Mairi Hamilton: Bursary Winner Report – ‘Everyday Matters: Writing Obscure Lives’

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I cannot overstate how happy I was to receive a research bursary from Women’s History Scotland in April 2018.

I used the bursary to cover the costs of delivering a paper at the academic conference, ‘Everyday Matters: Writing Obscure Lives’, which was hosted by the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson College, University of Oxford in May 2018. My paper explored how the surviving court records about a case of sexual assault can help to provide an insight into the everyday life of an individual woman in nineteenth-century Scotland. Having a platform to draw attention to the prevalence of sexual violence in women’s lives from a historical perspective was a real thrill for me. I originally conducted this piece of research for my masters dissertation and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to return to this material and rework it for a different context and format, thus sharing it with another audience.

Some of the court records Mairi has used in her research © Mairi Hamilton

I was very pleased with how my paper went, especially as it was my first time speaking at an academic conference. I managed to avoid disintegrating into a pile of nerves as I focused on trying to enjoy the experience in the moment and believe in the quality of my work. During the panel Q&A, members of the audience expressed genuine interest in my case study and my research more broadly, which was very encouraging. I now know how it feels to address an audience behind an engraved wooden lectern with an in-built microphone on a raised stage in an ornately wood-panelled auditorium with over a hundred seats on a topic I am deeply passionate about. I expect that I will never forget it.

At the conference  © Mairi Hamilton

The conference itself was extremely interesting. The papers were so thought-provoking that I felt privileged to be featured alongside them. By the end of the programme, my head was full of books to read, ideas to think over, and things to google. I made valuable contacts with scholars in my own discipline and connected with lots of lovely people. There were a number of moments throughout the conference when I felt overwhelmingly grateful for the generous support of WHS that made my participation possible.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to WHS for awarding me a research bursary. Not only was I grateful for the substantial financial support, but also for the panel’s belief in the value of my research, which has meant a great deal to me. Receiving a WHS research bursary personally feels like a huge achievement which I am immensely proud of.

Mairi Hamilton (Recipient of Women’s History Scotland Bursary 2018, University of Glasgow)

Caroline Douglas: Bursary Winner Report – ‘Wipe ma haunds’

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 “to wipe ma haunds” – and she made a graceful gesture over her shoulder with a fine pair, full in the palm and slender in the fingers – perfect pictures.

ELIZABETH RIGBY MEETING ‘FISHWIFE’ JEANIE WILSON

 

In 1843, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson formed one of the world’s first photographic studios, ‘Rock House’, in Edinburgh. Standing in the slipstream of the Scottish Enlightenment, Hill and Adamson produced some of the earliest and most celebrated photographic portraits.

These images are central to my PhD research on women in early Scottish photography. Within Hill and Adamson’s foundational collections is the absent-presence of a certain Jessie Mann. Coating the surfaces with sliver nitrate, Mann was a key figure in the production process at Rock House. In a letter to Hill, dated March 1847, painter and engineer James Nasmyth refers to the “thrice worthy Miss Mann, that most skillful and zealous of assistants” (Simpson 2010, 42). Yet she could not be more peripheral in our historical understanding of these works.

Her invisible, labouring hands form part of my current research on women’s role during the invention of photography; women who worked as practitioners, assistants and as subjects. My practice-based thesis offers a response to the silencing of women and their untold roles in 19th century photography in Scotland.

In April 2018, the Women’s History Scotland Research Bursary enabled me to undertake research in my home town of Edinburgh.

At the heart of my PhD project are the famous calotypes of the fisherwomen (‘fishwives’) of 1840s Newhaven, Edinburgh. Often, these women were subsequently catalogued as ‘Newhaven Beauties’ or as ‘A Love Reverie’, and such practices continue today. Their names? Elizabeth Johnstone Hall, Annie Linton and Jeanie Wilson.

Over the course of 4 days, I was taught how to make a photographic calotype by Rob Douglas (no relation). We worked closely with William Henry Fox Talbot’s nineteenth century invention of the paper negative. Douglas’ training was incredibly attentive to my research. For example, I was shown not only Talbot’s pioneering techniques, but also Dr John Adamson’s (Robert’s brother) modifications to Talbot’s 1839 invention. We were, in essence, retracing the revolutionary developments of nineteenth century photography, from Laycock to Edinburgh, via St Andrews.

ALEXANDRA NELSON AS ‘NEWHAVEN FISHWIFE’, FISHWIVES CAUSEWAY, EDINBURGH, 2018

 

Together with Rob Douglas, I studied how to prepare, iodize and sensitize paper; measure and mix chemicals; calculate exposures; develop; fix….it was a haptic, lengthy and at times quite physical process.

It was important for me to embody multiple positionalitites throughout the process. I shot calotypes (Adamson); sat for portraits (‘Fishwife’); directed the shot (Hill) and assisted the photographer (Mann). More than anything, these durational processes revealed just how collaborative the making of a calotype really is.

Our calotypes were made on ‘Fishwives’ Causeway’, just yards from my childhood home. Never did I expect this path to prove so fruitful for my doctoral research. I used to walk through this lane every school day for six years with Alexandra Nelson, my childhood ‘chum’. Twenty years later, through a process of re-enactment, we dressed in clothing generously loaned from the City Art Centre and were photographed together as ‘fishwives’.

It was odd, humorous and, for me at least, profound. Props were positioned, staged, and precariously placed for minute-long exposures. Photoshoots were quickly followed by the sound of my mum’s car pulling in to the lane. She would drive us, latent calotypes in hand, to the darkrooms to develop the images. All in all, it took a handful of people plus a vehicle to make this work. I left Edinburgh with even more admiration for Hill, Adamson and Mann. The experience confirmed in my mind that we should see the fisherwomen as active agents in the production process; collaborators, even, in the making of the calotype portrait.

My 4 days in Edinburgh raised more questions than it answered. The next stage is to move beyond a romantic reenactment, and develop a more critical engagement with these works.

Meanwhile, the smell of ammonia and gutted fish still lingers.

Caroline Douglas (Recipient of Women’s History Scotland Bursary 2018 – Royal College of Art,  TECHNE)


 

Simpson, R. 2010 ‘Exposing Miss Mann’ in McKenzie, R. and Thorp, M. (eds) Studies in Photography, Scottish Society for History of Photography.


Thank you:

Thank you for the generosity and support from the Scottish Women’s History Bursary and AHRC TECHNE consortium for making this research possible. Thanks to Rob Douglas for your patience and attentive tutoring. And to Roddy Simpson, who first led me to Miss Mann.


Please note:

Later this month, a Kickstarter project will be launched to raise funds to restore the grave stone of Miss Jessie Mann, and for the creation of a commemorative plaque. Details will be released soon. Check @caddydouglas for updates.

 

Out Gallivanting: Women’s Memorials Health Walk, 14 June 2018

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As part of the Golden Games programme to encourage exercise by the over 65s, Sport Aberdeen organised a Memorials to Women Walk on 14 June.  The route was planned by walk leader Fiona Rennie.  I was asked to join to the walk to talk about the memorials, which all feature on our project Mapping Memorials to Women in Scotland, in partnership with Glasgow Women’s Library.

The Walk started at Rubislaw Terrace Gardens, and went past St Margaret’s School for Girls to Harlaw Academy, where there is a plaque to poet Rachel Annand Taylor.

 

Plaque  

http://womenofscotland.org.uk/memorials/plaque-rachel-annand-taylor

We then continued along Albyn Place, stopping at no. 27 to remember a woman who has no memorial in Scotland. Marie Therese Moser and her husband Bernard were German Jews, who had friends in Aberdeen. In 1939, fearing their lives were in danger, their friends found them employment as a housekeeper and manservant at 27 Albyn Place. The paperwork was completed on 29 August 1939, too late for the Mosers, who both died in concentration camps.

We then went to the plaque to Lady May Baird.

Plaques

http://womenofscotland.org.uk/memorials/yellow-plaque-commemorating-lady-may-baird

The walk went past the statue of Queen Victoria at Queen’s Cross, and turned along Carden Place. We turned into Albert Street to see the  plaque to Dr. Agnes Thomson,  which was erected last year.

Plaque to Agnes Thomson

http://womenofscotland.org.uk/memorials/plaque-agnes-thomson

The Craigie Loanings hill came next, fortunately with a stop half way up to look at the small garden in memory of opera singer Mary Garden, and another stop at the top to look at a memorial bench, also to Mary Garden.  Most of the over 65s went up the hill at a faster pace than I did!

 

From there we went down Argyll Place, past Victoria Park, and on to the maternity hospital to see the final memorial, the plaque to midwife Maggie Myles, author of a Textbook for Midwives, now in its sixteenth edition. (you can find out more about Maggie here too – http://womenshistoryscotland.org/tag/maggie-myles/)

Plaque to Maggie Myles

http://womenofscotland.org.uk/memorials/plaque-maggie-myles

After the walk, SportAberdeen had laid on coffee and biscuits at Westburn Bowling Club, where I talked about the Mapping Memorials project.

All those on the walk said that the memorials theme had added considerable interest to the walk, and sparked conversations about other noted women from Aberdeen such as Dr Mary Esslemont. I was impressed that SportAberdeen had devised a route which included four plaques, a park, a school, a garden, a bench and a statue!

Alison McCall (Convenor)

 

Processions 2018 – Edinburgh 10 June 2018

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On Sunday Yvonne and I took our daughters to Processions 2018, a mass participation artwork, in Edinburgh produced by Artichoke, my mum came too. The idea was that thousands of women and girls wearing scarves in the colours of the Women’s and Social and Political Union (WSPU) would create a sea of green, violet and white through the city. Processions were also taking place in Cardiff, Belfast and London.

The excitement about suffragettes began the Monday before when Sylvie and Caroline were allowed to stay about a wee bit late to watch the first half hour of Lucy Worsley’s documentary on BBC1. (If you’ve not seen it, I thought it was really good – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b5y4zg)

Then with my limited sewing skill I made them special suffragette t-shirts.

On the day Yvonne was prepared  bringing materials for the girls to make their own suffrage flags on the train from Glasgow.

© V. Wright

When we arrived at the Meadows it seemed like there were thousands of people of all ages and lots of groups of women from all over Scotland and the North of England with beautiful banners.

Being on the procession was a great experience for us all. We were walking in front of a group of Girl Guides and behind the Scottish Women’s Aid banner, which Yvonne recognised from when she had volunteered with Speaking Out. (The final Speaking Out publication has been published and can be downloaded here – https://womenslibrary.org.uk/discover-our-projects/speaking-out/the-speaking-out-publication/)

© Y. McFadden

© Y. McFadden

We didn’t finish the whole route as the girls were tired, but we did watch the procession pass us at the National Gallery and then popped in for some cake. We finished the day by bumping into Sue and Adele from the Glasgow Women’s Library and Adele’s mum at the train station.

© Y. McFadden

All in a great day out remembering all that women have achieved in the fight for equality and all that is still to do. Processions 2018 was a real inspiration for the next generation!

Congratulations to National Coordinators Jean Cameron and Anne McLaughlin – you did a great job!!


For other accounts and images of Processions 2018 see:

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

1911 Census Protest in Scotland – Request for information

Earlier this year Women’s History Scotland published ‘The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland 1967-1928: A Learning Resource’, in which we discussed both the campaigns of suffragist and suffragettes demanding the vote for women on the same terms as men.

Ruth Boreham is currently undertaking research into the protests made by women in Scotland in refusing to participate in the 1911 census. Read the following and if you have any information please get in touch with Ruth:

There has been much in the media of late about different ways that the suffragettes and suffragists campaigned for the vote in the run up to partial suffrage in 1918, mainly concentrating on the military action of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) lead by the Pankhursts. But many more ways were used to strengthen the voice of those who believed that women should be given the vote, and the census that was taken on the 2nd April 1911 was seen as a way of protesting against the government who were still refusing to grant them a vote, despite decades of campaigning. Women were urged to use the government’s own tool, the census, against them by various means, from spoiling papers, refusing to give information, or avoiding their usual abode.

Activist boycotting the census by defacing the form © National Archives

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

 

There has been much work done since 2009 on the 1911 census returns in England, but what happened in Scotland? Frustratingly the original returns were destroyed long ago, but I am currently looking at the enumerators returns, and other archival records, including letters and newspapers, to find out how widespread the protest was. There were those who wrote ‘suffragette’ as their occupation, those who came together for the night avoiding their usual place of abode, and those who refused to be recorded. I would love to hear if you have discovered any such records in your own research.

Do get in touch! ruth.boreham@gmail.com

Processions 2018: One month to go! Sunday 10 June in Edinburgh

For those members of Women’s History Scotland who remember with fondness the Guid Cause march back in 2009, well there’s another opportunity to march through the streets of Edinburgh to commemorate the work of suffrage campaigners, suffragists and suffragettes, which led to the Representation of the People Act in February 1918.

Processions is described a once-in-a-lifetime’opportunity to take part in a mass participation artwork to celebrate one hundred years of votes for women (well some women! As we know it was only women over 30 who met the property qualifications who were enfranchised, but let’s not let that stop us celebrating!)

On Sunday 10th of June women and girls* in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London will walk together wearing either green, white or violet. The idea is that the PROCESSIONS will appear as a flowing river of colour through the city streets.

Artichoke who are organising Processions 2017 are inviting women and girls* across the UK to come together and mark this historic moment as part of a living portrait of women in the 21st Century

(*those who identify as women or non-binary)

In addition one hundred women artists are being commissioned to work with organisations and communities across the UK to create one hundred centenary banners for PROCESSIONS as part of an extensive public programme of creative workshops. Find out more about the groups and artists involved here.Several of the artists and groups are based in Scotland including:

But as a Paisley buddy I can’t help being biased and promoting the work of the amazing Mandy McIntosh and the Feegie Needlers based in the Tannahill Centre in Ferguslie Park. I can’t wait to see their banner!

Special mention too to our friends at Glasgow Women’s Library working with Helen de Main (congratulations also on being nominated for ArtFund Museum of the Year – everyone at Women’s History Scotland has their fingers crossed!)

I hope to see lots of Women’s History Scotland members on the Procession on the 10th of June!

 You can find out more here https://www.processions.co.uk/  

Sign up for FREE here https://www.processions.co.uk/register/

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

 

 

**WINNERS ANNOUNCED: WHS BURSARY 2018**

We were delighted that in our inaugural year we received many strong applications from postgraduate students, early career researchers and independent scholars from across the country.

After much deliberation and discussion, the steering committee decided to grant numerous awards given the strength of the submissions.

Many congratulations to Mairi HamiltonKate Mathis  and Caroline Douglas.

Mairi will present a paper on violence against women in Victorian Scotland at a conference in Oxford, Kate will present a paper on the presentation of medieval Scottish women during the Celtic Revival at a conference in Inverness, and finally, Caroline will use her bursary to fund research into unknown women in early photography in Scotland.

The WHS Bursary will be offered again in 2019 and we would like to encourage postgraduates, early career researchers and independent scholars working in Scotland or working on Scottish themes to apply.

Further details can be found on the WHS website or by contacting: bursary@womenshistoryscotland.org.

The Suffrage Oak: Marking 100 Years of Women ‘Living and Growing’ into the Body Politic

Suffrage Oak, 2015, before storm damage, © Glasgow Women’s Library

One hundred years ago today, Louisa Innes Lumsden (1840-1935) proclaimed:

‘the vote was the door to everything and the door was open’. [1]

On 20th April 1918, in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, Louisa Lumsden was ‘honoured’ to plant an oak tree to commemorate and celebrate the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave some women the vote. The oak tree stands at the top of Kelvin Way and has continued to be a reminder, symbol and inspiration to the women of Glasgow over the past hundred years. In 1995, on International Women’s Day, the Women’s Committee of Glasgow City Council erected a beautiful plaque next to the tree which reads, ‘This oak tree was planted by Women’s Suffrage Organisations in Glasgow on 20 April 1918 to commemorate the granting of votes to women’. The oak won Scottish Tree of the Year in 2015, nominated by the Glasgow Women’s Library who feature it as a stop on their West End Heritage walk. While sadly damaged and much reduced by Storm Ophelia in 2017, the tree is still standing and will hopefully weather future storms. Glasgow City Council donated the storm damaged oak cuttings to the Glasgow Women’s Library.

 

I first noticed the oak wandering up Kelvin Way many years ago thanks to the plaque and often wondered who were the women that planted this tree. It seems fitting that for the centenary of its planting we should learn their names and more about that Saturday in Kelvingrove Park.

Image of Louisa Lumsden in her St Leonard robes from her autobiography Yellow Leaves: Memories of a Long Life (1933), p.178

In Louisa Lumsden’s autobiography, Yellow Leaves: Memories of a Long Life (1933), she mentions the event briefly and tells us it was presided over by Frances Melville (1973-1962) with the thanks offered by Eunice Guthrie Murray (1878-1960). Lumsden, 78 years of age at the time, had come down from Aberdeen to plant the tree. She was a pioneer of higher education having been one of five women who attend Girton College, Cambridge in 1869 and was a lifelong advocate for girls and women’s education. At one point, she was the Headmistress of St Leonard’s School in St Andrews where Eunice Murray was educated. In 1908, Lumsden was invited to become the president of the Aberdeen Suffrage Society (a branch of National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies). She agreed as long as it did not take up too much of her time but she soon ‘found that little time was left for anything else’.[2] In her autobiography she recalls loaning the suffrage movement her caravan so they could do a kind of suffragists on tour with key figures such as Millicent Fawcett and Elise Ingis. Lumsden described herself as a constitutional suffragist and felt they were fighting a battle on two fronts with the militant suffragettes and the anti-suffragists. As we have seen throughout this year of #vote100, the distinction and tensions between suffragists and suffragettes has been highlighted (see WHS suffrage resource). The event in Glasgow was a ‘joint celebration by Women’s Suffrage Societies’.[3] A meeting after the tree planting was held Queen’s Rooms. Tickets were 6d and could be purchased from either Glasgow Society for Women’s Suffrage, a suffragist society, or the Women’s Freedom League, a suffragette association. After a bit of digging it has become clearer that the suffragists and suffragettes were united in this celebration.[4] The presence of figures from all sides of the Suffrage Movement, both militant and constitutional, indicates that this was intended to unite and celebrate the legacy of all women who fought for the vote.

Image: Queen’s Rooms, Clifton Street, Glasgow (opposite Kelvingrove Park). The location of the Suffrage Celebration meeting on Saturday 20th April 2018. Chaired by Chrystal MacMillan. © Yvonne McFadden

The planting of the Suffrage Oak in Kelvin Way was a collaborative event bring together multiple suffrage groups in recognition of this great step forward for women. The Glasgow Herald reported the event was organised by the Glasgow Society of Women’s Suffrage, Scottish Universities Suffrage Union, Women’s Freedom League, Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise and United Suffragists.[5] The tree planting ceremony was presided over by Frances Melville who was the Mistress of Queen Margaret College, Glasgow and a member of the Scottish Universities Suffrage Union. She was a suffragist and an advocate for women’s higher education. One of the first women to matriculate at Edinburgh University in 1892, Melville was the first woman in Scotland to be awarded a Bachelor of Divinity in 1910 from St Andrews. It was reported that Melville’s speech at the planting of the oak explained the choice of memorial:

‘The Enfranchisement of women would bring new life into the body politic, and therefore it was most appropriate to plant in commemoration a living and growing thing’

She also payed tribute to the role of early suffragists work to the ‘women and men who had so long and loyally upheld the cause – especially those of the older generation, who had worked so splendidly for the cause in its earlier days.’

Frances Melville, Mistress of Queen Margaret College, Glasgow. [source: https://universityofglasgowlibrary.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/frances-melville.jpg]

The vote of thanks was offered by Eunice Gurthrie Murray, who later that year would be the first woman in Scotland to stand as a candidate in a parliamentary election for Bridgeton. She was a lawyer from Cardross in Dunbartonshire and a prominent figure within the Women’s Freedom League. The WFL broke away from the Women’s Political and Social Union, unhappy with the Pankhurst heavy handed centralised control. Murray wrote, ‘I do not like the Pankhursts much, but I declare I bow to their spirit.’[6] Murray was herself arrested twice for addressing public meetings but not charged or imprisoned. She took part in WSPU processions in London and Edinburgh in 1910. A lifelong activist for women’s rights, Murray wrote extensively on the position of women in society. At the Kelvingrove celebration, she was reported to have said:

‘no woman looking back on the long fight for the suffrage could not help being glad she was a suffragist.’

Murray emphasised that women were ready and prepared to take on the responsibility of governance.

The vote of thanks was offered by Eunice Gurthrie Murray, who sat on the nation committee for the Women’s Freedom League.

The celebrations acknowledged the underlying tension of the 1918 enfranchisement in that only some women were now entitled to vote. Where all men over 21 years of age became enfranchised, it was only women over 30 who met the property qualification who could now vote. The events and speeches of the day addressed this and while 1918 was a huge step forward for women there was still work to be done. Later, at the meeting in the Queen’s Rooms, the chair Chrystal MacMillan was reported in the Glasgow Herald as stating that:

‘in celebrating this victory of women’s suffrage they were cognisant of the fact that many women were not included, and while they rejoice in the franchisement of women over 30, they hoped it would not be too long before other women were also enfranchised.’

Louisa Lumsden’s wisdom to young women who felt ‘bitterly’ about their exclusion was to ‘[h]ave patience, prepare yourselves; you cannot be too good for the opportunities that many come in the future’.

The oak tree is a symbol of reconciliation between all sides of the suffrage movement, it was a reminder that women must continue to grow women’s rights. After 1918, women organised themselves into various associations to campaign on issues including equal citizenship, women’s welfare and housing rights.[7] The Glasgow Society for Equal Citizenship held a regular commemorative dinner every year to celebrate the 1918 achievement. Prominent Scottish feminists were regular attendees including Marion Gilchrist, Elsie Inglis, Eunice Murray, Marion Buchanan and Frances Melville. These feminists continued to fight, campaign and advocate for women’s rights in all areas of society long after the vote was won. The Suffrage Oak is a physical commemoration to the legacy of the suffrage movement but it also is a reminder that the fight for women’s rights is a living and breathing movement that needs to be nurtured and maintained. I think Louisa Lumsden, Frances Melville and Eunice Murray would be proud of what their daughters and granddaughters have achieved in the hundred years since they planted their tree and to know that the Oak still inspires girls and women today to continue the fight for equality for all women.

Page signed by attendees of the Glasgow Society for Equal Citizenship Society Commemorative Dinner, 1938 including Frances Melville, Eunice Murray, Marion Gilchrist and others. Part of the Marion Buchanan Collection at the Glasgow Women’s Library.

Yvonne McFadden


Further Reading

WHS Suffrage Resource – https://womenssuffragescotland.wordpress.com

On the Suffrage movement in Aberdeeen see Sarah Pedersen, ‘The Conciliatory Sufragette’ http://womenshistoryscotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/5-The-Conciliatory-Suffragette.pdf

Frances Melville – http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH0222&type=P

Eunice Murray – http://www.helensburgh-heritage.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=897:from-suffragette-to-councillor&catid=39:people-&Itemid=399

Louisa Lumsden, (1933) Yellow Leaves: Memories of a Long Life (William Blackwoods and sons: Edinburgh & London) https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015064809927;view=1up;seq=11


Notes

[1] Daily Record, 22nd April 1918, p.3

[2] Louisa Lumsden, (1933) Yellow Leaves: Memories of a Long Life (William Blackwoods and sons: Edinburgh & London), p. 170 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015064809927;view=1up;seq=11

[3] Daily Record, Public Notices, 19th April, 1918

[4] This is unsurprising as Sarah Pederson has shown networks and friendships between both sides were not uncommon despite their disagreement over methods.

[5] Glasgow Herald, 22nd April 1918, p.6

[6] Diary of Eunice Guthrie Murray: Volume 2

[7] See our suffrage resource for more information on these associations

Women as active citizens: politics and feminism in interwar Scotland

Suffrage in Dundee: WHS Suffrage Learning Resource launch event, 10 March 2018

On Saturday 10th of March as part of Dundee Women’s Festival Women’s History Scotland officially launched it’s new learning resource:

THE WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT IN SCOTLAND, 1867-1928: A LEARNING RESOURCE

We were fortunate to have such welcoming and supporting hosts in Dundee’s Central Library in the Wellgate with Maureen Hood and her team providing display materials from ‘Voteless not Voiceless‘ an exhibition held in the library a few years ago.

The launch was very well attended and there was a great deal of enthusiasm for both the online learning resource and learning more about the history of the suffrage movement in Dundee. In fact it turns out that Dundee could not have been a better place to hold the launch given the richness of the existing history of women in the city.

Following a brief introduction on our motivations for creating the resource and a tour of what information it contained, Esther Breitenbach of the WHS steering committeee gave an overview of the suffrage movement in Scotland, emphasising the long-run nature of the campaign for enfranchisement in Scotland and the differing demands of various groups of women. Central to this is the difference between suffragists and suffragettes: Suffragists used peaceful constitutional methods to make their case that women should have the vote on the same terms on men, and suffragist groups included the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). The suffragettes on the other hand advocated militant action and were largely members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Numerically there were far more suffragists than suffragettes and yet it is the suffragettes that live on in popular memory of the campaign for the vote. Esther also spoke of the early organisation of women in favour of the suffrage cause in Dundee and women’s involvement in political parties and activity in the city.

Norman Watson, journalist and author of several books on women’s history in Dundee including the soon to be reissued Dundee’s Suffragettes: Their Remarkable Struggle to Win Votes for Women then spoke very authoritatively and engagingly on the activities of members of the WSPU and WFL in Dundee such as Ethel Moorehead, Lila Clunas and Agnes Husband. Drawing on his vast collection of postcards, suffrage memorabilia, not to mention extensive knowledge, we all learned a great deal about the reasons why there was comparatively more suffrage activity in Dundee. Central to this was the fact that the then Prime Minister’s constituency was in East Fife and Winston Churchill was standing Liberal MP for Dundee in 1908. At this point Churchill was a rising star in the party, President of the Board of Trade and would go on to be Home Secretary in 1910. As a result Dundee was a high profile constituency and thus a strategic target of suffragette militancy. One of the most famous disrupting strategy was taken by Mary Maloney a member of the WSPU who would ring a bell every time Churchill addressed a crowd in Dundee (see image above). Nearby Perth prison also became notorious as this was where suffragettes were sent to be force-fed in Scotland. The WSPU rented a flat across from the prison so that members could sing songs and chants of solidarity with those imprisoned.

If you would like a more in-depth account of Dundee’s suffragette history look out for the publication of Norman’s book later this year.

Following a tea and coffee break, with refreshments generously provided by Dundee Central Library, historian Kenneth Baxter gave a presentation on the political representation of women in Dundee, which from 1918 to c. 1955 lagged behind the other major cities in Scotland. Dundonians were slow to elect their first female Councillor and first female MP. It was interesting to hear more about the women who were elected, their careers and political priorities in the city. While there is no one definitive answer to explain the relative lack of female elected representatives in Dundee given the city’s reputation as a women’s town, we had a good discussion with many suggestions from those attending the event.

The official launch of the online learning resource was a great success and we are keen to hold similar events throughout Scotland. If you are part of a local history or community group and would like to know more about the suffrage movement in your area please get in touch by emailing: info@womenshistoryscotland.org

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

Out Gallivanting – Conversation Café and Civic Reception

Aberdeen Women’s Alliance held their third Women’s History Conversation Café on Saturday 3rd March in the Town House restaurant.  The topic was the suffragette campaign as described in the Watt archive (the correspondence of suffragette Caroline Phillips).

I was one of the table hosts. There were seven tables, each with a table host and five attendees.  Fears that the severe weather might affect attendance proved unfounded.

The session started with a talk by Prof. Sarah Pedersen. Each attendee had been given a copy of her book on Caroline Phillips, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Each table then examined and discussed items from the archive. These had been photocopied and laminated, with discussion topics printed on the back of each item.  Everyone was fascinated by the selection of items and an hour just wasn’t long enough to discuss them all.  Sarah then concluded the café with a further talk detailing events after Caroline Phillips ceased to be the Honorary Secretary of Aberdeen W.S.P.U.

After the Café, Aberdeen City Council hosted a Civic Reception in the Town and County Hall.  As I was driving I stuck to orange juice, but I didn’t stint myself on the canapes!  There were speeches by Lord Provost Barney Crockett, and Sarah Pedersen.  Best of all were the animated discussions all over the room as people discussed women’s history and politics, with women fired up and enthused by what they had heard and read.  The pile of WHS postcards disappeared quickly.

Alison McCall