UNRELENTING BACKLASH – Depoliticising Male Violence Against Women: Part 2

 - by whnadmin

Continued from ‘Unrelenting Backlash – Depoliticising Male Violence Against Women: Part 1′

Likewise academic reports, papers, and research findings all invisibilise the male agent and perpetrator. Philips and Henderson (1999) analysed a sample of articles on the subject of male violence published in popular and scientific journals between 1994 and 1996. Out of a total of 165 summaries and 11 articles the phrase “male violence” was mentioned only eight times whereas words such as rape, abuse, violence and domestic violence appeared 1,044 times. These researchers also noted that the sex of the victim was commonly stated by words such as “female or woman” and “abuser/perpetrator” was stated 327 times rather than the words “man/male”.

Phillips and Henderson’s conclusion was that “when the sex of the perpetrator is not specified and the violence described only includes the identity of the female victim; male violence against women is constituted as a problem of women.” Moreover in the articles considered in this study, code words such as domestic violence, marital violence, and family violence used to describe the exclusively male violence against women actually convey the message that women are as violent as men.” (Philips and Henderson, 1999: 20). Therefore it is acceptable to talk about violence but never about “male violence”.

One of the central tenets arising from the Women’s Movement in the 1970’s was naming men as those responsible for committing violence against women because feminists recognised that not naming the perpetrators ensures society’s focus is on scrutinising women and blaming them for supposedly provoking or causing male violence against them. Naming men as the agents responsible directly challenges male power over women.

The Women’s Movement sought to eradicate misogynistic male created myths which blamed women for male sexual violence committed against them. However, pandemic women blaming has once more become dominant and widely accepted as “common sense.” Men’s rights activists and non-feminists have successfully promoted the lie that male sexual predators are the “real victims” and women are the sexual predators/perpetrators!

The infamous Steubenville Rape Case is not unique, rather it is a snapshot of what commonly happens wherein patriarchal reversal is enacted to hide male accountability. Males charged with sexual crimes against females are portrayed as “the innocent victims whose lives have been destroyed by nasty vindictive, lying women/girls who falsely accuse innocent males of rape/male sexual violence perpetrated against them.” Rapes and male sexual violence against women and girls are, according to male rape apologists, as rare as the unicorn, whereas females falsely charging males with rape/male sexual violence is a pandemic! In addition public service messages emanating from various government institutions and mainstream media articles are all fixated on curtailing women’s right of freedom of movement and holding them personally accountable for their own safety.

Propaganda messages to women and girls tell them they must not go out alone after dark and they must not wear revealing clothing because this provokes males into subjecting them to male sexual violence. Women must not consume alcohol in public because female consumption of alcohol tells men “the woman is sexually available to them”! Any woman who is attacked by a male anywhere irrespective of whether or not it was in the public sphere or private domain she, not the male perpetrator, is accountable because she failed to enact sufficient safety measures!

The Women’s Movement in the 1970’s challenged pandemic female victim blaming and analysed how and why innumerable males commit sexual violence against women and girls and deny their accountability. Male sexuality as a social construction was subjected to feminist analysis and feminists recognised men accord themselves male (pseudo) sex right of access to females by claiming their sex is not accountable, because women alone are responsible for gate keeping supposedly insatiable and uncontrollable male sexual desire. The Women’s Movement challenged male myths that “rape is about power not sex” because feminists recognised rape and male sexual violence against women is overwhelmingly about male eroticisation of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls. Many feminist organisations specialising on challenging (male) violence against women and girls focus solely on calling for educational reforms in order to teach girls and boys about “sexual consent”.

Jennifer Drew (c) November 2014

Continued from ‘Unrelenting Backlash – Depoliticising Male Violence Against Women: Part 1′ (accessed 27 December 2014)


Phillips D. and Henderson, D. 1999: ‘A Discourse Analysis of male violence against women’. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 69, 1:116-21.

Strauss, M.A. 1990: Physical Violence In American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,154 families, ed. M.A. Strauss and R.J. Gelles, pp. 75-91, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers.

Kaye, M. and Tolmie, J. 1998: ‘The Rhetorical Devices of Fathers’ Rights Groups’, Melbourne University Law Review 22: 162-94.

Johnson, A.G. The Gender Knot: Unravelling Our Patriarchal Legacy, Rev. ed. Philadelphia, Temple University Press.

Thank you to Dr Lynette J. Dumble for permission to reprint this article from GSN (Global Sisterhood Network) and to ‘Rain and Thunder’ for the original publication of the article by Jennifer Drew.

“UNRELENTING BACKLASH – How Male Violence Against Women Continues To Be Depoliticised” at: ~~~~~~~~ Rain and Thunder: Issue 60 (Fall/Winter 2014): Themed Issue on Violence Against Women: Strategizing a Radical Response for the 21st Century

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UNRELENTING BACKLASH – Depoliticising Male Violence Against Women: Part 1

 - by whnadmin


The Women’s Movement of the 1970’s succeeded in making male violence against women a visible political issue, showing how men employ violence to maintain and justify male domination over all women. It is not necessary for all men to commit violence against women because the incessant threat of male violence supported by men’s institutions and structures is sufficient in itself to maintain male domination over all women. Feminists during the 1970’s revealed how individual violent men are accorded impunity to inflict violence upon women and how male controlled institutions such as the law and male controlled political systems operate to justify, excuse and deny systemic male violence against women and girls. Radical feminists during the 1970’s created rape crisis centers and women’s refuges to support women who had been subjected to male violence. These rape crisis centers and refuges were not merely “service centers”;   rather they were grass roots organisations enabling women collectively to campaign against male violence against women and demand real political and social changes to curb men’s socio-economic power over women.

As a result new laws and social practices were introduced by governments which were designed to prevent male violence against women and provide justice for the female victims of male violence. However, these laws and social practices have all to commonly been ineffective and instead are used to blame the female victims and mitigate male violence against women.



The male backlash against feminist demands for an end to male violence against women was swiftly enacted. Forty years after the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970’s, currently we are in a situation where men’s rights activists are using myriad ways to maintain men’s fiction that male violence against women is not a political method of maintaining and justifying male supremacy over women on a global scale. Whilst it is now acceptable for society to openly recognise that (male) violence against women exists, there is the corollary that each report is portrayed as just another isolated incident and/or the male perpetrators were in thrall to uncontrollable emotions. Lethal intimate male partner violence against women is reported by mainstream media as “a family tragedy” because the male perpetrator was “a family man driven to despair by outside influences such as debt, unemployment and/or marital disputes”. The term “marital dispute” implies that the female victim was partially responsible for causing her own death because she had a dispute with her male/ex male partner. Such claims mitigate and erase men’s choice and men’s agency to take lethal revenge against their female/ex female partner and/or her children.

Mainstream media ensures there is  no “connecting the dots” by asking why do not these men leave and move on with their lives? Or why do they make the choice to murder their female/ex female partners and/or her children prior to committing suicide? Given these men are supposedly “devoted family men” why do they make the choice to murder children they have fathered and supposedly love? These questions must not be asked because it would mean focusing on male ownership of women and their children.

All these men believe and enact male supremacist ideology that once a male has entered into a sexual relationship with a woman she and any resulting children are the man’s private property. Only the man has the right of ending the sexual relationship, not the woman;  so when a woman dares to end her relationship with the man she must be punished and all too commonly her children, too. The issue is about male ownership of women and children. Mainstream media is male owned and male dominated and hence is an effective male propaganda tool. The mainstream media maintains the fiction that men are now the oppressed group because of supposedly feminist, man-hating initiated laws and social policies denying men their lawful right of male control/male ownership over women and children.

But it is not just mainstream media which depoliticises pandemic male violence against women.

Innumerable documents and policies produced by international bodies such as the United Nations and national governments all enact the same hiding strategies. These policies, documents, and reports all reference “violence against women” and/or the latest euphemistic term “gender based violence against women”! The term “gender based violence against women” does not inform the reader who is responsible for committing violence against women. “Gender” is a descriptive term, not a human entity. “Gender” cannot commit violence against women so who is being protected by not being named? Perhaps it is women because “gender” is commonly perceived as attributable to women since men have always claimed male as the default generic human and hence no need to name men/males as men/males. Yet obviously the entities being protected are men because naming men/males as the perpetrators will immediately instigate a male backlash of claims “you are demonising men” or “not all men are violent”. Because men are the dominant class they accord themselves the right to define when and if men will be named. Instructively, men appear only when the issue concerns male/female equality such as “treating men and women equally”. When men are held accountable they always disappear: men are the absent male presence.

Jennifer Drew (c) November 2014

Continued as Parts 2 and 3 …


Phillips D. and Henderson, D. 1999: ‘A Discourse Analysis of male violence against women’. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 69, 1:116-21.

Strauss, M.A. 1990: Physical Violence In American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,154 families, ed. M.A. Strauss and R.J. Gelles, pp. 75-91, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers.

Kaye, M. and Tolmie, J. 1998: ‘The Rhetorical Devices of Fathers’ Rights Groups’, Melbourne University Law Review 22: 162-94.

Johnson, A.G. The Gender Knot: Unravelling Our Patriarchal Legacy, Rev. ed. Philadelphia, Temple University Press.

Thank you to Dr Lynette J. Dumble for permission to reprint this article from GSN (Global Sisterhood Network) and to ‘Rain and Thunder’ for the original publication of the article by Jennifer Drew.

“UNRELENTING BACKLASH – How Male Violence Against Women Continues To Be Depoliticised” at: ~~~~~~~~ Rain and Thunder: Issue 60 (Fall/Winter 2014): Themed Issue on Violence Against Women: Strategizing a Radical Response for the 21st Century

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Remembering Ellen Harris

 - by whnadmin


The late Ellen Harris (1904-1967) was President of Zonta International from 1960-62. She hailed from the Zonta Club of Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) where she and a small dedicated group of Zontians achieved extraordinary things in the 1950s and 60s. Approximately five women formed the core of the local club and together they raised funds for a number of worthy institutions in the city that are still active to this day.

Mrs Harris’s contribution to the work of Zonta, both locally and internationally, was preceded by a long distinguished career. In the 1920s and 30s, Ellen Harris played an instrumental role in organizing the Children’s Theatre Group in Winnipeg, where she grew up.  As a radio broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, she was the host of “Morning Visit” from 1944 to 1952.   Ellen Harris established herself as a public figure in Vancouver and throughout the province and participated in a number of other radio programs and broadcasts. She was also the President and driving force behind the BC Ballet Society. Dance was one of her passions.

Ellen Harris 1President Ellen Harris (right) with Mrs Vern Staaf

on a visit to Sweden in 1961  

In addition to her professional work, Mrs Harris raised a son – Richard Colebrook (Cole) Harris – and a daughter, Susan Lorraine Pond. Her children, now retired, remember their mother traveling the world during her Zonta International Presidency and have donated Zonta-related correspondence, photos and other memorabilia to the University of British Columbia (UBC) Special Collections Archives. Some of these photos, reproduced here, illustrate the early sixties as they were for middle-class women – ­­ hats, gloves, fur stoles and the occasional tiara!

The organization’s mission and work, however, was clearly consistent with Zonta’s mission which still remains to advance the status of women worldwide.   Mrs Harris dined with Heads of State and other dignitaries and, one on occasion, invited Eleanor Roosevelt to the opening ceremonies for UBC’s International House for which the Zonta Club of Vancouver, along with the Marpole Rotary Club, had raised most of the funds.

Ellen Harris 2

Left to Right – Katherine Jacobson, Incoming Governor Vivienne Worley, Outgoing Governor Beverly Augustine, Conference Chair Ellen Harris, Helen Jones, Chair of Transportation

Riding the “Zonta Hitching Post” shuttle at the District 12 convention in Lamarre (location and date unknown)

Though Ellen Harris’ work with Zonta was exciting and of significant benefit to the local and international community, her Presidency was also extremely demanding physically. She was not a robust woman and, according to her children, the toll of travel and other responsibilities contributed to her early death at the age of 63.

The Zonta Club of Vancouver invited Mrs. Harris’s daughter, Susan Pond, to speak at its 2003 annual general meeting where she recounted her mother’s work with the organization. While the Vancouver Zonta club closed a number of years ago, former members are proud to have had this distinguished woman serve as international president and are inspired to continue her work toward advancing the status of women worldwide.

Gisele Yasmeen (c) November 2014

Gisèle Yasmeen, Ph.D., is Senior Fellow, University of British Columbia – Institute of Asian Research and Former President, Zonta Club of Vancouver.



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Revisiting Home Fronts: Gender, War & Conflict – Part 3

 - by whnadmin


  Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce

Revisiting Home Fronts: Gender, War and Conflict

Women’s History Network Annual Conference, 2014


The 2014 Women’s History Network Conference took place in September at the University of Worcester. The title and theme – ‘Home Fronts: Gender, War and Conflict’ – promoted stimulating exchanges, discussion and debate on a broad range of topics, most looking at women during the First World War from a British perspective. Some papers ranged further afield.

Abstracts of papes presented by Jody Crutchley and Karen Hunt at the Conference illustrate this well. These are the third group of abstracts related to Britain and the First World War to be published on the blog. As well as raising questions and a stimulus to Conference sessions, their publication here provides an opportunty for readers to engage. Comments and discussion on the issues are invited from readers.

Robin R. Joyce (c) November 2014


“Responsibility, Duty, Sympathy and Self-Sacrifice”:

Empire and Elementary School Curricula on the Home-Front, 1914-1918

From 1870 elementary school attendance had begun to be compulsory for all British children between the ages of five and ten. This mushrooming working-class school population necessitated a new, focused approach from government, educationalists and pressure groups towards mass elementary curricula. A need arose to prepare pupils for their role as future working-class citizens of the Empire, to which the Board of Education responded with prescriptive curricula differentiated by both age and gender. By the outbreak of the Great War, however, the content and pedagogy of these curricula were often contested by both professional and political groups; especially as the perceived needs of Britain and the Empire changed in the face of new imperial and colonial challenges. Patriotic organisations increasingly regarded the schools as a ‘front’ in the years leading up to and during the Great War through which to promote their own interests and utilised the elementary curricula as a site for their wartime propaganda.

Jody Crutchley, University of Worcester © September 2014

Jody Crutchley is a PhD student at the University of Worcester, Institute of Humanities and Creative Arts. She studying Britain’s Experience of Empire, 1870-1939, her doctoral research addressing the role of the British Empire in development of the British school system and British curricula. Her thesis will contribute to current scholarship and debate that has tended to challenge and extend traditional views of Britons’ experience of empire. Locating educational development within an imperial trajectory will necessitate application of an inter-disciplinary approach. She therefore draws heavily on concepts and techniques utilised within the field of the History of Education: this means utilising a wide range of more unusual historical sources, such as school textbooks, as well as unpublished archival material within her research. Her twitter account is @jodycrutchley.


  Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce

Gendering the Local Home Front (1914 – 1919)

Histories of life in wartime tend to focus on the extraordinary and the unusual; the remembered; and what was new or different. This applies to all modern war but especially to what many see as the first truly ‘modern’ war, the Great War. However, if we change our focus to the everyday, the banal and often forgotten details of daily life, we may find that continuities are as important as changes. This is particularly the case when considering the home front. Everyday life had to go on, despite the challenges, privations and sorrows of this new kind of ‘total’ war. Yet it is clear that whichever combatant nation one looks at, there was a diversity of experience on the home front dependent on place – hence local home fronts – but also on class, on age, and particularly on gender. And that these experiences varied over time.

To understand how place (the city, the suburb, the town, the village) shaped everyday experience on the home front, it is important to draw on examples from across and beyond Britain. Further, how did everyday life on local home fronts challenge or reinforce existing gender relations? Did this have any lasting effect beyond the peculiar circumstances of wartime?

Karen Hunt, University of Keele © September 2014

Karen Hunt is Professor of Modern British History at Keele University and is currently Head of Humanities Research at Keele, as well as Chair of the Social History Society (2014-17). Her publications cover many aspects of the gendering of politics (locally, nationally and transnationally) particularly from the 1880s to 1939, including Equivocal Feminists (1996) and Socialist Women (2002)(with June Hannam). Her current research juggles a number of intersecting interests: the life and politics of Dora Montefiore; interwar women’s politics, focusing on the local and the everyday; and women and the politics of food in the First World War. She is an advisor to the AHRC/BBC World War One at Home project in the West Midlands.


  Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce


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Revisiting Home Fronts: Gender, War & Conflict – Part 2

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  Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce

Revisiting Home Fronts: Gender, War and Conflict

Women’s History Network Annual Conference, 2014


‘Revisiting Home Fronts: Gender, War & Conflict’ was the title and theme of the Women’s History Network Conference 2014, held in September at Worcester University. A large group of historians – independent scholars, affiliated with universities, holding posts in or associated with various institutions, students – undergraduate and post-graduate, spent three days presenting, debating, discussing and pondering on the role women played, primarily but not only in Britain during the First World War. Albeit – taking into account the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the ‘Great War’ – this was the major focus, some papers reflected not only on the First World War but on other major conflicts, including the Second World War.

Abstracts of papers by Jane Adams, Phillida Bunkle, Susan Cohen and Jo Ann Curtis presented at the Conference illustrate the breadth of topics. These papers are the second series of abstracts related to Britain and the First World War to be published on the blog. They raise questions that provided stimulating sessions at the Conference and that may engender further exchanges through the Blog.  Comments and discussion on the issues are invited from readers.

Robin R. Joyce (c) November 2014


 Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce

Herbs, herbalists and the home front

Within a few months of the outbreak of war in 1914 the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries issued a leaflet, The cultivation and collection of medicinal plants to encourage the growing of herbs in wartime. Commercial production had declined in Britain over the course of the nineteenth century and by 1914 demand by the pharmaceutical industry was met by supplies from German and Austrian territories. Women’s role of women in responding to the call to increase domestic production and their experiences on the home front had a profound impact in shaping British herbalism in the interwar period. The wartime campaign capitalised on the growing popularity of herb gardening in the early twentieth century, a pastime popular with female gardeners (Northcote, ‘The book of herbs’, 1912). Its leading campaigners included Ada Teetgen who published guidance for growers (Teetgen, ‘Profitable herb growing and collecting’, 1919) and Maude Grieve, who provided practical advice and tuition.

While the British state supported herb production, it discouraged the practice of medical herbalists and opposed the bill for their registration in 1923. However efforts to marginalise herbalists were undermined by the effects of the wartime campaign, including increased popular interest in growing and using herbs and better commercial networks, as well as the entrepreneurial flair of a new generation of practitioners, spearheaded by female herbalists. The Herb Society, established in 1927 by Hilda Leyel, offered members access to specialist advice while the concept ‘Culpepper’ shops offered medicinal, culinary and beauty products in modern retail settings. These initiatives reshaped the practice of British herbalists in the first half of the twentieth century.

Jane Adams, The Open University © September 2014


  Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce


Sustaining British Women’s Hospitals for Women in War and Peace

By 1914, 13 British hospitals providing medical services for women were staffed exclusively by women. Of these, six were specialist and seven were general hospitals. Together, they represented one of the most substantial and visible achievements of the Women’s Movement. The role of women doctors and nurses was widely legitimated by their high profile contribution to the WW1 war effort. But only one new women’s hospital for women was established after 1918 and the growth of the existing women’s hospitals largely stagnated. 30 years later, when these hospitals were absorbed into the NHS, they had ceased to be a significant force in women’s health.

Historians have argued that war, despite dividing the Women’s Movement, dramatically enhanced the status and options available to women. One example of attempts to maintain the momentum of feminism through war and depression can be found through examining the responses of the Elizabeth Garret Anderson Hospital, the largest and oldest women’s hospital for women, to the WW1, WW2 and the inter and post war periods of austerity. Why this relative stagnation might have occurred requires exploration, together with adaptations both to war and austerity of the management structure of the institutions and the women who worked in the hospital, especially the nursing staff.

Through a set of management accounts, attempts by the hospital to maintain the momentum of the women’s community by continuing to mobilise philanthropic support for separatist women’s institutions can be evaluated. The conclusion is that, by 1948, the hospital was, because of reliance on female funding, particularly vulnerable to the financial restraints affecting the voluntary hospitals. As well, ideological shifts created tensions in the acceptance of all woman institutions. In what ways did this affected the impact of the welfare state on women? The perception of widely shared deprivation and the high level of civilian mobilisation, commensurate with that of serving soldiers, evidenced in the example of this institution, provides an insight into the high level of acceptance of the NHS, despite meagre provision for the needs of women staff and patients.

Phillida Bunkle, Kings College London © September, 2014


  Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce

‘Angels’ or citizens: caring for the wounded on the home front

What role did women play as nurses on the Home Front, and what impact did this work have on their lives? Apart from the hundreds of qualified nurses who remained in Britain, mostly with the Territorial Force, many more women from all walks of life joined the VADs and undertook Red Cross training in basic nursing. Questions include what made the women join, what did they expect and how did they cope with the shock of the unprecedented injuries and disabilities from which the returning soldiers suffered? Accompanied by illustrations, “‘Angels’ or citizens … ” draws on the first-hand accounts of women working in the medical arena from 1914-1918, including Drs Louisa Garrett Anderson and Flora Murray, the doctors who ran the Endell Street military hospital in London. 

Susan Cohen, Independent Scholar © September, 2014


  Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce


Birmingham Women Remember: War-Work and the Home Front during the First World War

In 1981 Birmingham Museums conducted an oral history project in which participants were interviewed about their experiences of the ‘Great War’. The collection consists of over 30 interviews including 13 oral testimonies by women. The project broadly reflected the participants’ memories of daily life on the Home Front as well as the experiences of Birmingham men and women who served overseas, specifically on the Western Front. Drawing upon a selection of oral testimonies by Birmingham women, and exploring their perspectives on war-work and the Home Front during the First World War provides important insights into ‘women on the home front’.

Hence, the range of war-time work available to Birmingham women at this time highlights not only the dominance of munitions and ordnance production in the city, but also the role it played as a centre for military medicine and rehabilitation. The collection represents women who worked as munitions workers, in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), as nurses in Birmingham hospitals, as well as women who volunteered for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and saw service overseas. To a lesser extent the project explored their perspectives on motherhood, poverty, food shortages and rationing.

Oral testimonies are a prominent feature in ‘Birmingham Museum’s history galleries: Birmingham, its people and its history’, which opened in October 2012. Approaches to the use of oral testimonies particularly in relation to issues associated with memory, remembering and interpretation within the context of Birmingham’s First and Second World War narratives are vital to exploring women’s history.

Jo-Ann Curtis, Birmingham Museums Trust © September, 2014


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Revisiting Home Fronts: Gender, War and Conflict – Part 1

 - by whnadmin

 poppies.1long Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce

Revisiting Home Fronts: Gender, War and Conflict – Women’s History Network Annual Conference 2014

The breadth of topics covered by papers presented at the Women’s History Network 2014 Annual Conference is illustrated by abstracts of papers presented by Deborah Thom, Jane Berney and Sarah Bodell. These are the first of a series following on from an earlier WHN  Blog from the 2014 conference: ‘Women as Renegades: Fighting for Peace During War’, (accessed 20 November 2014)

Deborah Thom, Jane Berney and Sarah Bodell raise questions that provided stimulating sessions at the Conference. Publishing these abstracts on the WHN Blog provides the opportunity for comments and discussion from readers. Perhaps debate will not be as powerful as being at the Conference – where the excitement of multiple presentations, displays, exchanges in corridors and over lunch adds to the stimulation of the actual presentations with paper givers being present to respond. However, these are discussions worth continuing.      

Robin R. Joyce (c) November 2014


Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce


Women’s Work in the First World War: Evidence from the Accountancy Profession  

By November 1915 a quarter of ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) members and two-thirds of articled clerks had enlisted. As this was coupled with an increase in the demand for accountants particularly in the war ministries, it meant that there was a shortage of chartered accountants generally. But did this mean that women would be admitted as members of ICAEW to fill the gap? Women had been trying unsuccessfully since the 1890s to gain admission, a feat finally achieved in 1919. It is tempting but problematic to suggest that this was a fitting reward for the work performed by women during the war. In reality, however, ICAEW was forced to admit women following the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act and throughout the war the profession as a whole had resisted any attempt to admit women as members. But what is perhaps more surprising is that despite the significant numbers of women who were employed in wartime as accountants and audit clerks the number of women who applied to train as chartered accountants after 1919 can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Why should this be? The work women performed during the war and the type of women who undertook this work explains why the increase in the number of females employed as accountants in the war did not translate into a similar increase in female admissions to ICAEW after the war.

Jane Berney, Independent Scholar © September 2014poppiesflowers and paddington bear 028

Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce

Medical Missionary Women on the Home Front in the First and Second World Wars

Medical missionary women working in the slums of London on the eve of both world wars occupied a unique position through which gendered experiences of war on the Home Front can be studied today. Thousands of women worked in the capital in medical missions to the poor as physicians, nurses, dispensers, almoners, home visitors, and midwives in the early twentieth century. During times of crisis, their education and qualifications as medical professions, while being excluded from combat because of their gender, afforded these women unparalleled opportunities, both personally and professionally. Many of these women took up new positions outside medical missions – for instance, during the First World War, the head of the Bermondsey Medical Mission, Dr Selina Fox, became the first woman to be appointed governor of HM Prison Aylesbury. Many other remained in their positions within London’s medical missions working to meet the needs of their patients. During war, these ranged from frontline support of victims of air bombing raids, to material support of families who suffered more acutely in war, to the emotional and spiritual support of ‘courageous wives and mothers’. Others, yet, left the Home Front to serve as medical support staff on the frontlines of battle. This paper will explore the diverse stories of these women and their contributions to practical and emotional survival on the Home Front in the First and Second World Wars. It will show changes over time in how medical women supported the work on the Home Front and, even more importantly, how those efforts were received by those they tried to help.

Sarah Jane Bodell, University of Warwick © September 2014


Poppies at the Tower – Remembering World War I

Photography: Robin R. Joyce

Revisiting the History of the Public History of Women and War

War created instant history from 1916 and ever since the history of women and the First World War has been a synonym for thinking about a distinctive female contribution, about the politics of gender and the cultural and social history of war. Looking again at the history is a way of thinking about sources and method, thinking again about how far historians ‘disturb the ground on which they stand’ or how far they build new memorials to the past.

Deborah Thom, University of Cambridge © September 2014

Deborah Thom has taught history at Robinson College Cambridge for 27 years to social scientists, historians and students of History and Philosophy of Science. Her PhD and major book are on women’s work and the First World War and she has researched and published on feminism, education, child psychology and family. She is currently writing a book about corporal punishment in 20th century Britain and is a member of the academic advisory board for the Imperial War Museum gallery on the First World War.

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The First 40 Years – The Working Women’s Charter

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Why we need a new Working Women’s Charter


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

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



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

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

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






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

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



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

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

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





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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Pam Cox (c) October 2014


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

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







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