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.
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.