WHS Annual Conference 2016- ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practice’ – Report and Resources

[Images: top right © Scottish Women’s Aid Archive at Glasgow Women’s Library, bottom right © University of Glasgow Archive Services, DC127/22a]

Women’s History Scotland Annual Conference: ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practice’

[Please see the ‘Resources‘ section below for access to some of the powerpoint presentations from the day and link to the audio on Soundcloud]

Conference Report – Hannah Telling

The annual WHS conference which examined the theme of ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practice’, was held on Friday 9 September. Glasgow Women’s Library, recently lauded in the national press as ‘a treasure trove that shows how far feminism has come’, served as a fitting venue for this year’s event. At the completely sold out conference, delegates were treated to a host of wonderful papers, with themes ranging from the emergence of Women’s Aid to the feminist fashion of Doc Martens. The event concluded with the Sue Innes Memorial Lecture, delivered by the inimitable and inspiring Zoe Fairbairns.

After an introduction to Women’s History Scotland delivered by convenor Alison McCall, Tanya Cheadle delivered a paper on the late nineteenth-century feminist and socialist activist, Bella Pearce. Tanya’s paper talked of the ‘uneasy relationship between socialism and feminism in the 1890s’, as feminist social reformers attempted to navigate labour parties that were ‘first and foremost a man’s party’. Pearce’s feminist activism contrasted, in a perhaps unique example, with her unconventional faith. She became a devout disciple of a Christian sexual mysticism organisation, the Brotherhood of New Life, whose founder espoused the doctrine that ‘by denying sexuality, Christianity becomes sterile’. Tanya’s paper provided a fascinating insight into the relationships, activism and faith of one feminist reformer in late nineteenth-century Scotland.

Jane Rendall was next to deliver her paper, exploring female friendly societies in Scotland, c.1789-1830 and ‘the principle of Mutual Support’. Jane began her talk by discussing the role of ritual-based, religious and philanthropic societies and their growth in this period. Interestingly, whilst Jane had detected 1560 male friendly societies, only 66 female equivalents were discovered. These female friendly societies were concentrated in South West Scotland and were noticeably absent from the urban centres where the strength and influence of male trade predominated. Despite the limited number of female friendly societies, Jane revealed how such organisations helped to consolidate neighbourhood ties, provide recognition of women’s identities and allow members of all classes new experiences and opportunities.

Sarah Browne of the ‘Speaking Out’ project presented the final paper of the ‘Activism’ panel, examining the links between feminism and Women’s Aid in the 1970s and 1980s. Women’s Aid, which campaigned to end domestic abuse and assisted women seeking to escape abusive partners, emerged out of and became a testimony to the Women’s Liberation Movement. Sarah talked of how attention to the ‘Herstory of Women’s Aid’ allowed for a reclamation of women’s pasts, whilst providing opportunities for reflection on what had been achieved and what still needed to be done. Sarah reinforced the central tenet of Women’s Aid and indeed feminism – that the abuse of women was (and still is) central to women’s unequal position within society. In concluding, Sarah emphasised that whilst Women’s Aid is ‘always moving forwards’, the organisation’s roots in the Women’s Liberation Movement will continue to be acknowledged.

Georgia Mackay opened up the second panel on ‘Material and Visual Culture’ with a wonderful paper on Doc Martens and feminism. Georgia pointed out that Cinderella teaches us that ‘one shoe can change your life’, yet asked what happened when women rejected ‘overtly sexual’ sky-high heels for ‘kick ass heavy boots’, the Doc Martens. In a paper that explored the links between fashion and feminist subculture, Georgia explored the history of Doc Martens, whilst reinforcing the idea that ‘any item of clothing can be feminist if intended so by the wearer’.

Nel Whiting concluded the morning session with a paper that applied feminist methodology to portraiture, unearthing the subtle gender dynamics of David Allan’s The Family of the Earl & Countess of Hopetoun. Nel’s application of gender theory and close analysis revealed implicit power relations contained within the portrait. Nel argued that artwork reflected and replicated contemporary values and thus formed a key part of society’s discursive network, thereby demonstrates how analysing portraiture can be of great use to the researcher of eighteenth-century gender relations.

The editors of the 2nd edition of the ‘Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women’ gave an update on their progress after lunch, informing delegates that the volume will include 150 new entries of notable women throughout Scottish history.

In keeping with the theme of ‘Biographies’, Sarah Edwards delivered a paper on Dr Dorothy Meads, the principal of Bishop Otterly College. The paper included a history of the college itself, from teacher-training college to RAF base during World War II. Sarah talked about Dr Meads’ reforms and how she embodied the contemporary conceptualisation of female principal in this period – an amalgamation of feminine nurturer and masculine protector exhibiting quasi-parental control over the female students.

In the final paper of the day, Susan Batchelor presented an examination of the life and influence of Pearl Jephcott, whose pioneering sociological research privileged the experiences of ordinary young people in detailed and broad-ranging analyses. Susan showed how Jephcott utilised 1960s sociological approaches, yet also foreshadowed later developments, especially in the form of feminist epistemology in the 1980s. Susan concluded that ‘Jephcott was a sociology research pioneer, yet also a feminist research pioneer’.

The annual Sue Innes Memorial Lecture was delivered by Zoe Fairbairns, who began her lecture by thanking those who have worked so hard to keep Sue Innes’ name alive. Zoe’s wonderful lecture explored ‘Five Decades, Five Feminisms’, demonstrating the many developments that have been made in the pursuit of gender equality. Zoe took the enraptured audience through each decade, from the 1960s when feminism was yet to be named, to the challenges of the new millennium – terrorism, anti-feminist backlashes, the dangers of the internet-age and the continued prevalence of violence against women and children. Despite the work still to be done, Zoe’s lecture was ultimately celebratory. She said that ‘I would say that a lot has changed for the better, and that we, as feminists, should congratulate ourselves for our part in that’. Zoe cited greater representation of women in politics, the successful introduction of equal marriage, women in well-paid employment and men engaging in domestic duties as examples of the many developments achieved through five decades of activism and feminism. To rousing applause, Zoe concluded her lecture, and the WHS annual conference, using Sue Innes’ own words – ‘let’s go on making it work’. 


For those of you who couldn’t join us – click the relevant links below to access powerpoint presentations from some of the presentations on the day and the audio recordings on Soundcloud

PANEL 1: Activism

Tanya Cheadle, University of Glasgow – Bella Pearce / ‘Lily Bell’: Glasgow Feminist, Socialist and Christian Sexual Mystic – whn-glasgow-pp

Jane Rendall, University of York – ‘The principle of mutual support’: female friendly societies in Scotland c. 1789-1830 – rendall-glasgow

Sarah Browne, Heritage Project Co-ordinator, Scottish Women’s Aid – ‘Pledging our support to the seven demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement’: Feminism and the emergence of Women’s Aid in the 1970s and 1980s – brownewhspresentation

PANEL 2: Material/ Visual Culture

Georgia Mackay, University of Glasgow – The End of High Heels? Doc Martens and Feminism in the late 20th Century – the-end-of-high-heels

Nel Whiting, University of Dundee – A ‘voyeuristic fiction of candour’? Feminist Methodology and Portraiture 

PANEL 3: Biographies

Sarah Edwards, University of Strathclyde – Dr Meads and her wartime flock: the history and representation of Bishop Otter College at Bromley, 1942-45

Susan Batchelor, University of Glasgow – Pearl Jephcott and a Time of One’s Own – revisiting-jephcott-whs-conference-sb-080916


Zoë Fairbairns, Five Decades, Five Feminisms – http://www.zoefairbairns.co.uk/Sue_Innes_Memorial.pdf

Less than two days to go – WHS Annual Conference – ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas and Practice’, Glasgow Women’s Library, Friday 9 September

With less than two days to go until our fully booked conference at Glasgow Women’s Library on Friday (7th of September), we’re in full swing with the preparations!

Our new publicity postcards arrived today and all the final preparations will be completed tomorrow.

The event is fully booked and we’ve been overwhelmed by the response.

Hopefully you’ll already have registered and we’ll see you on Friday!

The event is free but donations are encouraged. 

To join WHS please click here

Here’s the full programme for the event for those attending – whs-final-feminisms-conference-programme.

If you can’t make it we’ll be tweeting @womenshistscot #whsfeminisms

Watch this space for a report on the conference.

***REGISTRATION OPEN*** WHS Annual Conference – ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas and Practice’, Glasgow Women’s Library, Friday 9 September

Images: top right © Scottish Women’s Aid Archive at Glasgow Women’s Library, bottom right © University of Glasgow Archive Services, DC127/22a

Women’s History Scotland are delighted to invite you to our annual conference – ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practices’. We have a very exciting line-up of speakers exploring wide-ranging themes including feminist activism, material and visual cultures, and biographies.

Full programme – WHS feminisms conference programme

This year’s Sue Innes Memorial Lecture will be delivered at the conference by Zoe Fairbairns, entitled ‘Five Decades, Five Feminisms’.

Zoë Fairbairns first encountered the words ‘women’s’, ‘liberation’ and ‘movement’ side by side in the same phrase in 1969.  She was in the USA at the time, but couldn’t wait to hurry back to St Andrews University (from which she was taking a year out) and set up something similar. By the time she got back, feminism had already arrived. Together with fellow-student Sue Innes, and others, Zoë became a founder-member of the St Andrews University Women’s Liberation group.

Zoë is a novelist, short story writer, journalist and playwright. Her books include Benefits, Closing and Other Names. She co-authored the pamphlet ‘Saying What We Want:  Women’s Demands in the Feminist Seventies and Now’. She is a member of the Women’s Equality Party and the Fawcett Society, and is a Friend of the Feminist Library. She also meets regularly with a group of other women who were active as feminists in the 1970s and who want to continue raising their consciousness. She teaches creative writing at the City Lit in London, where she lives. Her website is at www.zoefairbairns.co.uk

The conference will be held at Glasgow Women’s Library. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. Women’s History Scotland have decided to make this year’s conference as accessible as possible and so will not be charging a fee for attendance, but instead suggesting a donation to WHS on the day if attendees are willing/ able. All are very welcome and we look forward to seeing you on the 9th September!

REGISTER FOR FREE via eventbrite – ‘WHS Annual Conference: Feminisms, Histories, Ideas & Practices’

Any queries can be sent to whsconference2016@gmail.com.

A day of culture – Raymond Depardon and Women’s Peace Banners at GWL (18 June 2016)

A few weeks ago (Saturday 18 June) my daughter Sylvie and I had a wee day of culture in Glasgow city centre.

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, 1980

First off was a trip to see ‘Govan to Gdansk’ at Streetlevel Photoworks. This exhibition featured the work of Raymond Depardon, whose photographs of Glasgow in 1980 (an assignment commissioned by the Sunday Times) were never published. Well, until now. The photographs have received a great deal of attention and I’d looked at them online.

It was good to see the photographs displayed full size at Photoworks. Obviously there wasn’t space to display all seventy-five, but it was unclear why the images displayed had been selected (in saying that, I didn’t have time to read all the displays as I had a five-year-old with me). The photographs show both men and women, boys and girls. But, for me, the images of women are the most evocative (probably because I can remember Glasgow in the 1980s and shopping trips with my mum ‘up Glasgow’).

Through Depardon’s photographs we get a sense of what it was like to live in Glasgow in the early 1980s, what the city looked like and the results of the city’s slum clearance programme. This should have been completed by 1980 (according to the city’s quinquennial plan of 1961) but building work and demolition continued well into the 1980s. But against this background we see women pushing prams, girls in brightly coloured dresses, children playing and teenagers hanging about.

Source: ©Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, 1980, Magnum Photos.

The exhibition runs until the 31st of July and I would highly recommend a visit if you are in Glasgow. You can also view the images online and of course you can buy the book.

Women and the peace movement, Banner Tales at Glasgow Women’s Library

After lunch, it was on to Glasgow Women’s Library to see some of Glasgow Museum’s peace banners displayed at Glasgow Women’s Library as part of on ongoing project Banner Tales, a joint endeavour by geographers Johnnie Crossan and Dave Featherstone at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Museums.

As is the case it all Banner Tales events, it’s great to see a piece of history on display and think about the people, organisations and communities that produced the banners, what causes they were promoting and why. But the real strength of these events is that those attending have the opportunity to hear first hand from these people, whether they made the banner, carried them at a protest or have some connection to the organisation or cause depicted.

At this event we heard from Magi Sale who organised the peace march in Scotland in 1982 and saw a display of photographs from the march. It was really enlightening to hear about her motivation for organising the protest, the effects it had on her own family (her ex-husband, while sharing her views, wasn’t so keen on her activities taking her away from home) and the long-term implications it has had in her life.

While Magi spoke, Sylvie read a bit of a book on the campaign for women’s suffrage from the display which seemed particularly appropriate for a trip to Glasgow Women’s Library. She soon lost interest and we had to leave Banner Tales early and missed the Govan Allsorts Community Choir (always excellent – if you ever get a chance to hear them).

I’m hoping this is just the beginning of Sylvie’s interest in women’s history – well, to be fair, she doesn’t really have much choice!

(Just in case you are wondering Sylvie has read over and approved me writing about her in this blog)

Keep an eye on the Banner Tales website, women’s history always features in their events.

(Valerie Wright, University of Glasgow)

Our inspiration – Alison’s grandmother

In this new section of our website the members of Women’s History Scotland’s steering committee will share their inspiration behind their research on women and gender in Scotland. First up is our convenor Alison McCall who shares her memories of her grandmother:


I’m not sure what age I was when my interest in Women’s History was first sparked, possibly about the age of 12. I do recall where I was; I was sitting at our dining table having dinner with my parents.  My father said that he thought society was going to the dogs because of “working mothers.”  I pointed out that he had been brought up by a “working mother” and he said that his mother had not worked when he was a child.

Source: Alison’s gran and her dad, Inverlochy, late 1930s

I loved talking to my grandmother and I knew her lifestory well. She had been a teacher but gave up reluctantly when she married. I sometimes wonder if her reluctance partly explained why she didn’t marry until she was five months pregnant, but that wasn’t really the sort of question you could ask my grandmother!

My grandfather was an insurance agent with Co-operative Insurance, covering a huge area around Fort William. His job involved driving round collecting premiums from customers. No sooner had the Second World War broken out than petrol was rationed.  My grandfather’s job immediately contracted; farming clients were encouraged to pay their premiums in Fort William on market day, rather than my grandfather driving to collect them; weekly visits became fortnightly, fortnightly visits became monthly.  Fearing conscription into the Army, my grandfather enlisted in the R.A.F as a mechanic in May 1940.  Gran took over his job. She would take my aunt to school and then set off in the car with my father, aged three, beside her.  She enjoyed it. Customers would ask after my grandfather, especially once he was in the Middle East. Farmer’s wives would slip her a couple of eggs or a half-dozen tatties.  She kept the paperwork up to date and finished work for the day at 3.30pm when my aunt finished school. This was when her “second shift” started, keeping the house clean and the children fed.   Air raids on the nearby aluminium works meant that sometimes she would have to get the children up in the night, and go to the air raid shelter.

Knowing all this, I challenged my father’s assertion that his mother “had not worked” when he was a child. He said that a 9.30 -3.30 day didn’t count as working. I pointed out that she worked exactly the same hours as my grandfather had, immediately prior to enlisting, and she wasn’t going home to a cooked dinner afterwards. He then argued that my grandfather had been fully focussed on his work, which made it a “proper job” whilst my grandmother had done the same work, but accompanied by a toddler, which meant that it wasn’t a “proper job.”  As soon as my grandfather returned from the war, in late 1945, it became a “proper job” once more, because my grandfather wasn’t juggling it with childcare and housework.

That sparked a curiosity in me; I wondered how many other women’s work had been similarly undervalued, or invisible. I wanted to know the “real story” of women’s work, paid or unpaid.  It is a curiosity which has never been quenched.

(Alison McCall, Convenor of Women’s History Scotland)