Scottish Women’s Aid 40th Anniversary Heritage Project

It would be very helpful, not to mention much appreciated, if you were able to take just 5 mins to fill in this quick online Survey on the Scottish Women’s Aid 40th Anniversary Heritage Project.  Please see full details below and please also find the Survey link here: 

 If you were also able to disseminate this link and these details through your own networks and for onward circulation, as appropriate, this would similarly be much appreciated.

International Women’s Day

Modern Votes for Women PinHappy International Women’s Day!

Here are some interesting links from around the interwebs:






The history of International Women’s Day

Events celebrating International Women’s Day (This event has passed, but members of WHS were present – hopefully GWL will post pics from the event soon!)

Why International Women’s Day is needed

The status of women and women’s and gender history in academia

Feel free to post other relevant links in the comments section!

What are your hopes for International Women’s Day 2015? How will you celebrate?



Women’s History Scotland Leah Leneman Essay Prize 2014 – Results!

Women’s History Scotland Leah Leneman Essay Prize 2014


We are pleased to announce the winner and runner-up of the Leah Leneman Essay Prize for 2014. The winner is Alice Glaze, University of Guelph, with Lin Cunningham, University of Glasgow, as runner-up. The competition again saw a very strong competition and we would like to thank all the applicants for providing such a rich and interesting array for the judges to consider.


Alice Glaze’s essay, ‘Women and Kirk Discipline: Prosecution, Negotiation and the Limits of Control’, is an interesting, well-crafted essay. It is clearly and elegantly written and professionally presented. The research questions and historiography are handled well, and in a nuanced sophisticated way, while the author presents sufficient context and background for a non-specialist in a professional and clear manner. Exemplary cases are used to good end, to support her arguments. An extensive bibliography demonstrates the extent and depth of the author’s reading. The central argument about the ambiguous nature of the control exercised by the Reformed Kirk over women and their bodies is well worked out, making effective use of some difficult source material.


Lin Cunningham’s essay, ‘Independent, Skilled and Enterprising Women in Business: The Dressmakers of Nineteenth-Century Glasgow’, draws on the renewed interest in women’s work and especially the position of businesswomen. This is a wide-ranging piece that deals effectively with a complex topic. Good use is made of a case study of the five MacFarlane sisters to illustrate various issues and changes during the century are well charted. A section on ‘defining success’ is particularly thoughtful. It is a well-written engaging and well-researched essay. The use of records and research is very good and her understanding of the period, historiography and issues is also admirable.


We would like to congratulate both Alice and Lin for their interesting and thought-provoking work, and hope to see both of these pieces published in due course. WHS members might like to know that several previous Leah Leneman prize essays have been published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. The next competition will be in 2016, with a deadline in December.

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.

WHS Schools Essay Competition

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

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


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

You can read the winning entry here :

Extended Essay Sean


September 2014 – Guest Blogger Elizabeth Ewan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Special Guest Blogger on the Referendum – Rosalind Carr

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

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

Marriage, Divorce and the Referendum: a brief historical reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2014 – Guest Blogger Amy Tooth Murphy

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

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

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

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

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


‘How about Antigua’?

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

‘Oh, how about Barbados? It’s lovely’

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

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

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


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


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

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