Women’s History Seminar: January – March 2017

Women’s History Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, Senate House, Malet Street

IHR at 17.15 in Room N301 (Pollard Room) 

All are welcome

Friday, 20 January 2017: Charmian Mansell (Exeter)  Domestic service?  The experiences of female servants in early modern communities

    Service was a typical and defining experience for young women in early modern England.  Ann Kussmaul estimates that around 60 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds were employed as servants, working in rural and urban, rich and poor households across the country in exchange for wages and bed and board.  Female service is typically studied in a domestic context. The working, social and religious lives of these women and the relationships they established are considered almost exclusively within the home.  The ‘separate spheres’ model continues to underpin the way in which female servants are studied. 

This paper challenges this framework using depositional evidence from church courts to demonstrate the range of spaces that female servants moved between, both within and outside of the household.  Domestic space was just one setting in which female service took place and was not the closed-off, isolating environment that historians have suggested.  Neighbours, friends and suitors were among an assortment of people who passed in and out of the home on a regular basis.  Beyond the home, female servants socialised and engaged with the community in streets, fields, churches, fairs and markets.  They undertook work that removed them from the home and brought them into contact with a diverse range of people.  This paper places servants at the heart of the neighbourhoods in which they lived and the parishes to which they belonged, and in turn, reevaluates our understanding of early modern communities.

Friday, 3 February 2017: Alexandra Hughes-Johnson (RHUL) ‘Reunite without delay’: The Suffragettes of the Women’s Social and Political Union

    With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, suffrage activists saw an end to WSPU militancy. Their leadership elected to take a patriotic stance with regard to the conflict and welcomed an amnesty for all political prisoners. Nevertheless, the decision of the WSPU leadership to suspend militant activity and to cease using the union as a platform to campaign for women’s suffrage was a choice that alienated many WSPU members. Consequently, this diversion contributed to the establishment of a small number of wartime suffrage organisations. One of these wartime suffrage organisations, which has received only limited scholarly attention, is The Suffragettes of the WSPU (a breakaway organisation founded by Rose Lamartine Yates in December 1915). Accordingly, this paper seeks to begin to breach this research gap. This will be achieved through the analysis of Rose Lamartine Yates’ personal papers, in tandem with a range of contemporaneous regional, national and suffrage publications. This investigation will also explore the origins of the SWSPU, the daily activities of its members, the relationship of the SWSPU to other wartime suffrage organisations (such as the Independent WSPU) and ultimately will assess the contribution of the SWSPU to the wider fight for women’s enfranchisement during World War One.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Julie Hardwick (Texas), Intimacy, Emotion and the Social World of Young People in an Early Modern City

    Young male and female workers in a major early modern city, Lyon, developed relationships that were saturated with physical intimacy and strong emotions in the decade or so between leaving home and getting married.  This paper explores how the practices and conventions of pre-marital intimacy between emerging adults framed licit desire for young women as well as men, and choreographed the progression of relationships from walking out to sex to marriage (or not) though public and private spaces as well as through promises and coercion.

Friday, 3 March 2017: Alison Twells (Sheffield Hallam) The beautiful Frankie Soo: Class and Sexuality in the 1938 Diary of a Scholarship Girl

    This paper focuses on issues of agency and voice in the 1938 Charles Letts’ Schoolgirl’s Diary belonging to a working-class scholarship girl at a prestigious grammar school. The paper discusses the diarist’s engagement with the proscribed content of the commercially-produced diary and moves on to explore the ways in which she makes space for her own interests, which include middlebrow fiction, Hollywood films, Derby County Football Club and celebrity sportsmen. My wider concern in this paper is to consider  the issue of how we read agency in such ‘ordinary’, non-literary, daily and ‘unstoried’ writing (Sinor, 2002). I am particularly interested in the construction of the author’s schoolgirl self in the spaces of her diaries and, through this, in beginning to complicate understandings of ‘class transition’.

Friday, 17 March 2017: Olivia Robinson (Oxford) Travelling Ayahs and Amahs: Navigating Victimhood and Agency

    In the early twentieth century, ayahs and amahs were a familiar sight on board ships, employed to care for the children of British families as they travelled to and from ‘home’. The literature, however, only interprets their experiences once on British soil, positioning them as victims of an inequitable colonial system, abandoned by their employers and in need of rescue. This paper moves the focus away from the metropole towards an ayah-centred understanding of the entire journey between sites of empire. This shift in perspective enables a richer understanding of the ayahs’ experiences both as racial and gendered ‘others’ and as agents who turned their situations to their own advantage.

Conveners: Dr Kelly Boyd (IHR), Dr Anna Davin, Dr Lucy Delap (Cambridge), Dr Amy Erickson (Cambridge), Professor Laura Gowing (KCL), Professor Clare Midgley (Sheffield Hallam), Professor Jinty Nelson (KCL), Dr Krisztina Robert (Roehampton), Professor Pat Thane (KCL/ICBH), Professor Cornelie Usborne (IHR/Roehampton)

Women’s History Seminar webpage

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