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.

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.

New blog!

Would you like to blog for Women’s History Scotland?

Anyone who is attending the Annual Conference this year is invited to write a short piece about their experience. A selection of these will be published on the website as part of a blog, and will become a collective piece about the 2012 Annual Conference. Guest contributors can write about a while range of topics to do with the conference; the papers, the venue, the discussions in the coffee breaks, maybe even the biscuits at the coffee breaks! Contributors can be anyone who attends or presents, at any stage of their academic career or anyone who is not in academia.

If this is something you would like to try, please get in touch with Laura at l.paterson@dundee.ac.uk.