February 2015 – Guest Blogger Katie Hunter

After a brief hiatus, the Guest Blogs return in 2015! This month, we welcome the Steering Committee’s resident history teacher, Katie Hunter. Having contributed to and particpated in an event for school history pupils partly organised by Women’s History Scotland, Katie tells us more about this event and the benefits it has had for her pupils. The resources produced by WHS which Katie mentions continue to be available on this website for use by teachers and pupils.

In November 2013 WHS held Women, The Great War and The Vote, in association with Previously, Scotland’s History Festival and the University of Edinburgh.

The purpose of this mini-conference for schools was to assist students and teachers in their preparation for two Highers’ papers: the ‘sources’ paper on the Great War; and the essay paper ‘Rise of Democracy 1860-1918’. The event centred on the question ‘Why did some women get the vote in 1918?

Leading academics on the Scottish context: Louise Jackson, Wendy Ugolini, Esther Breitenbach, and Sarah Pedersen gave presentations. You can find a rich array of the resources they produced for pupils here.

Attached to the event was an essay prize, sponsored by Edinburgh University Press. The winner, Sean Stout, powerfully argued against the premise ‘Women received the vote in 1918 as a result of their contributions to war work’, in his prize winning essay for WHS. The essay started by sketching out the positions of various modern historians. He demonstrated a confidence in handling the core debate beyond the familiar range of ‘the textbook’. He then set up his own argument by suggesting that the ‘view that the war culminated in votes for women may well have been tactfully used by the government’ – touching on reasons why causality in this instance mattered at the time, and still matters. Sean’s final stance, as you’ll read, was to put the 1917 decision back in its context of long term political change. I know this will delight Dr Esther Breitenbach, who had generously created a detailed timeline intended to provoke these very conclusions!

An extract from Sean’s essay is provided below this blog post. Sean has gone on to study History at Advanced Higher and intends to pursue his studies at university. He was much encouraged by his prize success.

We know these resources will encourage many other Higher pupils to go beyond dipping their toes in the topic – and to really enjoy wading in deep to the arguments surrounding women’s enfranchisement.

The talking heads you will find in the Resources section present a pain free entry point to exploring the competing and complementary factors, and will give essay writers the confidence to develop arguments. Our hope is that this takes not only brings pupils exam success, but takes them further towards enjoying handling the historical nitty gritty for its own sake.

Katie Hunter
History Teacher

Introduction to Sean Stout’s First Prize Essay:

‘The Nation Thanks the Women.’ This was the phrase sprawled across billboards throughout Britain in 1918 following the Representation of the People Act, which integrated certain women over thirty into the franchise. The government produced these posters as if to say that the contributions of women to war work had secured them the right to vote. Indeed, the act passed easily with a majority consensus of 385 for, as opposed to the 55 against. Many historians have proposed differing arguments as to why women received the vote in 1918, some such as Constance Rover and Arthur Marwick agreeing that the war was a central factor behind the enfranchisement, while others like Paula Bartley focusing on the political situation as a whole and the changes that occurred over time. Bartley is in fact one to contest this idea that war acted as a turning point, saying, ‘it would be naive to believe that women received the vote solely for services rendered in the First World War.’ In addition, the importance of the suffrage movement has been the focus of historians such as June Purvis, who argue it paved the way for the enfranchisement and determined the nature of the legislation in 1918. Social and economic changes were also occurring at the time, which allowed women to become more involved and accepted within society, thus it seemed they were now eligible for the vote.


Sean has also contributed the following for inclusion in the WHS Blog.

The Women’s History Scotland conference at Edinburgh University was a very useful aid in my Higher history studies. It was interesting to hear the academics present different interpretations concerning female suffrage in Britain, which then encouraged me to undertake further research into historiographical debate. This, combined with the resources provided, gave me a much better understanding of the female enfranchisement topic, and certainly enhanced my final extended essay piece that was submitted to SQA for the Higher exam.

Having won the essay competition organised by WHS, I was fortunate to meet with Dr Wendy Ugolini who answered my questions on studying history at university, and gave me valuable feedback on the piece I’d written. (I also received a rare copy of the Edinburgh University Press book, ‘A Military History of Scotland’, for which I am very grateful.)

Overall the event developed my essay-writing confidence, introducing me to historiographical debate and improving my ability to formulate an argument with sufficient evidence and analysis. I intend to study history at university and would like to thank WHS for organising such a beneficial conference.

October 2014 – Guest Blogger Linda Fleming

Linda Fleming is a long-time committee member of Women’s History Scotland. She is co-editor, with Esther Brietenbach, Karly Kehoe and Lesley Orr, of Scottish Women: A Documentary History, 1780-1914 (Edinburgh University Press, 2013). At present, she is working as a research associate based at Glasgow University on a 3-year AHRC funded research project called The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain 1905- 2016.



I’m a lucky person because I get paid to exploit my nosiness instinct! My job as a research associate has taken me into many wee nooks and crannies of the past that others have overlooked. At the moment, I’m working on a fascinating project called the Redress of the Past, which is looking at the phenomenon of historical pageants in the last century. And by phenomenon I am not overstating as there were countless numbers of these events from 1905 onwards. This means that I get to visit libraries big and small, as well as archives, museums and galleries all over this land, looking at amazing documents, photos and all kinds of ephemera, which have so far escaped much notice from historians. It’s a three year project, but there were so many pageants that running out of time may be a constant battle.

Twentieth-century Britain was subject to regular bouts of ‘pageant fever’ when communities across the land threw themselves into staging theatrical re-enactments of historical events. These performances were once hugely popular and could attract audiences of thousands of spectators. My main remit within a larger project team is to examine those historical pageants that took place specifically in Scotland and in the north of England. So far, it’s looking like the winner of the earliest Scottish theatrical pageant goes up north to the city of Aberdeen (run by the Northern Arts Club in 1908). But many pageants were held in small towns and villages as well as in major centres of populations. Indeed some of the small events are among the most interesting because they reveal so much about the ways that even tiny, remote places took ownership of their past .

The lack of attention to modern historical pageantry is surprising really, because as this research undoubtedly shows, these events offer important insights into many aspects of how the past is remembered. Perhaps most notable of all in pageant enactments is the interaction that can be seen between local, national and imperial identities. And especially where the smaller events are concerned, a lot can be learned about the character of community life and the role played then and now by heritage in shaping views of places and their peoples. Pageants reveal a lot about who and what featured in popular historical consciousness and how these memories were shaped at different points during the 20th century.



Women were nearly always active participants in pageants and they could play prominent roles as organisers, writers and performers. Sometimes they took lead roles, for example, here’s a couple of women pageant performers from the 1934 Pageant of Ayrshire playing the parts of ‘Scotia in Chains’ clearly an allegorical role and ‘The Spirit of Ayrshire’. The ‘Spirit’ was the commentator on all of the historical action of the pageant and so was the main woman of the piece. Yet even more often, though the work they did was essential and skilled, women worked behind the scenes. It’ll come as no surprise I expect, that most costumes (and in these photos we can see that these could be elaborate!) were made by women. The expertise and labour needed to clothe hundreds of performers in historically accurate dress needed an army of seamstresses and the team of women who got together to meet this task would have had to form an organised and focussed workforce. Women in the places where pageants took place often volunteered as individuals once a call had gone out for help, but even more regularly, they were approached as members of established women’s organisations. The WRIs for example were pageant superstars! And there were many others: from local branches of the British Housewives’ Association to the Girl Guides.

My most recent foray into the archives has been focussed on the pageant capital, not just of Scotland, but also of the UK… Most people when asked cannot guess where this might have been, and if they do, they usually get it wrong!  It is none other than ARBROATH (looks like the northeast are cleaning up the prizes here!) This seaside town in Angus held no less than 18 pageants at intervals from 1947 onwards. The gender dimensions of this group of performances are particularly illuminating because, at least in the early years, there were hardly any women on either the pageant committee or taking an acting part in the main theatrical scene, which imaginatively recreated the signing of the Declaration of Scottish Independence in 1320. In press reports therefore, men hog most of the limelight…But just occasionally getting a short vote of thanks in such articles were the hundreds of Arbroath townswomen who acted busily behind the scenes and without whom the pageant would have foundered.

Where women were on show however, was in a popular auxiliary element of the Arbroath pageant ‘gala’ weeks that took place. This was the pageant procession, which usually took place on the Saturday afternoon towards the end of the week’s events and before the final performance of the pageant, and which regularly formed a mile-long parade that made its way through the town. This was the most accessible part of the pageant week and it’s clear women had some fun with it.

Here’s some examples of the scenes women choose to portray in tableau form within the procession of 1948: the story of Black Agnes was re-enacted by the Arbroath Branch of the British Housewives’ Association. The Rescue of the Crown Jewels from Dunnottar Castle in 1652 was played by the Arbroath Branch of the British Legion Women’s League, and Arbroath Business and Professional Women’s Club chose to stage a scene named Women–Then and Now (which I would love to have seen!).

This is to name only a few, for women were just as in evidence as men, for the parade at least. Arbroath Fisherwomen also took part as did one lone performer, a ‘Miss Bowman’ who anticipated Dame Judi and took on the role of Queen Victoria!


There’s one more woman I’d like to mention in respect of the Arbroath pageants in particular and this was Agnes Mure Mackenzie to show that women’s work was not always along gender stereotypical lines. Often described as ‘a great friend’ of the Arbroath pageants it was this female scholar who produced a new translation from the original Latin of the Declaration of Independence. This, I believe, was likely commissioned for Arbroath; and for many years, it was read out as part of the pageant. I’m pleased to say that Dr Mackenzie is included in the entries within the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (p.229) where it states that her work ‘has been unduly overlooked’. How very true… and also true of most of the women who worked hard the length and breadth of Britain to make these community entertainments happen. In engaging with this study, I will try to make sure that wherever I find them, they do get a moment in the limelight of the research.


If anyone reading this has any information to share about women and historical pageantry in the UK, I’d love to hear from you because nosy as I am, and great as the official archives’ catalogues sometimes are, a lot of material about pageants is very ephemeral and survives only in collections of personal papers and memorabilia. Needless to say, it can be even harder to find material on the women involved.  Just reply to this blog or drop me an email! Thanks.



Images are reproduced with the kind permission of the local studies section in the Carnegie Library, Ayr. This is one of the many libraries who have given invaluable assistance with pageant research.

WHS Schools Essay Competition

WHS, in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh’s School of
History, Classics & Archaeology, are pleased to announce Sean Stout,
St Thomas of Aquins High School, Edinburgh, as the winner of the 2014
schools’ essay competition for Higher History pupils. Sean is picture below with runner-up, Andrei Vitaliev.

Competition winner Sean is pictured with runner-up Andrei, Katie Hunter and Wendy Ugolini.


The essay competition was created to complement the WHS materials for
schools on the history of women’s suffrage. The question was
‘Why did (some) women get the vote in 1918?’ with a word limit of 1500
The judges were delighted with the quality of the entries. The judges felt
the winning essay stood out as intelligently argued, detailed and nuanced. There was an excellent introduction and strong conclusion; written style was direct, punchy and clear. There was an excellent awareness of historiographical debate and very effective use of quotation. Sean is now hoping to pursue History at university.

You can read the winning entry here :

Extended Essay Sean


September 2014 – Guest Blogger Elizabeth Ewan

Elizabeth Ewan is University Research Chair in History and Scottish Studies at the University of Guelph in Canada. She has served as a member of the WHS Steering Committee and editor of the WHS Newsletter. She was one of the co-editors of The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. Her current work focuses on gender and crime in early modern Scotland and on masculinity in Scottish history.

It has been an extraordinary month in Scotland. Whichever side people were on in the Referendum, it seems that they largely agree on the need for change and a new way forward to make Scotland a better country. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years, and from a WHS perspective, especially what part women in Scotland (including women’s historians) can play. By the end of October, there will potentially be three women serving as party leaders in Parliament (providing the two current ones survive post-Referendum upheaval).

Living in Canada for much of the time, I do not get as much coverage of Scottish political life as those of you in Scotland (although I was glued to television and radio all Referendum night!). I may be wrong in this, but it seemed to me that questions about how independence/continued union would affect women specifically were not much discussed in the media, although I know that groups such as Women for Independence were active in the campaign. Perhaps one of the outcomes of the September 18 vote will be a greater representation of women in politics as well as a greater willingness to listen to women’s voices (one can hope!)

One of the ways to increase awareness of such issues, and one in which WHS plays a major part, is by educating a new generation who are aware of the role women in both Scotland and other countries played in the past and the ways in which gendered norms and expectations affected  and continue to affect their lives.  The past two decades have witnessed a flourishing of women’s and gender history in Scotland not just in the academy but also beyond it. Projects such as the various WHS publications, and the Mapping Memorial to Women project,  http://womenofscotland.org.uk/ as well as collaboration with other groups interested in women’s history, have done a great deal to interest the general public specifically in the role of Scottish women, and older established societies such as the Saltire Society have begun to take this on board.

My own academic home, the Centre for Scottish Studies at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, is particularly fortunate to be housed in a History Department where women’s history is flourishing and gender history is routinely included in almost all our courses. This ensures that our Scottish Studies postgrads have contact with faculty, fellow postgrads, and visiting scholars interested in women in many different societies, providing a rich comparative perspective for their studies. Scottish gender history has recently gone from strength to strength among our postgrads, so that there are now six Scottish doctoral students (out of seven in total) as well as one recent and one current postdoctoral fellow working on gender topics in medieval and early modern Scotland. Their research covers topics as diverse as women and cultural patronage c.1050-1300, masculinity in fourteenth-century Scotland, marriage in the sixteenth  century, the power of women’s speech in the witch trials, and women’s role in seventeenth-century Canongate. This shared interest in gender history provides a marvellous sense of community among them and I hope we will be able to continue this focus among our postgrads in the years to come.

We have also been delighted that our graduates have found work in universities across Canada (and also outside Canada, including WHS member Elizabeth Ritchie). The ones in Canadian universities are now participating in our subversive plot to ‘Scotticize’ history departments across the country! They in turn will educate a new generation. One advantage (?) our postgrads have is that since the study of Scottish history is a very marginal field in Canada, they are constantly explaining its value. When ‘women’ and ‘gender’ are added into the equation, it ensures that they become experts on defending the value of their work! Scholars working on Scottish gender history in Canada have their own form of triple marginalization (with the medieval/early modern research of many of them perhaps adding a fourth). This marginalization has been addressed recently by the establishment of NOSH (The North American Organization of Scottish Historians.) https://www.facebook.com/pages/North-American-Organization-of-Scottish-Historians-NOSH/121326027947927?sk=info

A large proportion of the members are working on women and gender history topics. Anyone in North America working on Scottish topics is welcome to join. We are also fortunate that we enjoy the freedom to research, to learn, and to educate, a freedom which is not found everywhere in the world

I was reminded of the importance of the education of girls to the entire community and to the world’s future by an article by Julia Gillard and Cate Blanchett in the Guardian.


But the article also emphasized for me the relative invisibility in the current world’s media of the Nigerian girls, abducted while they were attending school and who have still not been rescued.


Perhaps by continuing to explore women’s lives in the past, we can contribute our part to what Malala Yousafzai, survivor of violence for advocating girls’ education, called the power of ‘one child, one teacher, one book, one pen’ to change the world. James VI spoke of the power of his pen to govern Scotland when he moved to England in the first step to unite the two realms; that pen was used in ensuring his own political power. In today’s interconnected world, the pens, both concrete and digital, of those committed to the study of women and gender, can be more powerful than ever.


Special Guest Blogger on the Referendum – Rosalind Carr

With the Scottish independence referendum on Thursday, Rosalind Carr reflects on the metaphor of the family and divorce which has been employed by contemporary politicians and commentators on both sides of the debate in a historical context.

Rosalind Carr, University of East London, has written book chapters and journal articles on women’s involvement in the union debates of the early eighteenth century. She is also the author of Gender and Enlightenment Culture in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (EUP, 2014).

Marriage, Divorce and the Referendum: a brief historical reflection

This Thursday, Scotland may divorce England. It is an interesting word ‘divorce’, and while it is not the language I would prefer to use to discuss the referendum, it is a language that has been deployed in the media, and by the Tory party especially. Last week, David Cameron declared that he would be ‘heartbroken if this family of nations was torn apart’, and informed Scots via the Daily Mail, that the UK ‘desperately wants you to stay.’ On the left too, George Galloway has warned Scots against voting Yes because divorce ‘is a nasty, acrimonious and very damaging business.’

The imagining of the Union as a family soon possibly to be broken up through a divorce initiated by one partner is not a simple metaphor to summarise a complex legal and political development, but is one laden with meaning. It is reflective of power dynamics between England and Scotland, and has a pedigree at least as long as the parliamentary union itself. The idea of Union as a marriage reflects the reality that Scotland was not an invaded and conquered nation, but by a vote in parliament joined England to form the state of Great Britain, ostensibly as a partnership of equals. However, in 1706-07, as now, Scotland was figured as the weaker party, as the wee wummin.

The conception of the Union as a marriage has not been invented by our pro-family PM. Indeed, the notion that Scotland should form a marital relationship with England in order to preserve what little power she had, indeed to preserve her very virtue, was expressed during the great public debate of pamphleteering, marching and rioting that accompanied the passage of the Act of Union through the Scottish Parliament at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

In A Letter to a Friend, Giving an Account of how the Treaty of Union has been Received Here, published anonymously in 1706 by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, the proposed British state was depicted as the product of an honourable marriage, and Scotland figured as a ‘chaste Virgin, who, because she fears her own Weakness, and want of Resolution to continue long in that Condition, prudently enters into Wedlock; by which sort of Union, she acquires the Name of being one Flesh with her Husband, yet at the same time, she remains that very numerical Honourable Person that she was before.’ This idea was informed by other, non-gendered, arguments in favour of Union. For example, William Seton of Pitmedden, argued in 1706, ‘This nation, being poor, and without force to protect its commerce, cannot reap great advantage by it, till it partake of the trade and commerce of some powerful neighbour nation.’ Just as David Cameron and others do now, A Letter to a Friend used patriarchal metaphor to emphasise Scotland’s weakness.

Over the last week, Scots and English politicians and businessmen have warned that an independent Scotland will not be able to survive economically, that she (nations are – problematically – normally she, rather than it) will be isolated and excluded from the EU. When this is combined with the language of family it is not difficult to pick up the patriarchal message, and here statements often delivered to women threatening divorce from a bullying husband can be heard; You’ll be broke if you leave me. None of our friends will speak to you. You won’t be able to look after yourself.

For many people in Scotland who intend to vote Yes on Thursday, it is the inequality of this parliamentary union in regard to democratic voice that they wish to end. We could say, if we were to adopt the metaphor and language of David Cameron, they want divorce – they want to end a patriarchal marriage. However, we need to be careful of adopting this patriarchal metaphor. Just as we should seek to move away from the feminine symbolism of the image of Mother Caledonia ‘covering herself with her royal Garment, attending the fatal Blow’, expressed in Lord Belhaven’s famous 1706 speech against the Union, so too do we need to accept that for much of the last 300 years Scotland has profited from this ‘marriage’. It has, for instance, played just as aggressive a role in the British Empire as England. Scotland has not always been a victim, though the marriage metaphor paints ‘her’ this way.

This marriage metaphor was also deployed in tracts arguing against the parliamentary union, but it was turned on its head, with England depicted as a libertine out to corrupt Scotland’s virtue. In William Wright’s, The Comical History of the Marriage Betwixt Fergusia and Heptarchus (1706), Union is depicted an unequal marriage – the selling of a modest woman to a corrupt libertine – using the characters of Fergusia and Heptarchus, anthropomorphized symbols of the sovereign kingdoms of Scotland and England. Fergusia as a symbolic feminine figure embodies Scotland’s antiquity and national virtue, while by contrast Heptarchus is ‘Young and Lusty, very opulent and Rich’, and in adulthood has done nothing but ‘commit Rapes on his Neighbours.’ In Comical History of the Marriage, an attack on national sovereignty is envisioned in terms of the violation of a symbolic feminine purity. Throughout the dialogue concerning the marriage between the two characters, issues of great importance to many Scots in 1706 were addressed, such as the position of the Presbyterian Kirk, Crown Rights, taxation, national debt and the Navigation Acts. Overall, Scotland is depicted as a virtuous woman being sold into marriage with a man whose tendencies lend themselves to abuse. To combat this, Fergusia wishes for a federal marriage in which they become one head, but retain their separate laws, customs and Parliaments.  Heptarchus, however, views this as a sham marriage, declaring, ‘No I can never be happy till you and I become one Flesh, and be intirely Incorporated,’ to which Fergusia answers, ‘You’d devour me, and burie me in the midst of Your self.’

The metaphor of Britain as a family, deployed by David Cameron and propagated in newspaper articles, is built upon the imagining of Union as marriage that began at the time of the Union’s enactment. Whether imagined as a happy or a dysfunctional (even abusive) relationship, when employed in 1706, the marriage metaphor reflected the social, political, and cultural centrality to early modern Scotland, and Britain, of a patriarchy whereby husband and father had ultimate authority in his household. The Anglo-Scottish family imagined today may be a less explicitly authoritarian one, and it has become infused with a desperate romance, as can be read from English politicians and journalists arriving en masse on trains from London, as if to apologise for previously being interested in Scotland only in the context of Edinburgh in August. That there is an inequality can be seen in the fact that it is so easy to figure the threats concerning the economy in terms of a divorce in which a woman’s financial precariousness is used to convince her to remain in a marriage that has become oppressive, or even simply unsatisfying. Just as in 1706-07, when the marriage metaphor is combined with fear, patriarchy looms large.

August 2014 – Guest Blogger Amy Tooth Murphy

Amy Tooth Murphy is an oral historian and historian of sexualities. She has recently joined the English and Creative Writing department at the University of Roehampton as Research Associate on Memories of Fiction: An Oral History, which will look at the role literature plays in our lives and life narratives. She is also co-editor of Notches: (re)marks on the history of sexuality 

‘Sun, Sand and…Stoning?: How to Plan a Lesbian Honeymoon’

My partner and I had a Civil Partnership this summer. We stood up in front of friends and family and made vows to each other, exchanged rings, had a Celtic handfasting, and signed on the dotted line to declare that we are joined in law as well as in spirit. Afterwards we ate, drank and danced with those closest to us, all coming together to celebrate our relationship. We were able to do so because of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which extends legal rights to same-sex couples, almost identical to those enjoyed by married mixed-sex couples. Such legal protections and rights were unimaginable to me as a teenager coming out in my home town in the early 1990s, when Section 28 still prevented ‘the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’.

In recent years Scotland has undergone a seismic shift in terms of legislation, as well as in cultural attitudes relating to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people. Having lagged behind England, Scotland only finally decriminalised sex between men in 1980 (1967 in England). It is entirely feasible that there are male couples in Scotland now in their 50s and in recognised Civil Partnerships who were previously arrested for those same relationships in their teens and early twenties.

My partner and I are currently planning our ‘honeymoon’, and again, because of the Civil Partnership Act, together with the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (which made it unlawful to ‘discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities, and services’) we are able to book up with a travel company offering perks and upgrades on far-flung shores for ‘newlyweds’.  In planning our ideal trip we’re asking typical holiday-maker questions like, ‘Where are the whitest sands and bluest seas?’, ‘Where can I drink a cocktail out of a coconut shell?’, and ‘Where is it not illegal to be gay?’. Okay, that last one is probably not on most honeymooners minds. But it should be. Despite the protections now thankfully afforded to us in this country, planning a trip to far-flung places still leaves us with potentially treacherous waters to navigate. Although the media has highlighted appalling LGBT rights issues in African and Middle Eastern countries of late, this leaves out huge patches of the globe still suffering from brutal anti-LGBT legislation. Trying to explain this to the first travel agent we spoke to proved difficult:


‘How about Antigua’?

‘Nope, that carries a 15 year jail sentence’,

‘Oh, how about Barbados? It’s lovely’

‘Nope, that would be life imprisonment. Although I’ve read it’s not enforced. Probably not worth the risk though’.

‘Okay, let’s try Asia. The Maldives is very popular.’

‘I’m sure it is. Unfortunately Shariah law allows for whippings, house arrest, deportation, 6 years in jail, or even death. Vigilante attacks and executions are relatively common place.’


‘Well it’s legal for women but for men it’s 2-20 years imprisonment and whippings, so I think gay solidarity rules that one out.’


People have pointed out to us that if you’re paying enough money, and you’re closed up in your resort, then us Westerners don’t have to worry about these things. But that’s hardly the point.

So we’ve settled on Vietnam, which has never had any laws against homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are not recognised by law and same-sex marriage is not permitted, but at least we’re not supporting the imprisonment of gay and bisexual people, a human rights abuse that we have only very recently emerged from here in Scotland. It remains to be seen what kind of reception we will get when we turn up to our hotel to book into a double room. Unfortunately, however, despite all the legal changes and cultural shift, this is a reality which LGBT people in Scotland and the UK still face. In 2008, Cornish B&B owners Hazelmary and Peter Bull refused civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall  a double room. In 2010 the same thing happened to Michael Black and John Morgan at a B&B in Berkshire. Both couples eventually won their discrimination cases and were awarded compensation. Ethically and socially responsible holidaymaking may not sound like everyone’s idea of switching off and chilling out, but it’s vital that both LGBT and non-LGBT people show solidarity and conscience in spending their hard-earned holiday money, so that we can keep chipping away at the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that perpetuate both at home and abroad.

July 2014 – Guest Blogger Catriona MacLeod

This month’s blogger is Catriona MacLeod, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow. She writes here about Glasgow, the host of the Commonwealth Games, and reflects on what women’s histories can tell us about the city.

As Glasgow came into the global spotlight this week with the opening of the much-anticipated 2014 Commonwealth Games, Billy Connolly offered TV audiences a warm welcome to the city and asked  ‘what will the world make of Glasgow?’.  As a researcher of the same city in a different era (that of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) portrayals in modern media always bring to mind the commentators that came before. Connolly’s history of Glasgow was one of changing fortunes from mercantile metropolis to the age of steam, steel and ships, to the modern day buzz of art, science, music, and now sport. All this underpinned by the hard work, sass and grit of the people of Glasgow.

He, of course, is a native Glaswegian.  Descriptions of the Georgian city are often provided by visitors and focus on the built environment. James Boswell (lawyer, and biographer of Samuel Johnson) found Glasgow very elegant during a visit in 1773, while a French visitor a decade later described the town in similar terms with the streets ‘wide [and] clean and the houses elegantly built’.[1] As the manufacturing centred round the city increased, a 1790s travel book described the first impression as of ‘spires, buildings and smoke’.  But those first impressions gave way to a conviction that ‘the modes of life have become more luxurious: and Glasgow has increased to be one of the largest towns in Britain, and one of the most elegant in Europe.’[2] Dorothy Wordsworth wasn’t as impressed.  She passed through in 1803, noting in her journal that the suburbs were ‘all ugly, and the inhabitants dirty’. She did praise the size of the shops, the fine, stone buildings springing up in the West of the city, and the bustle and busyness of the streets. [3]

But as Connolly and the Commonwealth Games organising committee insist, it is the people that make Glasgow.  Wordsworth was struck on her visit to the city wash-house by the sight of ‘so many women, arms, head, and face all in motion, all busy’.[4] There remains a lot to be learned about the women in Glasgow’s history, and how looking at the city from their perspective might change our view of it. Much of my research involves gleaning small bits of information about individuals from an array of historical sources.  There are tiny glimpses into everyday life: on the night of a robbery in the clockmaker’s shop below her garret flat, Jean Laird had stayed up past midnight finishing sewing work.  There was the woman who ran a cooper business while her husband gave music lessons, the mother and daughter team who ran a cheese shop, the women who sold carts of dung and fields of peas, or eggs on the street, or imported tea and lemons in expensive rented shops. The successful female cotton merchant and property owner embroiled in multiple court cases for goods not delivered to her, and rents unpaid. The woman who ran a seed and nursery business in the Trongate, selling apple, pear, plum and cherry trees, as well as beech, elms, oak, ash, laburnum, spruce, silver firs and sweet briar. These are fragments of lives preserved in the archives, but together their experiences made the Glasgow of that time.

[1] Simon Berry and Hamish Whyte, Glasgow Observed  (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1987), pp.8-12.

[2] Ibid, pp.19-20.

[3] Dorothy Wordsworth, Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland A.D. 1803 (Edinburgh, 1894) p.53.

[4] Ibid, p.54.

2014 Conference Information

With the 2014 WHS Annual Conference Gender, Fitness, and Sport approaching, conference organiser Dr Eilidh Macrae has provided important information for anyone attending the conference, which is given below.

The conference this year is taking place in Dundee, at Abertay University on Saturday the 27th of September.

We are very pleased to be able to welcome Professor Charlotte Macdonald who will be giving the Sue Innes Memorial Lecture on Saturday Afternoon on Beautiful Bodies: Glasgow’s 1938 gift to women and to empire.

Provisional Programme 2014 Conference

2014 WHS Conference Registration Form

WHS-Membership-Form 2014

Accommodation and Travel details WHS 2014 conference

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June 2014 – Guest Blogger Esther Breitenbach

Esther Breitenbach is a committee member of Women’s History Scotland, and has written widely about the lives of women in Scotland, both from the perspective of contemporary politics and policy and on historical themes. She is co-editor, with Linda Fleming, S. Karly Kehoe and Lesley Orr, of Scottish Women: A Documentary History, 1780-1914 (Edinburgh University Press, 2013).

If you are interested in arranging a talk on Scottish Women, please get in touch at Esther.Breitenbach@ed.ac.uk

Our recent publication, Scottish Women: A Documentary History, 1780-1914 was a Women’s History Scotland project, with this sourcebook providing a companion volume to the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (Edinburgh University Press, 2006). It is the first sourcebook on Scottish women in this period, it draws on a wide range of source materials from across Scotland, and it provides new insights into women’s lives. Thematic chapters cover: bodies and health; the home and domestic life; work and working conditions; crime and immorality; religion; politics and protest; and experiences of empire. Since its publication the editors have given public talks and seminar presentations about the book – in this blog, I am taking the opportunity to offer some reflections on the challenges on finding sources written by women, and on some of the gaps in women’s history in this period.

A key aim of the book was that it should reflect women’s voices and the majority of primary source extracts were authored by women – but it was not always possible to find women writing about issues we considered important to include. So, in some cases, we quote male commentators, court records, and newspapers to shed light on various aspects of women’s lives. Scarcity of sources in which women’s perspectives were directly articulated was primarily a question of class – working-class women’s voices can be hard to find. But some categories of middle-class women remain in the shadows – marital status appears to be one of the factors influencing this. Furthermore, certain kinds of actions, for example, crimes and transgressive behaviour – although the subject of much reporting, sensationalising, moral panic and social comment – are seldom recounted by their perpetrators. While court records provide a good source of information on these, and include the statements of women as accused or witnesses, these inevitably provide far more examples of working-class offenders than of middle-class women breaking laws or moral codes. The private lives of women, too, remain in relative obscurity – whether sexual lives, personal relationships, or even correspondence between women emigrants and families and friends at home. This is not to say that no sources of this kind exist, but rather that historians should be alert to such gaps, and sometimes may have to think creatively to find ways of uncovering evidence.

If scarcity was a challenge in certain areas, abundance of sources presented a challenge in others. This was most notably the case in the voluminous literature on domestic management and household advice, and in women’s religious writing across a variety of genres from fiction, poetry and didactic literature such as pamphlets and tracts, to hymns, biblical stories, and letters, journals and memoirs for private circulation. Even so, such abundant source material has not always been effectively used for the many insights it provides into women’s role in Scottish society. In addition, it remains a challenge to separate out the ideological and normative discourses of women’s roles from how they actually conducted themselves – arguably the failure to adequately make such distinctions accounts for the continuing, and often uncritical, reproduction of the idea of ‘separate spheres’ and of ‘Victorian domestic ideology’ as reflecting lived reality.

In the Oxford Companion to Scottish History (2001), edited by Michael Lynch, it was commented that women’s history was hampered by a problem of evidence, particularly in periods earlier than the nineteenth century, which at that time had fared best as far as Scottish women’s history was concerned. It is probably still true that the nineteenth century has been the focus of most work in Scottish women’s history, though it is good to note the growth of work in other periods, as outlined in Katie Barclay, Tanya Cheadle and Eleanor Gordon’s very useful review of the literature in ‘The State of Scottish History: Gender’ in the supplement to the Scottish Historical Review, published in 2013. Yet, as they comment, there are still large gaps in the historiography, and there is scant employment of gender as a category of analysis by Scottish historians other than those in gender history.

Indeed, I was struck, when working on the introductory chapter to Scottish Women, both by the fact that there were still large gaps in nineteenth century historical writing on women/gender, and that there are relatively few historians who have built up a body of work in Scottish women’s/gender history of this period, although many more have made contributions as part of their work. Among other things, this may say something about the shape of academic careers and gender balance of history departments. It was clear, however, that some of the major gaps were not just gaps in women’s/gender history, but more general gaps. For example, one relatively neglected area is that of crime, criminal justice, policing, and prison policy – although it is good to note ongoing work in this area, which Louise Jackson brought to our attention. Another example is the area of politics and public life, which, as far as women are concerned, has had intermittent but not systematic attention. My recent involvement in providing material for our WHS event for schools as part of the Previously Scotland’s History Festival last November – ‘Women, the Great War and the Vote’ – made me further aware of the possibilities for more research surrounding women’s involvement in political parties from the late nineteenth century onwards. This includes the whole area of local politics, local government and the extension of the municipal franchise, afforded to some women electors in the late nineteenth century, a topic which at best has received only a few passing mentions. Linda Fleming’s chapter on ‘Bodies, Sexuality and Health’ presented real challenges in the absence of a Scottish-focused secondary literature and in its aim to break new ground beyond histories relating to medical professions and using medical and health records. Disappointingly too, research on women’s work outside the home has witnessed only limited development beyond Eleanor Gordon’s Women and the Labour Movement in Scotland (1991) and our joint collection, The World is Ill-Divided (1990). So, there is much to be done – hopefully Scottish Women provides some of the tools for the task through identifying a range of source materials and also where they are hard to find.

I think we can argue that Scottish Women establishes women’s presence in many public debates and forms of collective organisation and action, as well as shedding light on aspects of their private lives. Where it is hard to locate women’s voices, this should not be taken to mean they were not present – absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – and the employment of other methods and sources is likely to uncover more evidence of the nature of women’s lives. We hope that the collection will be useful in teaching, and that it will help to stimulate new research – not just in women’s or gender history – but also that it might prompt historians in general to ask the question about women’s role or involvement, and whether their presence or attitudes makes a difference to our understanding of Scottish society and social change.