40 years of Scottish Women’s Aid – Sarah Browne

We’re delighted to have Sarah Browne blog for us this month. Sarah Browne has been a member of Women’s History Scotland for many years, and won the essay prize in 2008 and completed her PhD on the women’s liberation movement in Scotland in 2009 at the University of Dundee. Sarah now blogs for us in her new role as Heritage Project Co-ordinator for Speaking Out, a project which seeks to produce a history of Scottish Women’s Aid in its 40th year. 

Recognising and Recording the Contribution of Women’s Aid in Scotland

As well as ‘but weren’t they all just bra-burners?’, ‘What about Men’s Aid?’ was the question I was most frequently asked during the time when I was conducting PhD research into the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM). I’ve lost count of the number of times it was asked by taxi drivers, people in pubs, relatives, and friends and strangers who I chatted to during the three years of my PhD. Depending on who was asking this question and the way they asked it, it more often than not raised my heckles.  This wasn’t just because I was completing a women’s history project to contribute towards redressing the balance in historical accounts which tended to favour the stories of men. It was because this question failed to recognise the hard work and determination of the women who created a Women’s Aid network in Scotland. Women’s Aid didn’t just happen. It wasn’t gifted to women by politicians or some kind benefactor. It wasn’t as simple as just asking ‘what about Women’s Aid?’ and then expecting it to happen.  It was hard fought for and involved women putting in huge amounts of energy and effort alongside paid employment, contributing to other political campaigns, and undertaking caring roles for partners, children and relatives. Those women who contributed to this story deserve to be recognised and celebrated and that is why it is so exciting that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded Scottish Women’s Aid, in partnership with Glasgow Women’s Library, Women’s History Scotland and the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History, funding for a two year project to document the history of Women’s Aid in Scotland.

Women’s Aid emerged in Scotland in the early 1970s. Women had been meeting and campaigning as part of the WLM in Scotland, which had emerged in the late 1960s. This movement was a direct challenge to many of the stereotypes, laws and practices which prevented women from living full lives. Campaigning for equal pay, free and available childcare, free and safe abortion, and financial and legal independence amongst many other issues, the WLM was hugely important in politicising a number of women and encouraging them to find practical solutions to some of the issues facing women. Women’s Aid was one such practical solution. In the early 1970s women in Edinburgh and Glasgow formed groups which began researching the practicalities and possibilities of establishing refuges in both cities in order to provide support to women who were living with or leaving violent situations. Inspired by the first refuge in the UK at Chiswick, these women realised that this provided an important model and that women in Scotland needed something similar. By 1977 there were 15 refuges in Scotland and in 1976 Scottish Women’s Aid was set up to help to co-ordinate this emerging network and to provide research, training and support to groups.[i]

Refuges were unfortunately much needed. During the 1970s the prevalence of domestic violence became apparent. Indeed, one of the most important roles of Women’s Aid in Scotland was conducting research which highlighted the incidence of domestic violence. More often than not viewed by many in wider society as a private matter between husband and wife, this research was crucial in demonstrating to politicians, the police, and the general public how prevalent domestic violence actually was. The statistics were eye-watering. Two pioneering researchers based then at Stirling University – Rebecca and Russell Dobash – undertook important work looking at ‘battered wives’ and through interviewing women and looking at police records, they concluded that at the end of the 1970s 25% of all violent crimes involved husbands being violent towards their wives.[ii]

So in addition to organising refuges and the many tasks that were associated with that, Women’s Aid set about providing training and undertaking important educational work to help challenge and change views of those on the frontline – the police, the legal system, the medical profession – as well as the wider public. This led to changes in the way domestic violence was understood and talked about. Even at the level of language, Women’s Aid was central to changing the conceptualisation of this issue, so terminology moved on from ‘battered wives’ to ‘battered women’, and then concepts of domestic violence and domestic abuse were introduced; helping people to realise that domestic abuse was a whole system of degradation, control and fear often expressed in psychological, and not just physical, ways. It is testament to the hard work and courage of all those women involved in the Women’s Aid network that perceptions have shifted. Jennifer Kerr, who was involved with Dundee Women’s Aid, said that our understanding of domestic abuse now includes recognition that:

There are individuals and patterns used by individuals to abuse, that men abuse the power that they have over women. That men abuse the power that they have over children – and that this is wrong and that it is right to get out of those situations. That’s a huge, huge change.[iii]

They did all of this often in the face of opposition from neighbours living next door to refuges, socially conservative politicians who thought Women’s Aid was interfering in relationships, media which often trivialised the issue, and a legal system which could be slow to change. This project hopes to recognise the hard work of the women from the Women’s Aid network but also to draw our attention to the importance of Women’s Aid in transforming our understanding of many aspects of gender relations in Scotland.

So when asked ‘What about Men’s Aid?’, my response usually went something like this: ‘if you want a Men’s Aid, then get together with your friends and comrades and set it up’. That’s what groups of women did in the 1970s and thank goodness they did.

The Project – Speaking Out: Recalling Women’s Aid in Scotland

This project will collect oral history interviews and archival material and make this available on a website. There will also be a touring exhibition and local events so people around Scotland can engage with the themes of the project. If you or someone you know has a connection with Women’s Aid in Scotland at some point during its history and would like to be interviewed then please get in touch with Sarah Browne, project co-ordinator – sarah.browne@scottishwomensaid.org.uk

Likewise if you would like to volunteer for the project then please contact Sarah. We are currently looking for volunteers to conduct oral history interviews, help out with an exhibition or assist with some film-making. Full training will be given and all reasonable expenses will be reimbursed. We are looking for women to volunteer from around Scotland.

It is so important that women’s voices, memories and lives are recorded as all too often they are written out of history. As Elspeth King said:

There is a clear message for all women who were or are involved in the movement: take your historical papers, correspondence, minute books, cuttings and relevant information and deposit them in a Scottish library or archive before it’s too late. Take your T-shirts, your badges, jewellery and posters to your local museum and demand that they be preserved for posterity. Do not be written out of history.[iv]

We look forward to hearing from you!

Twitter – @SpeakingOut_SWA

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Speaking-Out-874547129328378/?fref=ts

[i] K. Arnot, ‘Leaving the Pain Behind: Women’s Aid in Scotland’, S. Henderson and A. Mackay (eds) Grit and Diamonds: Women in Scotland Making History 1980-1990 (Edinburgh, 1990), p. 80.

[ii] This research was discussed in J. Cunningham, ‘The Battered Wives Who Need Law On Their Side’, The Glasgow Herald, 16th February 1979, p. 7

[iii] Transcript of interview with Jennifer Kerr, 1 May 2007, p. 16 as quoted in S. Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland (Manchester, 2014), p. 156.

[iv] E.King ‘Review of J.D. Young’s Women and Popular Struggles’ in S. Henderson and A. Mackay (eds), Grit and Diamonds: Women in Scotland Making History 1980-1990’ (Edinburgh, 1990), p. ix.

 

Women in Scottish Policing: the first 100 years

Louise A. Jackson teaches social history at the University of Edinburgh and is a member of WHS steering committee. She has carried out extensive archival research on the histories of female police officers in the UK, gender and the criminal justice system, and on child abuse and the law.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the appointment of the first attested woman police officer in the UK: Edith Smith, who was sworn in with full powers of arrest in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Recent media and TV coverage has done much to highlight her role and significance (including the BBC4 documentary A Fair Cop, broadcast on 15 March 2015). But what of women’s roles in other parts of the UK, including Scotland? Who was the ‘first’ female police officer in Scotland? Much depends on the criteria used to identify female ‘firsts’ in policing. When were women first sworn in? When were they first paid? What was their job title and their role? When did they wear uniforms? When did they gain full powers of arrest? When did they perform the same roles as men?  These questions are clearly shaped by our assumptions about what it means to be a police officer. The quest for female ‘firsts’ demonstrates that women’s venture into policing was a gradual process through which equality was slowly achieved over many decades.

Glasgow Museums holds a photograph of ‘Big Rachel’ Hamilton, previously a forewoman navvy, who was sworn in as a Special Constable during the Partick Riots of 1875.

'Big Rachel'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSE00317

This clearly pre-dates Edith Smith’s work, although the role of Special Constable was a voluntary or auxiliary one and, until comparatively recently in Scotland, was limited to periods of emergency only. It was common, too, by the late nineteenth century for the wives of policemen, in county areas and small towns, to look after female prisoners and to clean and maintain police station for free, their roles subsumed with that of their husband. In the cities, women were employed as turnkeys and matrons to look after female prisoners in police custody.

In Scotland, as elsewhere in the British Isles, there was an active ‘voluntary patrol’ movement organised by the National Council of Women Workers during the First World War. Patrol groups were set up in Dundee, Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hawick, Kirkcaldy, and Leith. Their duties were seen as similar to social work and ‘rescue’ work: the prevention of prostitution, and helping and advising young women and children whom they encountered when they patrolled streets and public places. Women also carried out a significant policing role at HM Gretna Munitions Factory in the years 1916-18, searching women workers as they entered and left the site and making sure that they behaved in an orderly way.

It was in September 1915, however, that Emily Miller was appointed as the first female investigation officer (or ‘lady assistant’) on the payroll of Glasgow City Police. Crucially, she was attached to the Criminal Investigation Office (CID) with a very specific brief: to take statements from women and children in cases of sexual assault and abuse, an area in which she developed highly specialist skills (she later described her role in the evidence she gave to the 1925 Interdepartmental Committee on Sexual Offences against Children in Scotland). It was not until 1919 that she was employed as ‘policewoman’ rather than ‘lady assistant’ (along with Georgina W. McLeod) and she finally gained powers of arrest in 1924.

In Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen in 1918 local authorities agreed that women should be admitted to their local police forces in small numbers because they had performed a very valuable role during the war. Indeed, Scotland’s first paid, uniformed, policewoman was Jean Thomson (nee Wright), who was appointed in Dundee in 1918 and served for three years until 1921.

More broadly, though, why does this matter and what does the history of women in Scottish policing tell us about social change? The case of women in policing demonstrates the importance of wartime as a catalyst for changing women’s roles, and acts as barometer for ideas about gender equality in Britain.

The story of women’s progress in policing is crucial to our understanding of the relationship between feminism, women and the state. Edith Smith’s appointment in Grantham was criticised by the Home Office who claimed that women, by virtue of their sex were not ‘proper persons’ (this was the same reason that was given to explain why women could not vote). It was this legal opposition that deterred other towns and cities from following Grantham’s example until the passing of the Sex Disqualification Removal Act in 1919. The same legislation that opened the doors to the first Women MPS also made way for the first women police, women jurors and women lawyers and thus their incorporation into the criminal justice system as representatives of the state and of law and order. In terms of liberal rights, this was as significant as the winning of the vote. Yet it is noteworthy, too, that the arguments that were made by the supporters of the campaign for women police in Scotland (as elsewhere) related to gender difference: women were to undertake work that was gender-specific that related to female and child ‘victims’. From a feminist perspective, this mattered, because it was seen as deeply inappropriate, given that most assaults reported to the police involved male perpetrators, that male officers should be involved in interviewing. It was an argument that was a persuasive one amongst a far wider constituency: women’s role in policing was complementary and they were not there to replace men.

From the perspective of 2015, these arguments have an additional relevance. Given concerns about the lack of an appropriate state response to child sexual abuse cases in recent decades, it is noteworthy that there was a high level of concern and public awareness in the 1920s (culminating in the 1925 Inter-department Committee).  In 1925 the Scottish Office issued an official ‘Circular’ (instruction), urging chief constables to appoint women to take precognitions (statements) from women and children. There was awareness, too, that changes were needed in police methods to encourage higher levels of reporting and to enable higher levels of conviction in the courts.

The number of policewomen in Scotland remained very small across the first half of the twentieth century. By 1928 there were 16 policewomen in Scotland: 11 in Glasgow, 2 in Edinburgh, 2 in Ayr and one in Aberdeen. By 1939 Glasgow’s Policewomen’s Department had expanded to 15 but their role was still defined as a CID role relating to statement taking and the investigation of offences against women and children. Nevertheless they had carried out important work. In 1930, Glasgow businessman Samuel Moorov was convicted of a series of indecent assaults on women, whom he had employed as assistants in his drapery firm. Glasgow policewomen were involved in the investigation of the case, which led to the ruling that single witnesses in individual crimes could be used as mutual corroboration if there was sufficient inter-relationship in time, place and circumstances between incidents. This created an important precedent in terms of Scottish law.

During the Second World War women were recruited into policing as auxiliaries once again. In Glasgow 220 women were employed in this capacity, led by Dr Violet Roberton, magistrate and member of the police committee, as Commandant of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps.

Scotland was given its own female assistant to Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies in 1961. This was Janet Gray, who had previously served in Glasgow City Police. An indication of the duties associated with women officers is given in Gray’s inspection report on Dundee’s two policewomen, whom she visited in 1961:

‘They deal with all cases of criminal assault, which are very prevalent, women shop-lifters and observation duty in all its aspects; also all girls who have appeared before a court, and with those whose behaviour has necessitated the parents appealing to the police for advice and help. I was impressed by the work these women are doing in an effort to combat delinquency’.

In Ayr Burgh, policewomen were responsible for checking the shelters on the seafront used as a ‘sleeping quarters’ by girls missing from home. In Inverness County, policewomen’s time was mainly occupied with duties at the ski slopes during ski season, and a high proportion of their cases related to child visitors.

There was a formal marriage bar in place across Scottish police forces until 1968 (although it was lifted in England and Wales in 1946). This meant that women were required to resign upon marriage and most of those who were recruited in the 1950s and 1960s served for only three years or four years. In 1970 the entire Scottish police service still employed only 382 women (less than four per cent of all officers). The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 finally enabled women to be recruited on the same terms and conditions as men. Women were finally incorporated into the same line management structures, undertaking similar work to their male colleagues, for the first time.  Nevertheless challenges remained in relation to cultural attitudes, equal representation and the glass ceiling. Norma Graham became Scotland’s first Chief Constable (of Fife) in 2005; with the creation of Police Scotland in 2013 Rose Fitzpatrick became the most senior female officer as Deputy Chief Constable (with responsibility for local policing). In 2015 women constituted 29 per cent of Police Scotland, suggesting both significant progress and work still to be done in positioning policing as an attractive career for women.

 

 

 

 

 

Centenary of Glasgow Women’s Rent Strikes

 Why commemorate the 1915 Rent Strike?

One hundred years ago women in Glasgow were celebrating securing the Rent Restrictions Act, passed by Lloyd George in December 1915. This followed months of protest against the rent increases they had been subjected to by their landlords which had resulted in a rent strike. Similar strikes were organised in other cities in the UK (See Ann Petrie’s The Rent Strikes: An East Coast Perspective, Abertay Historical Society, 2008). Glasgow’s rent strike has been memorialised, channelled and appropriated by a range of organisations over the years. The Rent Strike is associated with ‘Red Clydeside’ and radical working-class direct action. It is celebrated, and rightly so. 

Rent Strike 1915

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: ‘Glasgow Rent Strikers 1915’ from Scottish Labour History, Vol. 50, 2015 – permission of National Co-operative Archive (image found by Dr Catriona Burness while researching on behalf of the Remember Mary Barbour Campaign).

The story in Glasgow is well known: landlords increase the rents on overcrowded tenements flats in Govan and Partick; profiteering while the men are away fighting, women hold ‘stair heid’ and back court meetings, they band together with direct action i.e. pounding the balliff’s men with flour and other missiles and refusing to let fellow strikers be evicted, the movement grows larger as more women in a variety of areas become involved, the labour movement get in on the action as the campaign becomes more organised and when male workers at munitions factories come out in sympathy on the 17th of November in a mass protest (there were 25,000 rent strikers by this point), Lloyd George passes the Rent Restrictions Act within a month (I’m obviously missing out a lot of detail in this potted history!).

However as the Sheffield Film Co-operative’s documentary ‘Red Skirts on Clydeside’ highlights (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/890164/) little is actually known about the women involved in the strike. Those of us interested in the history of women in Scotland know about Mary Barbour, Helen Crawfurd and Agnes Dollan (less is known of Jean Ferguson), as these women continued to be involved in left wing politics in the interwar years. But the general public today know little of these women.

Mary Barbour Portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is why the ‘Remember Mary Barbour Campaign’ (https://remembermarybarbour.wordpress.com/mary-barbour-rent-strike-1915/) is so important in raising the profile of a woman who campaigned tirelessly on behalf of working-class women and for improvements to their lives. Dr Catriona Burness has been undertaking further research so we now know a lot more about Mary Barbour and her political career (see C. Burness, ‘Remember Mary Barbour’ Scottish Labour History (http://www.scottishlabourhistory.org.uk/the-journal/), 50 (2015), pp. 81-96). The aim of the campaign is to raise money to erect a statue (the maquettes have been unveiled and are currently on tour around the city) of Mary in Govan as a permanent memorial to her life and work.

In the last few months the Remember Mary Barbour Campaign has been involved with a range of organisations in the ‘Striking Season’ to commemorate the centenary of the Rent Strikes. http://events.glasgowlife.org.uk/event/1/striking-season-mary-barbour-and-the-rent-strikes-of-1915

Striking Season

But while the story of the Rent Strikes has been told (see J. Melling’s book Rent Strikes: People’s Struggle for Housing in West Scotland 1890-1916, Polygon, 1983) we still don’t know enough about the long term effects of the strike and the Rent Restrictions Act. Some questions may never be answered – we might not find the stories of all the un-sung heroines of the strike, the rank and file as opposed to the leaders. It is difficult to capture these voices one hundred years on. But we can analyse in more depth the way in which the memory of the rent strike has been used in other housing protests (see Ewan Gibbs, ‘Civic Scotland versus Communities on Clydeside: poll tax and non-payment c. 1987-1990, Scottish Labour History (http://www.scottishlabourhistory.org.uk/the-journal/), 49, (2014), pp. 86-106). The Rent Restrictions act also had implications on the spread of municipal house building, and housing was a central plank of both Labour Party and Independent Labour Party policy in Glasgow in the interwar years and beyond.

So there were many consequences of the Rent Strike both in the immediate aftermath, subsequent decades and for today. This is the reason why, way back in February of this year, following the successful event at the University of Edinburgh ‘Women’s Movements in Scotland: From Enfranchisement to the Referendum’ we decided that we really should organise an event to both commemorate the Rent Strike of 1915 and to ask what can be learned from this action today.

Rent Strike Procession

Source: Melling, Rent Strikes, p. 98

We held this event exactly one hundred years to the day of the ‘Great Public Procession and Demonstration’ in Maxwell Park, Govan on the 27th of November, which was organised to demand the repayment of all rent increases from the start of the war. So the fight for fair rents and municipal housing did not stop with the passing of the Rent Restrictions Act.

‘Learning from the 1915 Rent Strikes: Women’s role in housing disputes in Scotland c. 1915 to the present’ was held at Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton, an excellent location for the discussion of women’s history and involvement in campaigning and we were lucky to have generous funding from the Economic History Society.

The day provided, in an informal context, an opportunity for historians and activists involved in current and recent housing disputes to reflect on the consequences of the Rent Strike and the lessons we can learn today. Has women’s position in housing changed much in one hundred years? Following the boom in municipal housing provision in the post war years, with stable tenancies and good housing conditions, at least initially, there is little in the way of ‘social housing’ left in Glasgow today. Now many women are suffering the effects of precarious housing in the private sector where rents can be increased monthly.

We are hoping to post some photos of the event and audio recordings of some of the papers on the WHS website – watch this space!

 

Dr Valerie Wright, Research Associate, Housing, Everyday Life and Wellbeing 1950-1975

 

 

 

 

 

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.

http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/

 

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.

AYRSHIRE1934_SCOTIA AYRSHIRE1934_SPIRIT

 

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.

Linda.fleming@glasgow.ac.uk

 

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.

May 2014 – Guest Blogger Rose Pipes

Having heard from a ‘newby’ Steering Committee member last month, we now hear from Rose Pipes, long-term Steering Committee Member and keeper of the membership database.

1998 was the year when WHS, then called Scottish Women’s History Network, was resurrected after being dormant for a time, and I was one of the women who went along to the first meeting. Not being a history graduate, I would never have considered going but for the determined encouragement of the late Sue Innes, who in her typically generous way insisted that my local history publications and background in publishing were good enough grounds for getting involved. And how glad I am that Sue’s will prevailed. It’s been an immensely rewarding sixteen years, with plenty of good projects, lots of enthusiastic members and ideas, lasting friendships formed, and great conferences all over the country, from Shetland and Orkney to Dornoch and Aberdeen.

For me, the highlight of my time on the steering committee was acting as co-ordinating editor for WHS’s first major publishing project – The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women – for which Sue Innes, Siân Reynolds and Elizabeth Ewan were the joint academic editors. The project was a huge undertaking, but despite many obstacles along the way – not least Sue’s illness then death – we managed to bring it off and to remain close friends, thanks in no small part to much support from others in the Network.

Directly and indirectly, the Dictionary has spawned all sorts of unexpected spin-offs for me: the Women of Scotland memorials project; talks and films relating to women in the Dictionary; lectures on (Dictionary) women of Orkney at the annual Orkney International Science Festival; talks about the book to various groups; contributing biographies to art and other exhibitions, and so on. Most recently I have been helping Helen Kay (a WHS member) with her research into the life and work of Chrystal Macmillan, another Dictionary entrant, focusing on her legal career. This in turn has led to my writing an article on Macmillan’s work as a barrister, and next month Helen and I will join others at Durham University for the first of a serious of workshops around the UK to share ideas about women’s contribution to ‘legal landmarks’ – possibly resulting in a book of essays.

After that, who knows? If Helen MacDonald’s computing know-how works its magic, I may yet be released from my WHS duties as keeper of our membership database. Sixteen years is probably long enough. Any takers?

February 2014 – Guest Blogger Lynn Abrams

In the second Guest Blog post from Women’s History Scotland steering committee members, we welcome Lynn Abrams who talks about forthcoming events for those interested in women’s history and recent successes of Women’s History Scotland members.

In the last few weeks I have been regretting agreeing to present quite so many papers on various aspects of women’s and gender history, especially given that they require new research and in some cases some very careful tiptoeing around. Last year I rashly volunteered to give one of the lectures in the University of Glasgow’s ‘How British is Scotland?’ series, a public event in partnership with The Herald newspaper. It was important, I thought, to devote one of these lectures to gender. I still think this but my initial ideas for the talk – comparisons between women’s position in England and Scotland in the past, some thoughts on gender roles and so on – were soon jettisoned as I realised the impossibility of the approach and the political hot water I could be jumping into – in this year of the referendum (there you go, I’ve mentioned the elephant in the room). So, taking the cowards way out I have alighted on Scottish women and internationalism. Not an especially original topic I know and WHS members have already made some important contributions on this very topic, but hopefully it will enable me to broaden the perspective and think a bit about Scottish women’s various and compatible identities. If that is copping out, so be it! At least it got me a day in the Women’s Library @ LSE to research the International Council of Women. After the surroundings of the original Women’s Library this new incarnation is, at least at present, a little disappointing (and cramped) but at least the collection stayed in one piece and it was gratifying to see the place so busy (be warned – book your seat in advance).

Also coming up are a talk at a workshop in St Andrews that Elizabeth Ewan and I are organising on Scottish Masculinities in which I’ll be speaking about a 20th Century masculine life very far from the hard man stereotype; a paper on a panel at the Berkshire conference of Women’s Historians in Toronto in May which will be re-thinking Gluck and Patai’s classic Women’s Words; and last but definitely not least, my very own inaugural lecture at the University of Glasgow which I hope many WHS members will attend in sisterly solidarity! I am looking forward to that one.

But it’s not all about me! A recent highlight was the publication of Rosi Carr’s first book on Gender and Enlightenment Culture in Eighteenth Century Scotland which started out as a PhD at the University of Glasgow. Rosi has gone on to greater things but in May we will be launching the book in its natural home in Glasgow (the home of Adam Smith though sadly no female enlightenment figures which is what Rosi’s book is all about and the cover image brilliantly portrays) with Jane Rendall attending to make it official. It is one of the most gratifying things about being a PhD supervisor to see your students publish their books and get jobs. Rosi is not the first of illustrious women’s and gender history graduates of Glasgow – she follows the trail of Megan Smitley and Katie Barclay – and I’m sure there will be more. Tanya Cheadle recently successfully defended her thesis on Sexuality in fin-de-siecle Scotland and there must be a book and a film in that!

 

January 2014 – Guest Blogger Alison McCall

Once a month for the coming year and hopefully beyond, WHS will have a guest blogger write a post about themselves and their work. Kicking us off is Alison McCall, our newly elected Convener who tells us about herself, her research and her relationship to Women’s History Scotland. She looks forward to the coming year which has a number of landmark events for her research and career, and in her family life. If any Women’s History Scotland members would like to write a short blog post for the website, please send an initial inquiry to the e-mail address in the ‘Contact Us’ Section.

Hello, I’m Alison McCall.  I became a member of WHS (or Scottish Women’s History Network, as it was then) in May 2002, and attended my first conference, Gender, Families and Relationships in Scotland in November that year.  It was brilliant! Joining WHS and going to that conference were two of the best things to happen in 2002.  Admittedly, the bar for “best things” was set pretty low, as 2002 was the year of the chickenpox, as first my son, then my daughter, then my son for a second time, and then I went down with it; chicken pox at 38 is no joke!

My main academic interest is in women with careers in Victorian Scotland.  Most of the women I have studied have been teachers, a profession which has left a plentiful and rich variety of original source material. However, I am also interested in nurses, clerks, journalists and translators.  During the past twelve years this has proved an ideal subject for conferences. There are few topics which don’t, in some way, relate to Victorian career women.   A side interest is in the life and work of poet and translator Elizabeth (Bessie) Craigmyle (1863-1933) who was a trained teacher and probably Scotland’s best Victorian lesbian poet. Please get in touch if you’d like to read some of her poems.

Having joined WHS with a BA in history from the Open University, I have since completed an M.Litt in Women, Culture and Society and I am currently working on the minor revisions to my PhD thesis.

Through WHS I became involved in the Women of Scotland project.  If anyone hasn’t seen the website, may I encourage you to do so.   http://womenofscotland.org.uk/  This is an exciting project to record and map memorials of all varieties, from large (Helensburgh being the largest so far) to small.  These memorials are linked to biographies of the women they commemorate; women from all parts of Scotland and spanning many centuries.  There are currently over 400 memorials recorded, but there are many, many more to be discovered. I assume that it’s only a matter of time until the site reaches it’s 1000th memorial.

I’m also currently part of a group creating a Women’s Trail for Aberdeen; I hope that the initial trail is just the start of a series of trails, but meanwhile the first trail is being launched on 8 March.

I love archives and the thrill of reading words in faded ink.  If Yankee candles ever bring out a “fusty book” scented candle, I will be one of their main customers.  However, I also love the feeling of being surrounded by history; walking down streets where generations have walked before; past schools where women have taught, into churches where they have worshipped, and graveyards where they have mourned.   My son says that if he ever goes into therapy, he will describe a childhood in which no pleasant family outing was complete without reading at least one gravestone.

2014 is going to be a momentous year for me;  in date order 2014 will include; silver wedding anniversary,  the publication of my son’s first book,  50th birthday, all-being-well graduating with my PhD,  my daughter starting University and finally the WHS Annual Conference!

 

Conference 2012 – Guest Blogger, Morag Campbell 2

WHS Conference 2012

Morag Campbell, Open University and University of Dundee.

Blog 2

This year’s annual Women’s History Scotland conference on Women and Wellbeing: Historical Perspectives, brought together a splendid variety of participants and a correspondingly interesting selection of papers.  The subjects of the papers ranged from ‘baby farmers’ to missionaries, and from as far afield as Rhodesia, Spain, Canada and Nazi Germany; topics embraced birth control and eugenics, sexual wellbeing, mental health, pregnancy and childbirth; we heard women’s voices through letters and poetry, and just as poignantly through the letters of their husbands and families, hinting at women’s suffering, courage and determination.

The study of women’s history has necessarily encountered contradictory approaches as to how the subject of women could be written into a narrative dominated by the history of men. Many of the papers at this year’s conference examined women’s roles in relation to power structures and the society which constrained them, and their efforts to gain independence by the means available to them.  Linda Mahood introduced us to Eglantyne Jebb and her family, whose philanthropic activities, like those of many Victorian women, allowed them access, as educated women, to adventurous and also politically controversial activities otherwise denied to them by legal and social conventions.  Kirsten Elliott’s presentation on birth control clinics in early twentieth century Scotland gave an insight into women’s attempts to control their own fertility, and the opposition faced by the clinics themselves.  Joanna Geyer-Kordesch offered some challenging ideas on the nature of illness itself, and how women perceived their own recovery, or otherwise.

Lisa Pine showed us a near utopian vision of pre and post natal care in Nazi Germany, where women in need of rest and recuperation had the chance to relax on deck chairs in mountain resorts, while family at home were taken care of.   Women were seen as the nurturers of children, who were, after all, the bearers of the national future.  Their husbands wrote of the wonderful benefits of the scheme, and the glory of the nation.  The catch, of course, was that this idyllic opportunity was only available to those of ‘good hereditary stock.’ Not everyone eligible, however, was inclined to take up this offer. One suspects that many who did not, and who recoiled from the idea of handing their family over to another and  leaving their new baby to a wet nurse, may perhaps have been more perceptive and less compliant, and not likely to be regarded by the authorities as quite such an asset to the nation.

I feel I’ve learned a thing or two about attending conferences now and about getting the most out of them.  I’ve learned that the standard opening line for coffee time chat is, ‘Are you presenting a paper?’ and so no longer feel like a fraud when I have to say no.  I think I’ve learned the difference between a good and a bad PowerPoint, and the importance of presenters sticking to their allotted time.  And that the opportunity to mix with others interested in the same subject is just as valuable as the presentations themselves.

Coffee break discussions covered a wide number of topics – health care and midwives in early twentieth century Edinburgh, the medicalization of childbirth, the work of Orange women in maternal and child welfare, the role of Jacobite women, and female school teachers in Aberdeen.  It was also an excellent opportunity to test out my ideas for my dissertation topic, noting some useful suggestions and also potential pitfalls.

It was a little disappointing that there were two no-shows among the presenters, although in at least one instance this allowed time for some animated debate among the presenters.  On the whole, attending the conference was an extremely interesting and valuable experience, and definitely time well spent.  And in addition, it was a lovely excuse to spend some time in Edinburgh on a slightly rainy but otherwise glorious autumn day.

Conference 2012 – Guest Blogger Morag Campbell

WHS Conference 2012

Morag Campbell, Open University and University of Dundee.

Distance learning fits in well with full time work and family commitments, but it can be a lonely business.  Modern technology enables us to communicate with tutors and other students through online forums, webinars and online tutorials, but nothing beats face to face contact with like-minded people.

With this in mind, I’m very much looking forward to attending Women’s History Scotland’s 2012 Conference: Women and Wellbeing on October 12/13 in Edinburgh.  I’m currently studying the Open University’s MA in History, which is split into two modules – the first is an exploration of theoretical and methodological issues, followed by the study of four themes.  The end of module assessment (EMA) is effectively a dissertation proposal which students then go on to write up in the second module of the course.  I’m nearing the end of the first module, and looking forward to researching and writing my dissertation next year.

The focus of my dissertation will be constructions of female insanity in the mid-19th century, specifically in relation to social background.  I’ll be studying a group of patients admitted to Dundee Lunatic Asylum between 1835 and 1860 whose condition was attributed to the effects of childbirth and lactation.

By day, I work on a medical education journal, based at Dundee University, overseeing the peer review process from submission to production.  Although I’m a newbie at attending conferences, and I confess to being a bit nervous, I’m really looking forward to the experience and the opportunity to meet some like-minded people.