Out Gallivanting – Researching women’s history with Aberdeen Women’s Alliance

Aberdeen Women’s Alliance organises workshops on researching women’s history.   These workshops are aimed at the general public, who might not know what sources are available to those with no formal research experience.  Yesterday (22 Feb 2017) archivist Fiona Musk displayed a range of items from the NHS Grampian archive from the C18th to the mid C20th, including registers of nurses and patients , photographs,  rules for student nurses,  and minute books.

Fiona had presented a similar workshop two years ago, but I had missed it. I was determined not to miss this one.  AWA have campaigned for a plaque to Maggie Myles, internationally known author of “Textbook for Midwives” and so we were particularly interested to see the Staff Register entry for Myles.  (Aberdeen City Council has approved the plaque which should be in place within the next couple of months).

Personally, I was surprised and intrigued by the earliest item, a minute book of 1742 detailing the appointment of Isobel Strachan to a post at Aberdeen Infirmary:

An album of photographs of nurses and their patients at Aberdeen Children’s Hospital gave a vivid impression of late C19th care:

My favourite item, however, was the register of admissions to Cornhill Lunatic Asylum:

Causes of insanity included many cases of “disappointment in love” and several “disappointment in Marriage.”  It was pleasing to note that those disappointed in love tended to recover.  Family quarrels, religious doubts, bereavements and excessive tea drinking  all helped fill the female wards.  I was intrigued to see entries for at least two schoolmistresses,  Catherine McAllan, aged 57, and Catherine Warden, aged 46.  I intend to follow these up.   One gendered difference in causes of insanity, we were told, was that “masturbation” was given as a cause only in male admissions!

Alison T McCall

Out Gallivanting – ‘Cutting a Rug’

Image ©John Byrne

On Saturday afternoon I went to see John Byrne’s ‘Cutting a Rug’ at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

The Second Part of Byrne’s ‘Slab Boys’ Trilogy it is set on the night of the ‘staffie’ in Paisley Town Hall in 1957.

As the production website states:

John Byrne’s funny and poignant Slab Boys trilogy paints a vivid picture of the tough, rebellious, working-class culture of 1950s industrial Scotland.

It’s a culture that is largely glossed over in histories of twentieth century Scotland, which Hamish Fraser describes as a ‘tranquil’ decade. Well not for the characters in this play!

Louise McCarthy and Mark Barrett in Cuttin' A Rug. Photo by Tim Morozzo

Although the action focuses on Phil, Spanky and Hector, the female characters are far from two dimensional. We’ve got Lucile and Bernadette, who’ve been jealously fighting over everything since primary school. They are ‘best friends’ who ‘can’t stand each other’. There’s Sadie the tea lady who has a hard life and the latest indignity was being offered the chance of a wee extra job doing a ‘bit of light dusting’ by a wealthy resident ‘up the terrace’, work that she suggests put her own mother in an early grave. Finally there’s Mrs Walkinshaw ‘a maiden lady’ from ‘up the terrace’ who has it no easier looking after her ageing mother and spends the evening at the staff dance drinking too much and thinking of what might have been.

The portrayal of the male characters is well rounded too. For the teenagers Phil, Spanky, Hector, Terry and Alan – it’s all about what it means to be a man, how you should act and what you’re going to become.

Phil has his drawing and hopes of Art School and Spanky, well as he says at the end of the play:

“I’M NINETEEN WITH A WARDROBE FULL OF CLOTHES… I’VE GOT EVERYTHING TO LIVE FOR!”

For more information see: http://www.citz.co.uk/whatson/info/cuttin_a_rug/

It’s on till the 5 March – and I’d wholeheartedly recommend a wee journey to 1950s Paisley  (but as a Buddy I am biased)

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

Out gallivanting – Larry Herman, Street Level Photoworks

Another month, another excellent photographic exhibition in Glasgow.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Glasgow city centre and thought I’d pop in to see Larry Herman’s ‘Clydeside 1974-76‘ at Street Level Photoworks. I’d seen this photograph of children on the roundabout by Red Road high flats and thought I’d see if there any more images of high rise (I’m currently working on a project entitled ‘Housing, Everyday Life and Wellbeing over the long term: Glasgow 1950-75‘ which considers people’s experiences of living in high rise flats in the city).

© Larry Herman: Red Road Flats, Glasgow

Chatting to the attendant resulted in me becoming ‘visitor of the day‘!

But really the highlight was the diverse images displayed and the quality of Herman’s photography. Just about all aspects of life feature; work, home and play. There’s everything from men working in the ship yards of the Clyde, and not just Glasgow but Greenock too, the coal fields of Lanarkshire and outside Chrysler car factory in Linwood. We see women at work in factories, building sites and their homes. There’s also photographs of community groups compiling local newsletters and trade union meetings and much more too.

Many images stick in my mind but this is my favourite. When we think of women’s role in the textiles industry in Scotland we might first think of Dundee jute workers or Paisley mill girls, but the story of the thousands of women who worked in machining factories running up everything from car seat covers to clothes has yet to be told.

If you’ve not been along already, I would highly recommend a visit – the exhibition is on until 27th of November.

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

Out Gallivanting – Eilidh Macrae at the Netball Scotland Annual Conference

A few weeks ago I attended the first annual Netball Scotland Conference at the fabulous ‘Oriam: Scotland’s Sports performance Centre’ based at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

.netball-scotland-annual-confernce-1

Given my position as lecturer in sport development at the University of the West of Scotland, and with my research focus on gender and sport, I’d been invited along to this conference to sit on an expert panel. The issue up for discussion was the future of netball in this Scottish setting, and specifically how to make netball the first choice sport for women and girls in Scotland.

This prompted a fascinating discussion led by the panel and the Netballl Scotland CEO Claire Nelson.  The delegates in the audience helped shape the discussion through their own experiences in netball, as they were all individuals active in the sport from grassroots through to elite level.

The types of events I usually attend are general sport policy or sport history conferences, both of which tend to have only a minority of female delegates, so it was refreshing to come to this event. This was such an inspiring conference environment where the majority of people in the room were experts in their sport and were having a real impact on sport in Scotland, and they were almost all women.

netball-scotland-annual-confernce-2

Netball is thriving as a sport in Scotland, with many ‘bounce back to netball’ teams bringing people back to this sport as adults, and the international netball of today is maybe a bit different to the netball we all remember from school.

Treagus (2005) has argued that in the early 20th century netball taught girls how to ‘play like ladies’, i.e. with ‘restraint’ in their sporting efforts, and a reserved physicality. This is not what we’re seeing today. The rules of the game haven’t changed much but the women and girls pushing this game forward are aspirational and confident rather than reserved, and, testament to their efforts, they have been nominated in the ‘Governing Body of the Year’ category for the Team Scotland Awards.

So the panel discussion centred on the vision of how to make netball the first choice sport for women and girls in Scotland. I started off the panel discussion by focussing in on the issue of what it means for a sport to be the first choice for women and girls – what does that actually mean in today’s society?

There is plenty to note about the issues we have in Scotland trying to get teenage girls to be active, but what I wanted to stress here was what is required for a sport to be the first choice for an adult woman in Scotland today, especially given the growing success of ‘bounce back to netball’ and high numbers of adult women returning to the sport. If you have a life that is already ‘full’ of childcare responsibilities, work responsibilities, family responsibilities, social responsibilities, where is the space for sport? In my book I note that 1970s Britain was a place where women still maintained the bulk of any childcare responsibilities and this therefore had a key impact on their sport and physical activity participation rates, or their ability to juggle these childcare responsibilities:

“These continuities in exercise experiences [from the 1930s to the 1970s] can be attributed to the lack of public funding to support development of both public sports facilities and sport in schools, and the persistent nature of gender relations in the household, which, whilst changing gradually throughout these years, still defined women as mothers first and foremost and the primary caregivers in the home.” (Macrae, 2016)

Has much changed today? At our feminisms conference a few weeks ago Zoe Fairbairns, and the majority of our speakers, reflected on how far we’ve come with feminism, but certainly also how far we still have to go.

There are numerous social changes that still need to be addressed if we are to develop equality in sport, and maintain the inclusivity of the ‘sport for all’ mantra that was the original 1970s policy focus for British sport. My point to Netball Scotland was that they have a real opportunity to shape and promote their sport as one that recognises the barriers still faced by women and girls in sport today. They can try and work around these barriers, offering something different as a sport for women, until we have more balance in wider society that frees women to engage in sport all throughout their lives without gendered barriers.  I hope Netball Scotland, and all those working in sport today, can rise to the challenge.

Eilidh Macrae (University of the West of Scotland)

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

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

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, 1980

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Valerie Wright, University of Glasgow)