Dundee Women’s Festival: Launch of WHS Suffrage learning resource

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We are delighted to be launching our new suffrage learning resource as part of the Dundee Women’s Festival in March!

You can find further details in the beautifully illustrated programme – Dundee-Womens-Festival-Programme-20181 (p. 12) which also has many excellent events for all. There is genuinely something for everyone. Contact details available on the Dundee Women’s Festival Website.

The theme, given that this year is the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, is ‘A Vote for the Future’. So it really is the perfect environment in which to launch our resource (more details of when the resource will go live will follow soon). The study of women’s history in Dundee is well established with Eleanor Gordon’s research on the women workers of the jute mills, Kenneth Baxter’s work on female politicians, Sarah Browne’s research on the Dundee Women’s Citizens Association, and Norman Watson’s work on Dundee women, among many others. And let’s not forget the excellent Dundee Women’s Trail!

On Saturday 10th of March, from 2-4pm in the Wellgate Library we will be thinking about the demands made by women in Dundee for equality both before and after the Representation of the People Act of 1918. We’ll be discussing constitutional suffrage as well as the militancy of the suffragettes. Also we’ll be thinking about the role of political parties and the implications of the vote in Dundee in terms of women’s political involvement.

Practical advice on how to find out more about women’s history in Dundee will be provided along with examples of useful source material.

(Image The Dundee Courier, 3 April, 1911 as featued in http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/localhistory/exhibitions/voteless)

To register for FREE visit the event page on eventbrite.

#Vote100 – 100 years ago some women got the vote

Today the 6th of February marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 which resulted in the partial enfranchisement of some women in the UK.

Banner from the Gude Cause march commemorating the suffrage procession of 1909 in Edinburgh © Fiona Skillen (banner made by F. Skillen and V. Wright)

Here at Women’s History Scotland we’ve been busy working away on our suffrage learning resource which will be launched as part of Dundee Women’s Festival on 10 March. 

But in the meantime here’s a brief (and selective!) round up of celebrations here in Scotland and beyond:

(Follow the whole thread of Lesley’s tweets)

Also see the The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women for details of suffrage campaigners both militant and constitutional in Scotland.

Here’s a great resource from the National Library of Scotland – an excellent place to research Scotland’s suffrage history:

And don’t forget our own ‘Resources for Schools: Women, the Great War, and the Vote

The OU are also commemorating suffrage with this excellent resource:

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/100-years-votes-some-women

And also see the free access centenary collection from Women’s History Review

Finally, and importantly, here are some links to important historical correctives and analysis from Dr Sumita Mukherjee:

 

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

 

Out Gallivanting – Launch of ‘Our Red Aunt’ Exhibition by Fiona Jack at GWL

Yesterday was a good day for women in Scotland with the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the Scottish Parliament. Congratulations to Scottish Women’s Aid, all of the Women’s Aid’s throughout Scotland and everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen.

What better way to celebrate than with a trip to Glasgow Women’s Library for the launch of Fiona Jack’s exhibition ‘Our Red Aunt‘ inspired by her great aunt Helen Crawfurd?!

I don’t really believe in heroes and heroines but Helen Crawfurd is definitely a favourite of mine. She seems like she was a real character! A strong women who stood up for what she believed in.

Fiona’s exhibition, Glasgow Women’s Library’s first international solo exhibition, builds upon her earlier involvement with GWL’s 2016 exhibition ‘Forward’ on the Women’s Peace Crusade. It focuses on the life and work of Helen Crawfurd, who although familiar in the world of women’s and labour history in Scotland is less well known to the general public. When introducing the exhibition, Adele Patrick (co-founder and Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager at GWL) recounted a recent screening of ‘Suffragette’ at Cineworld In Glasgow at which only one person in the audience of 500 could name a Scottish suffragette or suffragist. (I’m sure everyone in Scotland will know a lot more about suffrage before the end of the centenary year!)

Helen Crawfurd (nee Jack) born in the Gorbals in 1877 was actively involved in militant suffrage protest in the UK, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1910. She was involved in the infamous window smashing in Oxford Street in 1912 which resulted in imprisonment at Holloway. She later was imprisoned in Duke Street in Glasgow and Perth where she was forcefed. Unlike the Pankhursts, however as a committed pacifist she did not support the war which began in 1914, instead she joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) travelled to Ireland to meet James Connely and Irish women revolutionaries. In 1915 she became involved in the rent strikes in Glasgow which opposed private landlords profiteering at the expense of their tenants, many of whom were women working in munitions factories while their husbands, brothers and sons were fighting in the armed forces. In the same year she formed the Glasgow Branch of the Women’s International League and in 1916 she co-founded the Women’s Peace Crusade with Agnes Dollan in Glasgow. As vice-president of the Scottish Division of the ILP she was invited to Moscow where she met Lenin. She later left the ILP and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1921.

If you want to know more about Helen Crawfurd you can read her entry in WHS’s own The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (the above was adapted from Audrey Canning’s entry in the Dictionary – pp. 84-85) or for an even more in-depth analysis of her work with the Women’s Peace Crusade see Lesley Orr’s ‘‘‘Shall we not speak for ourselves?’ Helen Crawfurd, War Resistance and the Women’s Peace Crusade 1916-1918’. See also a recent blog post from the GWL’s Laura Matheson ‘Meeting Helen Crawfurd through her own words…’.

All of Helen’s political influences are evident in Fiona’s exhibition which includes a display of banners with her quotations embroidered upon them. Helen certainly had a talent for hard hitting and snappy sound bites!

 

 ‘Could Insanity reach a higher level?’ Helen asks

The exhibition also features Fiona’s beautiful ceramics which depict Helen’s influences. Like Lucy (see tweet below) I think my favourite is the jug with the quote ‘I have been an active supporter of any movement that has attacked capitalism’:

 

Accompanying the exhibition is also a copy of Helen’s autobiography which has remained unpublished for decades in spite of its significance for both women’s and labour history in Scotland. There have been several attempts over the years to publish but legal difficulties have thwarted attempts. Hopefully publication will now be imminent! Meanwhile I’m sure anyone interested would be more than welcome to consult the copy in the Women’s Library.

At the launch we also had refreshments in the form of bread rolls made to a traditional Jack family recipe by the High Rise Bakers based in Gorbals as part of Bridging the Gap. (Helen’s father, William Jack was a master baker)

We all also went home with a lovely gift from the exhibition in the form of a polished stone bearing another quote from Helen ‘in the hands of the proletariat’:

‘Our Red Aunt’ is on at Glasgow Women’s Library until Saturday 17th of March 2018. It’s well worth a visit!

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

With thanks to @rreitak, @suffragettecites, @ELucyJanes, @LesleyOrr14 and @highrisebakersfor the use of images from twitter (I took lots of lovely photos, but turns out my camera wasn’t working!)

 

Out Gallivanting – ‘Scottish Suffragettes’ talk by Prof Sarah Pedersen at Inverurie Library, 29 Jan 2018.

Having failed to get tickets to Sarah Pedersen’s talk on the suffragettes in Aberdeen’s Central Library and then failed to get tickets for the “repeated by popular demand” talk last year, I was delighted to finally hear  her talk in Inverurie Library tonight.  Like all her talks so far, this one was fully booked well in advance.  I took my goddaughter, Kenzi, who has been studying the suffragettes as part of her Nat 5 History curriculum.

Kenzi and I both enjoyed the talk; it was a comprehensive overview of suffragette activity in Scotland for Kenzi, whilst including many details which were new to me.   I particularly liked the photographs of Helen Fraser addressing an all-male crowd of farmers at a mart in Laurencekirk, images which Sarah pointed out were probably the source of some caricatures of strident suffragettes.

Kenzi and I were both particularly interested in Caroline Phillips, our most local suffragette, and so it was a huge bonus to discover that the Heritage Lottery funding which has enabled Sarah to give these talks also provided a free book Caroline Phillips:Aberdeen Suffragette and Journalist for each attendee!

You can also find out more on Sarah’s blog ‘Scottish Suffragettes’ about her Heritage Lottery funded project ‘The Suffragettes in North East Scotland’.

Alison McCall (WHS Convener)

The ‘Extraordinary Slander Case’ – Dundee, 1892

I’m sure anyone reading this who has followed the news over the past few weeks will be neither shocked nor surprised at the latest revelations of how patriarchal power has enabled men to sexually harass and assault women. We all know that such behaviour doesn’t just happen in Hollywood, the acting, entertainment professions or in Westminster and the Scottish Parliament. While the feminist and women’s movements have done much to shine a light and challenge such behaviour, as Zoe Fairbairns powerfully argued in last year’s Sue Innes Memorial Lecture, ‘Five Decades, Five Feminisms’, still it persists.

But what does this have to do with women’s and gender history in Scotland?

Well unsurprisingly sexual harassment and discrimination is nothing new for Scottish women, or women anywhere. But we can learn lessons from the agency and courage that women in the past had in challenging sexist attitudes and harassment.

Here I’ll be discussing the ‘Extraordinary Slander Case’[1] that Marjory Panton, a 21 year old weaver, brought against David Craig, Assistant Mill Manager at Baxter’s Dens Works in Dundee. She took him to court seeking £500 in damages (about £41,000 in today’s money).

Women weavers at their looms inside Dens Works, c.1908, photograph (Photo courtesy of University of Dundee Archive Services) ©

First a bit of context. Dundee is known as a ‘Women’s Town’ as a result of the high proportion of women who worked in the city’s jute mills.[2]The largely female workforce had agency in withdrawing their labour if unhappy with their conditions.[3] If a woman was unhappy in one mill, she could easily find a job in another. Women’s work was very much in demand. This did not mean that they were paid well. Weavers were paid more than spinners, a distinction that became linked to notions of respectability with weavers wearing hats and gloves to work. Spinners thought the weavers were were ‘snobbish’.[4] But it’s worth underlining that no women working in jute earned the same as the male mill owners,  the male overseers, managers or workers. Regardless of the number of women workers, jute remained a patriarchal capitalist industry. Men made not only made more money but they had more power.

The incident

On the 10th of November 1892 Marjory sprained her foot on the stairs at work and spent eight days recovering at home and received treatment from her doctor. Three days after returning to work, David Steedman, a foreman working under Craig, ‘spoke to her about her health’ asking:

 ‘Don’t you think you are growing rather stout?, I do not think so myself but David Craig has been taking stock of you for a while’.

According to The Evening Telegraph Marjory ‘spoke to the defender the same day about the matter’. His response was to suggest that she was ‘uncommonly stout for her age’ and suggested that ‘her best plan’ would be to ‘get a line from her doctor certifying that she was not in a state of pregnancy’.

Marjory evidently went to see her doctor, Dr Miller, who informed her

‘that neither the defender nor any other man was entitled to get from her such a certificate’.

Instead he gave her a certificate to the effect that he had attended her while suffering from a sprained ankle. This was given to Steedman, who passed it to Craig. This was later returned to Marjory with ‘the remark that it was not what was wanted’.

All of Craig’s comments and requests were presumably made in full view of Marjory’s work colleagues, or she was concerned about gossip, as she argued in court that Craig’s

 ‘remarks and demand for a certificate as to her condition were all intended to insult and slander her and lower her in the eyes of her fellow workers’.

 

She accused Craig of making allegations that were ‘false and caluminious’ which were made ‘maliciously and without probable cause’. It was suggested that Marjory’s ‘feelings, character and health had in consequence had been injured’. No wonder!

Marjory demanded that Craig ‘make reparation’ but he had refused. He denied the accusations suggesting that neither he or Steedman ever said to Marjory or anyone else that she was pregnant, he also denied asking for a medical certificate of non-pregnancy. Yet, added that ‘any steps’ that he had taken ‘in the matter’ were ‘taken in the discharge of his duty’ as it was ‘a rule and custom in the Dens Factory to give girls thought to be pregnant warning to leave’. His argument was effectively that as Marjory had not been given warning to leave, he had not accused her of being pregnant.

So the question is whether Craig ever thought she was pregnant or instead used his power to cast aspersions on her character or ‘respectability’? Did he do it because he could? Or was Marjory put through this ordeal because she was ‘stout’? Did he want an excuse to dismiss her?

Obviously we will never know what happened in the Dens factory in 1892 but it seems to me that Craig had picked on the wrong woman! The fact that Marjory was a ‘respectable’ weaver may be significant in the fact that she challenged his behaviour and demanded compensation. Simply put, she wasn’t going to take it.

On the 29th of November Craig received a letter from Marjory’s lawyer requesting a payment of £50 as damages and suggesting that if this was not paid legal proceedings would follow. Craig agreed to a meeting with Marjory and her mother where he stated that ‘he was sorry for the misunderstanding that had arisen’, but ‘he could not apologise, as he had done no wrong’. He refused to pay any expenses. Marjory went ahead with her legal action against him. His response ‘for the sake of amicable settlement, and without admitting liability’ was to agree to pay Marjory’s expenses on the condition that she withdrew her claim for damages. Are these the actions of a guilty man? Marjory agreed to withdraw her claim. A receipt for £4 4s was drawn up to cover the expenses.

The Sheriff Court

However this was not the end of the matter. At a subsequent hearing at the Sheriff Court in March 1893 Craig suggested that Marjory’s statements were irrelevant and insufficient to support the conclusions of her petition, that her claim for damages or reparation had been discharged by her and thus she could bring no further claim against him. He argued that he was entitled to a decree of absolution. Moreover as he was ‘priveliged and had not acted in malice’ he was entitled to absolution with expenses.

Marjory’s lawyer responded that she had only signed the document ‘on the understanding that she was to be substantially recouped’ and ‘in ignorance of the real terms’. In other words, she had been misled.

While Craig’s lawyer demanded discussion on the relevancy of Marjory’s action against his client, the Sherrif ‘thought the action quite relevant’ and Marjory was instructed to appeal to the Court of Session for a jury trial.

In subsequent coverage of what was described as ‘a Dundee Slander Case’ it becomes clear that Marjory and her mother had been coerced into signing an agreement (described as ‘a line’)  to withdraw the claim of damages on condition that the expenses incurred would be paid and ‘promised to recompense her for the injury she had sustained to her feelings’. Marjory and her mother stated that ‘the line referred to … had never been read out to them and they were unaware of its contents’. Mr Murray, the Mill Manager, paid the expenses but ‘informed them that he could do nothing further in the case’. Marjory thus pursued damages through the court as we know. Mr Murray stated through his lawyer that ‘he had acted mainly for the sake of preventing a scandal in the works’, he alleged that he had ‘read over the line in question’ to Marjory, but also admitted that it had been written out by him before Marjory and her mother had arrived.[5] Indeed the Sheriff found that Marjory had signed:

 ‘under persuasion and pressure suddenly applied to her, when she had no opportunity of consulting her law agent or her father, by a person in a position of authority and superintendence over her, a friend of the defender, and who knew little or nothing about the merits of the cause that he pressed her to abandon, except what he had learned from the defender outwith her presence’.[6]

Outcome

In October 1893 the case was settled out of court with Craig granting a letter of apology, paying £25 (£2,051.63 in today’s money) in damages, and paying all the court expenses for all actions.[7]

While the intention of Craig’s original actions remain unclear, Marjory was sufficiently insulted by the insinuation that she was in ‘a pregnant condition’ to pursue him for damages in the Sheriff Court in Dundee. As a young unmarried women, a ‘respectable’ weaver her reputation was obviously important to her and she didn’t want to be gossiped about or humiliated in her workplace on account of being ‘stout’.

Throughout the account of the slander case brought against Craig, his power as her boss is clearly evident, but she challenges this throughout. She is not scared to defend herself.

Whether or not Craig learned from the experience we’ll never know. What we do know is that he retired the following year in 1894 as manager of the powerloom factory at the Dens Works where his long service (40 years) and esteem was celebrated in Maxwelltown Hall by friends and employees. He was presented with a ‘gold albert chain’ and a ‘silver salver’ from the workforce. In his address he discussed the improvements in conditions for the workers over the years suggesting that ‘Formerly 12.5 per cent of the girls were thrown aside in bad health and now only about 3 percent were laid aside’. Paternalism indeed.

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

With grateful thanks to Dr Alexis Wearmouth (School of Business and Management at Queen Mary, University of London) who first sent me the clips relating to the Slander Case while we were colleagues at the Univeristy of Dundee 


[1] ‘Extraordinary Slander Case’ The Evening Telegraph, Wednesday, 8 March 1893, p. 2

[2]V. Wright, ‘Juteopolis and after: women and work in twentieth-century Dundee’. In: Tomlinson, J. and Whatley, C. (eds.) Jute No More: Transforming Dundee. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, 2011, pp. 132-162.

[3] E. Gordon, Women and the Labour Movement in Scotland 1850–1914, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991, especially chapter 4.

[4] Dundee Oral History Project, Oral History Transcripts, Dundee Library – Local History, 1985, 021/A/2:24.

[5] ‘A Dundee Slander Case’, The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Friday, May 19, 1893; pg. 3

[6] ‘A Dundee Slander Case’, The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Friday, May 19, 1893; pg. 3

[7] The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Saturday, October 21, 1893; pg. 4

Sue Innes Memorial Lecture 2017 – Listen now!

Lesley starting her lecture © E. McCrae

On Thursday night (19 October) we were very lucky to have Lesley Orr giving this year’s Sue Innes Memorial Lecture entitled –“To Build the New Jerusalem” Women’s claims to equal citizenship in Scottish church and nation, c.1918 – 1945′. The lecture was co-hosted by the University of Edinburgh Centre for Theology and Public Issues at New College, University of Edinburgh.

Lesley was a close friend of Sue’s as were many in attendance. Sue’s work as an activist, journalist and historian continues to inspire historians of women and gender in Scotland and it was fascinating to see the influence that Sue’s work on citizenship and feminism has had on Lesley’s own research on women’s demands for equality in the ministry of the church in the interwar years and beyond.

Sue’s work on the Edinburgh Women’s Citizenship Association has been particularly influential on my own work on women’s organisations and interwar feminism in Scotland. However, I hadn’t really considered the role that the church had played in the lives of so many of the leaders of feminist organisations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, even thought I was obviously aware of the links between church women’s guilds and the women’s citizens associations. I had completely taken it for granted that women who were influential in the overtly feminist and largely middle-class women’s organisations in urban Scotland would be ‘respectable’ church-going women, but hadn’t thought of how their Christianity shaped their feminism. Lesley certainly has given me a lot to think about!

I particularly enjoyed learning more about Euphemia Somerville, Eunice Murray and especially Vera Kenmure (Findlay) who became the first official female minister in Partick in 1928 and later established her own church as well as being a figure head in Glasgow for women’s equality.

(There are entries on each in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women if you’d like to find out more)

Don’t worry if you missed Lesley’s lecture you can catch up on Soundcloud by clicking on the following:

Valerie Wright  (University of Glasgow)

*** Sue Innes Memorial Lecture 2017 *** 19 October

 ‘“To Build the New Jerusalem” Women’s claims to equal citizenship in Scottish church and nation, c.1918 – 1945′

Dr Lesley Orr

Thursday 19 October 2017, 5.30pm,

Martin Hall, New College, University of Edinburgh

Sue Innes was an inspiring and influential historian, journalist and feminist activist. She was among the founding members of Women’s History Scotland (then known as Scottish Women’s History Network), and was co-editor of the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, which is dedicated to her. Sue died in 2005, and the annual Sue Innes Memorial Lecture serves to celebrate her life, including her commitment to encouraging women’s and gender history – in and of Scotland.

This year’s speaker is Dr Lesley Orr (University of Edinburgh). In common with others who have been invited to give the lecture, she knew Sue personally. Her lecture, entitled “To Build the New Jerusalem” Women’s claims to equal citizenship in Scottish church and nation, c.1918 – 1945′ takes a central theme of Sue’s own doctoral thesis – the meaning of citizenship to newly enfranchised women in Scotland – as its starting point.

This year’s Sue Innes Memorial Lecture is co-hosted by the University of Edinburgh Centre for Theology and Public Issues. It will be followed by a drinks reception in the Rainy Hall, New College.

All welcome – attendance is free, but registration is required.

Register via eventbrite 

 

Out Gallivanting: Glasgow School of Art Graduate Degree Show

So last weekend was busy! Out Gallivanting again on Sunday (3 September). This time just a short train journey to Glasgow to see the Glasgow School of Art Graduate Degree Show.

I’ve been fortunate over the last few months to meet Anna Tüdos and Gina Lundy both studying for Masters degrees at Glasgow School of Art. Their respective work is thought provoking and crucially focuses on women, their experiences and history. Both have created and curated works that are visually striking too.

Anna has been studying for a MLitt in Curatorial Practice with an emphasis on Contemporary Art and she is particularly interested in exploring hidden histories and under represented issues often through unconventional ways of mediating art. I first met Anna when she was working with Kinning Park Complex to mark the 21st anniversary of the sit-in which saved the then community centre from closure. Anna curated a series of events entitled ‘March On:  A celebration of the power of collective voice‘ which included a parade with specially commissioned banners by Greer Pester influenced by the area’s history and specifically drawing on a talk given by Sue Rawcliffe, a PhD researcher at the University of Strathclyde on the Kinning Park Cooperative Women’s Guild (the first in Scotland and prominent in the Rent Strike of 1915). Women continued to be prominent in community protest in the area including the sit-in of 1996. Anastasia Rice‘s ‘All Welcome’ banner, created for the sit-in, and featuring the work of 25 women, was installed as part of Anna’s week long exhibition. Gorbals and Laurieston Cooperative Women’s Guild Branch banner also featured for one day only on the 16th of July, generously supported by Fiona Hughes social history curator and Helen Hughes textiles conservator from Glasgow Life.

For the degree show Anna has installed Greer’s banner along with a video of the parade (produced by Jarvis Gray Films).

Both give a real sense of the energy of the people who use Kinning Park Complex, of the community that has been maintained as a result of collective action and of the importance of the area’s history in shaping current projects. While I missed the parade back in July, having attended other events at the Complex, I think Anna has really captured the spirit of the area and it’s history in her curatorial work. The girls liked it too, especially the end of the film when everybody cheered and the fact that that they could bring home a free poster.


I met Gina only over a week ago at the Q&A for Dispossession at the Glasgow Film Theatre, in which her work features prominently. Gina is a (Glasgow based) photographer who has been creating work around social housing in London since 2010. Since moving to Glasgow two years ago she’s been creating research into women’s voices within the current housing crisis through interviews with resident campaigners and protest groups. She’s also been studying for a MRes in Creative Practices. Gina is particularly interested in the disproportionate impact of austerity cuts on women.

Gina’s work draws upon women’s personal histories and their activism when their homes, neighbourhoods and communities are under threat. There are many parallels to be drawn with similar action taken by women in the past, again the 1915 rent strike comes to mind, as does the campaigns against dampness in council housing in the 1970s, the poll tax in the early 1990s and more recently the bedroom tax. Grassroots campaigns by women are everywhere in our history when we think of threatened school closures; funding cuts to public services such as libraries and maternity units; and demands for improved housing conditons.

Gina uses women’s own words in her work, we are hearing their thoughts and feelings and this is very powerful. Similarly many of the women who were photographed for the project are ‘hidden’ in images only to be revealed from another angle, symbolic of the way in which women’s voices can be marginalised in debates around housing redevelopment at a national level. Yet through Gina’s work we see them and hear their voices.

We were all very impressed by Gina’s work.


You can see more of Anna’s work on the GSA flickr account and can find out more about Gina’s project ‘Fantastic New Community’ and her other work on her website


Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

Out Gallivanting: Speaking Out Celebration Conference

Saturday (2nd September 2017) was a lovely day for a trip to Dundee (it’s always sunny in Dundee!)

It was an early start from Glasgow, but we didn’t mind as we were heading to celebrate all of the great work that has been achieved by the volunteers and staff at Speaking Out, the ongoing oral history project to record the history of Women’s Aid throughout Scotland over the last 40 plus years. And there is a lot to celebrate!


© Glasgow Women’s Library, Scottish Women’s Aid Archive

The day opened with the Dundee Women’s Aid choir welcoming us to the Steeple, a lovely venue at the heart of the city centre,

Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid then provided a short welcome and introduction, then Lesley Orr explained how the Speaking Out project had come about and underlined the need to record the history of the Women’s Aid movement given it’s significance as a crucial social movement in Scotland. As always Lesley’s words were inspiring!

As were the words of the pioneers of the movement in Scotland. Such women, working voluntarily to help each other were ‘Rocking the Status Quo’:

Our very own Hannah Telling was up next to discuss the longevity of inaccurate discourses of violence against women which have regularly portrayed perpetrators as working class and survivors as provoking violence. The continuation of such myths from the nineteenth century to the present day was striking. But as Hannah concluded Scottish Women’s Aid have actively challenged these discourses by opposing violence against women in all forms and by providing support and practical help for women of all backgrounds throughout Scotland since the early 1970s. Important work which they continue to do today.

Before lunch we attended a break-out session on the making of the Speaking Out film which features clips of some of the women interviewed for the project, both workers in refuges and service users. Sarah Browne underlined the importance of sensitive training in oral history interviewing. The dedication and professionalism of all of the volunteers, as well as the Speaking Out team, has resulted in a unique resource for researchers, students and for the Women’s Aid movement itself.

After lunch we had an energising performance of poetry from Mridul Wadhwa which was another highlight of the day.

Then we attended another break out session in which we learned about the Scottish Women’s Aid archive at Glasgow Women’s Library where the project archivists Elizabeth O’Brien and Nicola Maksymuik  told us about the collection and volunteer Yvonne McFadden shared her experience of working on comprehensively cateloguing the newspaper clippings collection. Yvonne explained that it could be emotional work which would often make her angry given the portrayal of survivors of violence as ‘asking for it’. However, while the continuities could be depressing, the work to combat violence against women as evidenced in the newspaper clippings was energising too. The database that Elizabeth, Nicola and Yvonne have been working on will soon be available on the Glasgow Women’s Library online catelogue.

We then heard from the volunteer panel of Dot Aidulis, Yvonne McFadden and Morag Allan Campbell who shared their experience of volunteering in various capacities in the Speaking Out project. Yvonne, a historian and researcher, spoke of how working on Speaking Out has re-ignited her interest in history and led to new friendships and experiences she wouldn’t have had otherwise. For Morag, volunteering on Speaking Out while making the transition from full-time office work to PhD research, has given her confidence and strength.

Dot spoke eloquently and powerfully of her experience as a service user, of hearing about the Speaking Out project at another event and of approaching the team to take part. She spoke of coming across a small leaflet for women’s aid while living with her abusive partner. This ‘planted a seed’ and made her aware of a whole support system out there that could help her. That feeling built up and was instrumental in helping her to  find the courage and confidence to leave. Dot called Women’s Aid soon after she got to Glasgow and has received great practical and emotional support over the years. For Dot the power of Women’s Aid was in telling her story and being believed. Dot has achieved so much in her life, before and after living with her ex partner. It was truly inspiring and very emotional to hear her talk of her pride in participating in committees in the Scottish Parliament discussing violence against women. I’m glad that we have Dot advocating for women in Scotland! I’m glad that all of the volunteers in Speaking Out have given their time, expertise and knowledge to such a worthy and truly collaborative project.

The day ended with a rousing and thought provoking talk from Lesley Riddoch on the importance of doing politics differently and the need for local power which would increase women’s participation. She suggested we needed a reordering of society to prioritise the average rather than the elites. The effectiveness of grassroots social movements like Scottish Women’s Aid in making women’s voices heard was crucial in establishing such local power for everyone. Lesley certainly gave us lots to think about.


Women’s History Scotland is a partner in the project along with the Glasgow Women’s Library and the Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow.

If you’d like to know more about the history of, and contemporary, campaigns against violence against women in Scotland see:

And if you’d like to learn more why not participate in Strathclyde University’s Massive Open Online Course ‘Understanding Violence Against Women’ where you’d be learning with Roisin McGoldrick and Anni Donaldson

 

Out Gallivanting: ‘1745’ and Glasgow Slavery Remembrance

Last Thursday night (24th August) the Kinning Park Complex‘s weekly Community Meal took the form of a special event to mark UNESCO‘s designated ‘International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition’. Organised by poet and author Kate Tough, this was a thought provoking and energising evening of lovely food (provided by Küche), good company and interesting discussion.

© 1745 film (https://www.edfilmfest.org.uk/2017/1745)

However the highlight for me was the acclaimed short film ‘1745‘, which is about two enslaved sisters escaping into the Scottish wilderness against the back drop of other well known events in Scottish history. Sisters , and  play the lead roles and their performances are excellent. It is a haunting and evocative portrayal of what life may have been like for the African women captured, enslaved and forced to work in grand houses in Scotland in the eighteenth century. Their reasons for taking the risk of escaping their oppression are made all to clear. I hope Morayo and Moyo are successful in their indiegogo campaign to fund a full length feature. This is very much a story that needs to be told.

The University of Glasgow’s ‘Runaway Slaves‘ research project were advisers to the filmmakers and Nelson Mundell was present with Zandra Yeaman of the Coalition of Racial Equality and Rights to lead the discussion following the film along with Kate.


Over recent weeks there has been increasing discussion of Glasgow’s historic connections to the slave trade and the legacy of this for the city. This is not surprising given events in the United States relating to the removal of confederate monuments and the resulting backlash from white supremacists.

Glasgow’s eighteenth-century built environment and architecture was shaped by Tobacco Lords and West India merchants, in what is now rebranded the Merchant City’. This was paid for by the wealth generated by the trade in enslaved Africans and the products of their labour. Similarly Glasgow’s cotton industry had a direct link with the plantations in North America. Industries throughout Scotland were developed in the 19th Century by industrialists and capitalists who had made their fortunes not only through their own entrepreneurial endeavours, but through speculative investments in Sugar and Cotton. Glasgow is not alone in this. Cities and towns throughout Scotland benefited from the money made by individuals through ownership and investment in slave plantations.

For some commentators Scotland is yet to come to terms with this legacy given the lack of permanent exhibition space or a museum to acknowledge the role of slavery in the nation’s development. However for others, acknowledgement of Glasgow’s and Scotland’s prominent role in the accumulation of wealth from the trading in captured and enslaved Africans is well on its way to becoming mainstream and a well-known part of the city’s and nation’s history.

Discussions are ongoing and will continue in Glasgow and beyond with a series of events in the next few months.

If you are interested in finding out more about the legacy of slavery in Glasgow see:

Stephen Mullen‘s It Wisnae Us The Truth About Glasgow and Slavery (The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights worked with the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) to launch this publication detailing the true role of Glasgow in the trans Atlantic slave trade)

University of Glasgow research project – Runaway Slaves in Britain: bondage, freedom and race in the eighteenth century

For more information on upcoming events in Glasgow and beyond see:

Black History Month – for listings see http://www.crer.scot/black-history and http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/listings/region/scotland/

Africa in Motion (AiM) film festival

Kate Tough’s website where you’ll find details about Glasgow Slavery Remembrance

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