Women’s History Seminars

Institute of Historical Research
University of London
Senate House
Malet Street

All are welcome.  No need to book.

All seminars at 17.15, IHR Room N301 (Third Floor, Pollard Room) (unless stated otherwise)


28 September 2018

Louise Ryan (Sheffield) The Irish Votes for Women Movement and the tricky relationship with British Suffragists

While there was much that united Irish and British suffragists, not least their shared campaign for the vote from the Westminster parliament, it would be wrong to underestimate the important differences between these two movements.  British women were fighting for enfranchisement from their own parliament, even though the government did not represent the voices of women, however, for women in Ireland the situation was more complex.  At the height of the Home Rule campaign, Irish suffragists had to negotiate a tricky path between women’s rights to citizenship and the nation’s right to self-determination.  This situation was further complicated by the presence of significant numbers of unionist suffragists, in both the North and South of the country, who opposed Irish separation from the United Kingdom.  Thus, despite close cooperation and often shared campaigning, it is important to appreciate the contextual differences between the suffrage movements in Ireland and Britain.  The specificity of the Irish political context cannot be ignored and seriously complicated the enfranchisement campaign on the entire island of Ireland.  Demanding immediate enfranchisement from Westminster, suffragists in Ireland were determined to have their say about the political future of their own country.


12 October 2018

Jess Clark (Brock University, Ontario) “A Little Girl’s Lavender Bags”: British women and scent in the Great War

With the outbreak of war in August 1914, British citizens launched a range of initiatives to accumulate goods and funds for the war effort. This included the production, sale, and distribution of lavender bags as an allegedly effective—and practical—means of aiding those deployed on the Western Front. This talk explores the work of elite women and girls in circulating a traditional British scent. It places women and children’s lavender selling and shipping within a broader symbolic economy operating in times of war, which included debates over soldier “luxuries” versus “necessities.” By exploring historical understandings of lavender’s utility, I consider the gendering of such items and the ways this informed perceptions of their distributors in the early twentieth century. In the case of lavender, its prewar luxury associations served as fodder for those who deemed it “not particularly useful” or superfluous in times of need. Despite firsthand testimonials from soldiers and nurses praising lavender gifts, the item’s connections to elite, feminine consumption shaped understandings of its worth and especially in the context of war.


26 October 2018

Meg Foster (University of New South Wales/Cambridge University) Redefining a Woman’s Success; what the life of a nineteenth century, female, Australian Aboriginal outlaw can teach us about women’s place in the history books 

From the standpoint of the present, the life of nineteenth century Australian Aboriginal woman, Mary Ann Bugg, appears ripe for historical investigation. As the partner of white bushranger (Australian highwayman), Captain Thunderbolt, Mary Ann endangered white lives and properties when she helped her spouse on his daring escapades. She rode and dressed like a man, butchered cattle and undertook strenuous physical labour, but no one could deny that she was still very much a woman. Her feminine beauty did not escape the attention of contemporaries, her children accompanied her and Thunderbolt through the bush, and colonial newspapers referred to Mary Ann in the same way that she described herself; as ‘the Captain’s Lady’.

In Australia today, bushrangers are remembered as folk heroes, and white men who plied this nefarious trade are remembered as national legends, associated as they are with bravery, chivalry and ridiculing inept or corrupt authorities. There is a contemporary push to place Mary Ann alongside her bushranging spouse as part of the Australian bushranging legend. And while this attempt at historical redress is important, there are problems involved in trying to fit Mary Ann into the white, masculinist bushranging mythos.

This paper explores the issues involved in ‘rescuing’ women such as Mary Ann from historical obscurity, especially where issues of national identity and colonialism are concerned. It asks whether the needs of the present can lead to an ahistorical rendering of the past, whether the dominance of Anglo-Australian traditions invalidates other forms of knowledge, and in light of this discussion, whether we, as historians, should rethink what we consider to be an historical actor’s ‘success’. For as this paper  progresses it will become clear that there is far more to Mary Ann’s life than her bushranging career, and far more to her identity than simply being ‘the Captain’s Lady.’


Thursday, 1st November Joint Seminar with Food History Seminar

5.30 North American History Room

Jacqueline Castledine (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) Gendered Food Politics in the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement

The relationship between food and direct-action protest in the modern U.S. civil rights movement was famously explained in activist Ella Baker’s 1960 article “Bigger than a Hamburger.” Published just two months after the student-led lunch counter sit-in movement began in Greensboro North Carolina, Baker argued that, although they targeted lunch-counter service, “current sit-ins and other demonstrations are concerned with something much bigger than a hamburger.” College-aged members of the Congress of Racial Equality who risked their lives sitting in were, in the words of Baker, “seeking to rid America of the scourge of racial segregation and discrimination- not only at lunch counters, but in every aspect of life.”

This paper argues that historians have been slow to consider how food also provided African American women specific and unique opportunities for civil rights activism.  Examining black-owned New Orleans restaurants as sites of political organizing reveals that female employees exploited assumptions about women’s labor- especially its “nurturing” characteristics- while they quietly helped guide radical change. In these community “third spaces” where organizers met to plan transgressive acts, waitresses collected contributions to the movement, and cooks nourished the bodies of those fighting segregation on the front lines, women demonstrated their understanding that food was a powerful political resource. Although their work was not as visible as the activism immortalized in civil rights-era photos of lunch-counter sit-ins, this research suggests that it proved vital to sustaining the movement.

AND

Philip Carstairs (Leicester) “A very savoury and substantial repast”?  Dining experiences at nineteenth-century soup kitchens

During the long nineteenth century, many, if not most, of Britain’s urban poor will have had recourse to one of the many hundreds of charitable soup kitchens which almost every winter appeared like mushrooms in the urban landscape.  This paper will discuss the technologies of large-scale soup production, the recipes for, and perceptions of, soup and explore the social relations that soup kitchens engendered in Georgian and Victorian England.


9 November 2018

Sarah Knott (Indiana/Oxford) First Sleep, Second Sleep, Solitary Sleep?: Maternal Nights in Britain and North America since the Seventeenth Century

We inherit two grand narratives about sleep. One is the shift from an early modern bi-phasic regime to a modern single night of eight hours, an account largely blind to concerns of gender or maternity. The other, told especially by researchers concerned about infant mortality, is the rise of solitary sleep, in which mothers and infants came to sleep apart. This paper draws on British and North American histories to explore the possibilities for a gendered and feminist history of maternal sleep since the seventeenth century.


23 November 2018

Carmen M. Mangion (Birkbeck) ‘the most unliberated women in the world’? Searching for feminism in British Catholic convents in the long 1960s

In 1972, Alan Whicker (1921-2013), the British journalist, television presenter and broadcaster, entered, with his television crew, the silent, hidden world of the cloister. As part of his television series entitled ‘Whicker within a woman’s world’, he had secured permission to film what became a 26 minute television programme on the Poor Clares, an enclosed Catholic community of nuns he introduced to British audiences as ‘the most unliberated women in the world’. This paper asks whether British nuns and sisters were as ‘unliberated’ as Whicker suggests. It begins by examining the discovery of ‘womanhood’ by sisters and nuns in the 1960s and suggests that this ‘new’ identity and the search for ‘women’s place’ in the church led to a subtle, but more feminist understanding of women’s oppression within the Catholic Church. It examines how consciousness-raising occurred within convent spaces, despite the obstacles of matriarchical hierarchies and patriarchal structures. It explores the subtle ways in which individual women religious responded to their growing feminist consciousness.

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


Women’s History Seminar Webpage

Institute of Historical Research location webpage

 No booking necessary.  An ical file is attached in case you find it useful > IHR_Womens_History_Seminar_Autumn_2018

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