WHS Annual Conference 2016- ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practice’ – Report and Resources

[Images: top right © Scottish Women’s Aid Archive at Glasgow Women’s Library, bottom right © University of Glasgow Archive Services, DC127/22a]

Women’s History Scotland Annual Conference: ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practice’

[Please see the ‘Resources‘ section below for access to some of the powerpoint presentations from the day and link to the audio on Soundcloud]

Conference Report – Hannah Telling

The annual WHS conference which examined the theme of ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practice’, was held on Friday 9 September. Glasgow Women’s Library, recently lauded in the national press as ‘a treasure trove that shows how far feminism has come’, served as a fitting venue for this year’s event. At the completely sold out conference, delegates were treated to a host of wonderful papers, with themes ranging from the emergence of Women’s Aid to the feminist fashion of Doc Martens. The event concluded with the Sue Innes Memorial Lecture, delivered by the inimitable and inspiring Zoe Fairbairns.

After an introduction to Women’s History Scotland delivered by convenor Alison McCall, Tanya Cheadle delivered a paper on the late nineteenth-century feminist and socialist activist, Bella Pearce. Tanya’s paper talked of the ‘uneasy relationship between socialism and feminism in the 1890s’, as feminist social reformers attempted to navigate labour parties that were ‘first and foremost a man’s party’. Pearce’s feminist activism contrasted, in a perhaps unique example, with her unconventional faith. She became a devout disciple of a Christian sexual mysticism organisation, the Brotherhood of New Life, whose founder espoused the doctrine that ‘by denying sexuality, Christianity becomes sterile’. Tanya’s paper provided a fascinating insight into the relationships, activism and faith of one feminist reformer in late nineteenth-century Scotland.

Jane Rendall was next to deliver her paper, exploring female friendly societies in Scotland, c.1789-1830 and ‘the principle of Mutual Support’. Jane began her talk by discussing the role of ritual-based, religious and philanthropic societies and their growth in this period. Interestingly, whilst Jane had detected 1560 male friendly societies, only 66 female equivalents were discovered. These female friendly societies were concentrated in South West Scotland and were noticeably absent from the urban centres where the strength and influence of male trade predominated. Despite the limited number of female friendly societies, Jane revealed how such organisations helped to consolidate neighbourhood ties, provide recognition of women’s identities and allow members of all classes new experiences and opportunities.

Sarah Browne of the ‘Speaking Out’ project presented the final paper of the ‘Activism’ panel, examining the links between feminism and Women’s Aid in the 1970s and 1980s. Women’s Aid, which campaigned to end domestic abuse and assisted women seeking to escape abusive partners, emerged out of and became a testimony to the Women’s Liberation Movement. Sarah talked of how attention to the ‘Herstory of Women’s Aid’ allowed for a reclamation of women’s pasts, whilst providing opportunities for reflection on what had been achieved and what still needed to be done. Sarah reinforced the central tenet of Women’s Aid and indeed feminism – that the abuse of women was (and still is) central to women’s unequal position within society. In concluding, Sarah emphasised that whilst Women’s Aid is ‘always moving forwards’, the organisation’s roots in the Women’s Liberation Movement will continue to be acknowledged.

Georgia Mackay opened up the second panel on ‘Material and Visual Culture’ with a wonderful paper on Doc Martens and feminism. Georgia pointed out that Cinderella teaches us that ‘one shoe can change your life’, yet asked what happened when women rejected ‘overtly sexual’ sky-high heels for ‘kick ass heavy boots’, the Doc Martens. In a paper that explored the links between fashion and feminist subculture, Georgia explored the history of Doc Martens, whilst reinforcing the idea that ‘any item of clothing can be feminist if intended so by the wearer’.

Nel Whiting concluded the morning session with a paper that applied feminist methodology to portraiture, unearthing the subtle gender dynamics of David Allan’s The Family of the Earl & Countess of Hopetoun. Nel’s application of gender theory and close analysis revealed implicit power relations contained within the portrait. Nel argued that artwork reflected and replicated contemporary values and thus formed a key part of society’s discursive network, thereby demonstrates how analysing portraiture can be of great use to the researcher of eighteenth-century gender relations.

The editors of the 2nd edition of the ‘Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women’ gave an update on their progress after lunch, informing delegates that the volume will include 150 new entries of notable women throughout Scottish history.

In keeping with the theme of ‘Biographies’, Sarah Edwards delivered a paper on Dr Dorothy Meads, the principal of Bishop Otterly College. The paper included a history of the college itself, from teacher-training college to RAF base during World War II. Sarah talked about Dr Meads’ reforms and how she embodied the contemporary conceptualisation of female principal in this period – an amalgamation of feminine nurturer and masculine protector exhibiting quasi-parental control over the female students.

In the final paper of the day, Susan Batchelor presented an examination of the life and influence of Pearl Jephcott, whose pioneering sociological research privileged the experiences of ordinary young people in detailed and broad-ranging analyses. Susan showed how Jephcott utilised 1960s sociological approaches, yet also foreshadowed later developments, especially in the form of feminist epistemology in the 1980s. Susan concluded that ‘Jephcott was a sociology research pioneer, yet also a feminist research pioneer’.

The annual Sue Innes Memorial Lecture was delivered by Zoe Fairbairns, who began her lecture by thanking those who have worked so hard to keep Sue Innes’ name alive. Zoe’s wonderful lecture explored ‘Five Decades, Five Feminisms’, demonstrating the many developments that have been made in the pursuit of gender equality. Zoe took the enraptured audience through each decade, from the 1960s when feminism was yet to be named, to the challenges of the new millennium – terrorism, anti-feminist backlashes, the dangers of the internet-age and the continued prevalence of violence against women and children. Despite the work still to be done, Zoe’s lecture was ultimately celebratory. She said that ‘I would say that a lot has changed for the better, and that we, as feminists, should congratulate ourselves for our part in that’. Zoe cited greater representation of women in politics, the successful introduction of equal marriage, women in well-paid employment and men engaging in domestic duties as examples of the many developments achieved through five decades of activism and feminism. To rousing applause, Zoe concluded her lecture, and the WHS annual conference, using Sue Innes’ own words – ‘let’s go on making it work’. 


Resources

For those of you who couldn’t join us – click the relevant links below to access powerpoint presentations from some of the presentations on the day and the audio recordings on Soundcloud

PANEL 1: Activism

Tanya Cheadle, University of Glasgow – Bella Pearce / ‘Lily Bell’: Glasgow Feminist, Socialist and Christian Sexual Mystic – whn-glasgow-pp

Jane Rendall, University of York – ‘The principle of mutual support’: female friendly societies in Scotland c. 1789-1830 – rendall-glasgow

Sarah Browne, Heritage Project Co-ordinator, Scottish Women’s Aid – ‘Pledging our support to the seven demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement’: Feminism and the emergence of Women’s Aid in the 1970s and 1980s – brownewhspresentation

PANEL 2: Material/ Visual Culture

Georgia Mackay, University of Glasgow – The End of High Heels? Doc Martens and Feminism in the late 20th Century – the-end-of-high-heels

Nel Whiting, University of Dundee – A ‘voyeuristic fiction of candour’? Feminist Methodology and Portraiture 

PANEL 3: Biographies

Sarah Edwards, University of Strathclyde – Dr Meads and her wartime flock: the history and representation of Bishop Otter College at Bromley, 1942-45

Susan Batchelor, University of Glasgow – Pearl Jephcott and a Time of One’s Own – revisiting-jephcott-whs-conference-sb-080916

SUE INNES MEMORIAL LECTURE:

Zoë Fairbairns, Five Decades, Five Feminisms – http://www.zoefairbairns.co.uk/Sue_Innes_Memorial.pdf

Less than two days to go – WHS Annual Conference – ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas and Practice’, Glasgow Women’s Library, Friday 9 September

With less than two days to go until our fully booked conference at Glasgow Women’s Library on Friday (7th of September), we’re in full swing with the preparations!

Our new publicity postcards arrived today and all the final preparations will be completed tomorrow.

The event is fully booked and we’ve been overwhelmed by the response.

Hopefully you’ll already have registered and we’ll see you on Friday!

The event is free but donations are encouraged. 

To join WHS please click here

Here’s the full programme for the event for those attending – whs-final-feminisms-conference-programme.

If you can’t make it we’ll be tweeting @womenshistscot #whsfeminisms

Watch this space for a report on the conference.

***REGISTRATION OPEN*** WHS Annual Conference – ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas and Practice’, Glasgow Women’s Library, Friday 9 September

Images: top right © Scottish Women’s Aid Archive at Glasgow Women’s Library, bottom right © University of Glasgow Archive Services, DC127/22a

Women’s History Scotland are delighted to invite you to our annual conference – ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practices’. We have a very exciting line-up of speakers exploring wide-ranging themes including feminist activism, material and visual cultures, and biographies.

Full programme – WHS feminisms conference programme

This year’s Sue Innes Memorial Lecture will be delivered at the conference by Zoe Fairbairns, entitled ‘Five Decades, Five Feminisms’.

Zoë Fairbairns first encountered the words ‘women’s’, ‘liberation’ and ‘movement’ side by side in the same phrase in 1969.  She was in the USA at the time, but couldn’t wait to hurry back to St Andrews University (from which she was taking a year out) and set up something similar. By the time she got back, feminism had already arrived. Together with fellow-student Sue Innes, and others, Zoë became a founder-member of the St Andrews University Women’s Liberation group.

Zoë is a novelist, short story writer, journalist and playwright. Her books include Benefits, Closing and Other Names. She co-authored the pamphlet ‘Saying What We Want:  Women’s Demands in the Feminist Seventies and Now’. She is a member of the Women’s Equality Party and the Fawcett Society, and is a Friend of the Feminist Library. She also meets regularly with a group of other women who were active as feminists in the 1970s and who want to continue raising their consciousness. She teaches creative writing at the City Lit in London, where she lives. Her website is at www.zoefairbairns.co.uk

The conference will be held at Glasgow Women’s Library. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. Women’s History Scotland have decided to make this year’s conference as accessible as possible and so will not be charging a fee for attendance, but instead suggesting a donation to WHS on the day if attendees are willing/ able. All are very welcome and we look forward to seeing you on the 9th September!

REGISTER FOR FREE via eventbrite – ‘WHS Annual Conference: Feminisms, Histories, Ideas & Practices’

Any queries can be sent to whsconference2016@gmail.com.

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)

Our inspiration – Alison’s grandmother

In this new section of our website the members of Women’s History Scotland’s steering committee will share their inspiration behind their research on women and gender in Scotland. First up is our convenor Alison McCall who shares her memories of her grandmother:

 

I’m not sure what age I was when my interest in Women’s History was first sparked, possibly about the age of 12. I do recall where I was; I was sitting at our dining table having dinner with my parents.  My father said that he thought society was going to the dogs because of “working mothers.”  I pointed out that he had been brought up by a “working mother” and he said that his mother had not worked when he was a child.

Source: Alison’s gran and her dad, Inverlochy, late 1930s

I loved talking to my grandmother and I knew her lifestory well. She had been a teacher but gave up reluctantly when she married. I sometimes wonder if her reluctance partly explained why she didn’t marry until she was five months pregnant, but that wasn’t really the sort of question you could ask my grandmother!

My grandfather was an insurance agent with Co-operative Insurance, covering a huge area around Fort William. His job involved driving round collecting premiums from customers. No sooner had the Second World War broken out than petrol was rationed.  My grandfather’s job immediately contracted; farming clients were encouraged to pay their premiums in Fort William on market day, rather than my grandfather driving to collect them; weekly visits became fortnightly, fortnightly visits became monthly.  Fearing conscription into the Army, my grandfather enlisted in the R.A.F as a mechanic in May 1940.  Gran took over his job. She would take my aunt to school and then set off in the car with my father, aged three, beside her.  She enjoyed it. Customers would ask after my grandfather, especially once he was in the Middle East. Farmer’s wives would slip her a couple of eggs or a half-dozen tatties.  She kept the paperwork up to date and finished work for the day at 3.30pm when my aunt finished school. This was when her “second shift” started, keeping the house clean and the children fed.   Air raids on the nearby aluminium works meant that sometimes she would have to get the children up in the night, and go to the air raid shelter.

Knowing all this, I challenged my father’s assertion that his mother “had not worked” when he was a child. He said that a 9.30 -3.30 day didn’t count as working. I pointed out that she worked exactly the same hours as my grandfather had, immediately prior to enlisting, and she wasn’t going home to a cooked dinner afterwards. He then argued that my grandfather had been fully focussed on his work, which made it a “proper job” whilst my grandmother had done the same work, but accompanied by a toddler, which meant that it wasn’t a “proper job.”  As soon as my grandfather returned from the war, in late 1945, it became a “proper job” once more, because my grandfather wasn’t juggling it with childcare and housework.

That sparked a curiosity in me; I wondered how many other women’s work had been similarly undervalued, or invisible. I wanted to know the “real story” of women’s work, paid or unpaid.  It is a curiosity which has never been quenched.

(Alison McCall, Convenor of Women’s History Scotland)

Leah Leneman Essay Prize 2016

The 2016 Leah Leneman Essay Prize competition for an essay in Scottish women’s or gender history is now open!

Full details are available on the poster below. Any questions about the competition and the prize should be directed to Deborah Simonton at dsimonton[at]sdu.dk. The deadline for entries is Monday the 16th of December 2016.

Please spread the word!

WHS Essay Prize 2016 Poster

Good luck to all who enter!

40 years of Scottish Women’s Aid – Sarah Browne

We’re delighted to have Sarah Browne blog for us this month. Sarah Browne has been a member of Women’s History Scotland for many years, and won the essay prize in 2008 and completed her PhD on the women’s liberation movement in Scotland in 2009 at the University of Dundee. Sarah now blogs for us in her new role as Heritage Project Co-ordinator for Speaking Out, a project which seeks to produce a history of Scottish Women’s Aid in its 40th year. 

Recognising and Recording the Contribution of Women’s Aid in Scotland

As well as ‘but weren’t they all just bra-burners?’, ‘What about Men’s Aid?’ was the question I was most frequently asked during the time when I was conducting PhD research into the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM). I’ve lost count of the number of times it was asked by taxi drivers, people in pubs, relatives, and friends and strangers who I chatted to during the three years of my PhD. Depending on who was asking this question and the way they asked it, it more often than not raised my heckles.  This wasn’t just because I was completing a women’s history project to contribute towards redressing the balance in historical accounts which tended to favour the stories of men. It was because this question failed to recognise the hard work and determination of the women who created a Women’s Aid network in Scotland. Women’s Aid didn’t just happen. It wasn’t gifted to women by politicians or some kind benefactor. It wasn’t as simple as just asking ‘what about Women’s Aid?’ and then expecting it to happen.  It was hard fought for and involved women putting in huge amounts of energy and effort alongside paid employment, contributing to other political campaigns, and undertaking caring roles for partners, children and relatives. Those women who contributed to this story deserve to be recognised and celebrated and that is why it is so exciting that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded Scottish Women’s Aid, in partnership with Glasgow Women’s Library, Women’s History Scotland and the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History, funding for a two year project to document the history of Women’s Aid in Scotland.

Women’s Aid emerged in Scotland in the early 1970s. Women had been meeting and campaigning as part of the WLM in Scotland, which had emerged in the late 1960s. This movement was a direct challenge to many of the stereotypes, laws and practices which prevented women from living full lives. Campaigning for equal pay, free and available childcare, free and safe abortion, and financial and legal independence amongst many other issues, the WLM was hugely important in politicising a number of women and encouraging them to find practical solutions to some of the issues facing women. Women’s Aid was one such practical solution. In the early 1970s women in Edinburgh and Glasgow formed groups which began researching the practicalities and possibilities of establishing refuges in both cities in order to provide support to women who were living with or leaving violent situations. Inspired by the first refuge in the UK at Chiswick, these women realised that this provided an important model and that women in Scotland needed something similar. By 1977 there were 15 refuges in Scotland and in 1976 Scottish Women’s Aid was set up to help to co-ordinate this emerging network and to provide research, training and support to groups.[i]

Refuges were unfortunately much needed. During the 1970s the prevalence of domestic violence became apparent. Indeed, one of the most important roles of Women’s Aid in Scotland was conducting research which highlighted the incidence of domestic violence. More often than not viewed by many in wider society as a private matter between husband and wife, this research was crucial in demonstrating to politicians, the police, and the general public how prevalent domestic violence actually was. The statistics were eye-watering. Two pioneering researchers based then at Stirling University – Rebecca and Russell Dobash – undertook important work looking at ‘battered wives’ and through interviewing women and looking at police records, they concluded that at the end of the 1970s 25% of all violent crimes involved husbands being violent towards their wives.[ii]

So in addition to organising refuges and the many tasks that were associated with that, Women’s Aid set about providing training and undertaking important educational work to help challenge and change views of those on the frontline – the police, the legal system, the medical profession – as well as the wider public. This led to changes in the way domestic violence was understood and talked about. Even at the level of language, Women’s Aid was central to changing the conceptualisation of this issue, so terminology moved on from ‘battered wives’ to ‘battered women’, and then concepts of domestic violence and domestic abuse were introduced; helping people to realise that domestic abuse was a whole system of degradation, control and fear often expressed in psychological, and not just physical, ways. It is testament to the hard work and courage of all those women involved in the Women’s Aid network that perceptions have shifted. Jennifer Kerr, who was involved with Dundee Women’s Aid, said that our understanding of domestic abuse now includes recognition that:

There are individuals and patterns used by individuals to abuse, that men abuse the power that they have over women. That men abuse the power that they have over children – and that this is wrong and that it is right to get out of those situations. That’s a huge, huge change.[iii]

They did all of this often in the face of opposition from neighbours living next door to refuges, socially conservative politicians who thought Women’s Aid was interfering in relationships, media which often trivialised the issue, and a legal system which could be slow to change. This project hopes to recognise the hard work of the women from the Women’s Aid network but also to draw our attention to the importance of Women’s Aid in transforming our understanding of many aspects of gender relations in Scotland.

So when asked ‘What about Men’s Aid?’, my response usually went something like this: ‘if you want a Men’s Aid, then get together with your friends and comrades and set it up’. That’s what groups of women did in the 1970s and thank goodness they did.

The Project – Speaking Out: Recalling Women’s Aid in Scotland

This project will collect oral history interviews and archival material and make this available on a website. There will also be a touring exhibition and local events so people around Scotland can engage with the themes of the project. If you or someone you know has a connection with Women’s Aid in Scotland at some point during its history and would like to be interviewed then please get in touch with Sarah Browne, project co-ordinator – sarah.browne@scottishwomensaid.org.uk

Likewise if you would like to volunteer for the project then please contact Sarah. We are currently looking for volunteers to conduct oral history interviews, help out with an exhibition or assist with some film-making. Full training will be given and all reasonable expenses will be reimbursed. We are looking for women to volunteer from around Scotland.

It is so important that women’s voices, memories and lives are recorded as all too often they are written out of history. As Elspeth King said:

There is a clear message for all women who were or are involved in the movement: take your historical papers, correspondence, minute books, cuttings and relevant information and deposit them in a Scottish library or archive before it’s too late. Take your T-shirts, your badges, jewellery and posters to your local museum and demand that they be preserved for posterity. Do not be written out of history.[iv]

We look forward to hearing from you!

Twitter – @SpeakingOut_SWA

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Speaking-Out-874547129328378/?fref=ts

[i] K. Arnot, ‘Leaving the Pain Behind: Women’s Aid in Scotland’, S. Henderson and A. Mackay (eds) Grit and Diamonds: Women in Scotland Making History 1980-1990 (Edinburgh, 1990), p. 80.

[ii] This research was discussed in J. Cunningham, ‘The Battered Wives Who Need Law On Their Side’, The Glasgow Herald, 16th February 1979, p. 7

[iii] Transcript of interview with Jennifer Kerr, 1 May 2007, p. 16 as quoted in S. Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland (Manchester, 2014), p. 156.

[iv] E.King ‘Review of J.D. Young’s Women and Popular Struggles’ in S. Henderson and A. Mackay (eds), Grit and Diamonds: Women in Scotland Making History 1980-1990’ (Edinburgh, 1990), p. ix.

 

Women in Scottish Policing: the first 100 years

Louise A. Jackson teaches social history at the University of Edinburgh and is a member of WHS steering committee. She has carried out extensive archival research on the histories of female police officers in the UK, gender and the criminal justice system, and on child abuse and the law.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the appointment of the first attested woman police officer in the UK: Edith Smith, who was sworn in with full powers of arrest in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Recent media and TV coverage has done much to highlight her role and significance (including the BBC4 documentary A Fair Cop, broadcast on 15 March 2015). But what of women’s roles in other parts of the UK, including Scotland? Who was the ‘first’ female police officer in Scotland? Much depends on the criteria used to identify female ‘firsts’ in policing. When were women first sworn in? When were they first paid? What was their job title and their role? When did they wear uniforms? When did they gain full powers of arrest? When did they perform the same roles as men?  These questions are clearly shaped by our assumptions about what it means to be a police officer. The quest for female ‘firsts’ demonstrates that women’s venture into policing was a gradual process through which equality was slowly achieved over many decades.

Glasgow Museums holds a photograph of ‘Big Rachel’ Hamilton, previously a forewoman navvy, who was sworn in as a Special Constable during the Partick Riots of 1875.

'Big Rachel'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSE00317

This clearly pre-dates Edith Smith’s work, although the role of Special Constable was a voluntary or auxiliary one and, until comparatively recently in Scotland, was limited to periods of emergency only. It was common, too, by the late nineteenth century for the wives of policemen, in county areas and small towns, to look after female prisoners and to clean and maintain police station for free, their roles subsumed with that of their husband. In the cities, women were employed as turnkeys and matrons to look after female prisoners in police custody.

In Scotland, as elsewhere in the British Isles, there was an active ‘voluntary patrol’ movement organised by the National Council of Women Workers during the First World War. Patrol groups were set up in Dundee, Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hawick, Kirkcaldy, and Leith. Their duties were seen as similar to social work and ‘rescue’ work: the prevention of prostitution, and helping and advising young women and children whom they encountered when they patrolled streets and public places. Women also carried out a significant policing role at HM Gretna Munitions Factory in the years 1916-18, searching women workers as they entered and left the site and making sure that they behaved in an orderly way.

It was in September 1915, however, that Emily Miller was appointed as the first female investigation officer (or ‘lady assistant’) on the payroll of Glasgow City Police. Crucially, she was attached to the Criminal Investigation Office (CID) with a very specific brief: to take statements from women and children in cases of sexual assault and abuse, an area in which she developed highly specialist skills (she later described her role in the evidence she gave to the 1925 Interdepartmental Committee on Sexual Offences against Children in Scotland). It was not until 1919 that she was employed as ‘policewoman’ rather than ‘lady assistant’ (along with Georgina W. McLeod) and she finally gained powers of arrest in 1924.

In Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen in 1918 local authorities agreed that women should be admitted to their local police forces in small numbers because they had performed a very valuable role during the war. Indeed, Scotland’s first paid, uniformed, policewoman was Jean Thomson (nee Wright), who was appointed in Dundee in 1918 and served for three years until 1921.

More broadly, though, why does this matter and what does the history of women in Scottish policing tell us about social change? The case of women in policing demonstrates the importance of wartime as a catalyst for changing women’s roles, and acts as barometer for ideas about gender equality in Britain.

The story of women’s progress in policing is crucial to our understanding of the relationship between feminism, women and the state. Edith Smith’s appointment in Grantham was criticised by the Home Office who claimed that women, by virtue of their sex were not ‘proper persons’ (this was the same reason that was given to explain why women could not vote). It was this legal opposition that deterred other towns and cities from following Grantham’s example until the passing of the Sex Disqualification Removal Act in 1919. The same legislation that opened the doors to the first Women MPS also made way for the first women police, women jurors and women lawyers and thus their incorporation into the criminal justice system as representatives of the state and of law and order. In terms of liberal rights, this was as significant as the winning of the vote. Yet it is noteworthy, too, that the arguments that were made by the supporters of the campaign for women police in Scotland (as elsewhere) related to gender difference: women were to undertake work that was gender-specific that related to female and child ‘victims’. From a feminist perspective, this mattered, because it was seen as deeply inappropriate, given that most assaults reported to the police involved male perpetrators, that male officers should be involved in interviewing. It was an argument that was a persuasive one amongst a far wider constituency: women’s role in policing was complementary and they were not there to replace men.

From the perspective of 2015, these arguments have an additional relevance. Given concerns about the lack of an appropriate state response to child sexual abuse cases in recent decades, it is noteworthy that there was a high level of concern and public awareness in the 1920s (culminating in the 1925 Inter-department Committee).  In 1925 the Scottish Office issued an official ‘Circular’ (instruction), urging chief constables to appoint women to take precognitions (statements) from women and children. There was awareness, too, that changes were needed in police methods to encourage higher levels of reporting and to enable higher levels of conviction in the courts.

The number of policewomen in Scotland remained very small across the first half of the twentieth century. By 1928 there were 16 policewomen in Scotland: 11 in Glasgow, 2 in Edinburgh, 2 in Ayr and one in Aberdeen. By 1939 Glasgow’s Policewomen’s Department had expanded to 15 but their role was still defined as a CID role relating to statement taking and the investigation of offences against women and children. Nevertheless they had carried out important work. In 1930, Glasgow businessman Samuel Moorov was convicted of a series of indecent assaults on women, whom he had employed as assistants in his drapery firm. Glasgow policewomen were involved in the investigation of the case, which led to the ruling that single witnesses in individual crimes could be used as mutual corroboration if there was sufficient inter-relationship in time, place and circumstances between incidents. This created an important precedent in terms of Scottish law.

During the Second World War women were recruited into policing as auxiliaries once again. In Glasgow 220 women were employed in this capacity, led by Dr Violet Roberton, magistrate and member of the police committee, as Commandant of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps.

Scotland was given its own female assistant to Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies in 1961. This was Janet Gray, who had previously served in Glasgow City Police. An indication of the duties associated with women officers is given in Gray’s inspection report on Dundee’s two policewomen, whom she visited in 1961:

‘They deal with all cases of criminal assault, which are very prevalent, women shop-lifters and observation duty in all its aspects; also all girls who have appeared before a court, and with those whose behaviour has necessitated the parents appealing to the police for advice and help. I was impressed by the work these women are doing in an effort to combat delinquency’.

In Ayr Burgh, policewomen were responsible for checking the shelters on the seafront used as a ‘sleeping quarters’ by girls missing from home. In Inverness County, policewomen’s time was mainly occupied with duties at the ski slopes during ski season, and a high proportion of their cases related to child visitors.

There was a formal marriage bar in place across Scottish police forces until 1968 (although it was lifted in England and Wales in 1946). This meant that women were required to resign upon marriage and most of those who were recruited in the 1950s and 1960s served for only three years or four years. In 1970 the entire Scottish police service still employed only 382 women (less than four per cent of all officers). The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 finally enabled women to be recruited on the same terms and conditions as men. Women were finally incorporated into the same line management structures, undertaking similar work to their male colleagues, for the first time.  Nevertheless challenges remained in relation to cultural attitudes, equal representation and the glass ceiling. Norma Graham became Scotland’s first Chief Constable (of Fife) in 2005; with the creation of Police Scotland in 2013 Rose Fitzpatrick became the most senior female officer as Deputy Chief Constable (with responsibility for local policing). In 2015 women constituted 29 per cent of Police Scotland, suggesting both significant progress and work still to be done in positioning policing as an attractive career for women.

 

 

 

 

 

Centenary of Glasgow Women’s Rent Strikes

 Why commemorate the 1915 Rent Strike?

One hundred years ago women in Glasgow were celebrating securing the Rent Restrictions Act, passed by Lloyd George in December 1915. This followed months of protest against the rent increases they had been subjected to by their landlords which had resulted in a rent strike. Similar strikes were organised in other cities in the UK (See Ann Petrie’s The Rent Strikes: An East Coast Perspective, Abertay Historical Society, 2008). Glasgow’s rent strike has been memorialised, channelled and appropriated by a range of organisations over the years. The Rent Strike is associated with ‘Red Clydeside’ and radical working-class direct action. It is celebrated, and rightly so. 

Rent Strike 1915

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: ‘Glasgow Rent Strikers 1915’ from Scottish Labour History, Vol. 50, 2015 – permission of National Co-operative Archive (image found by Dr Catriona Burness while researching on behalf of the Remember Mary Barbour Campaign).

The story in Glasgow is well known: landlords increase the rents on overcrowded tenements flats in Govan and Partick; profiteering while the men are away fighting, women hold ‘stair heid’ and back court meetings, they band together with direct action i.e. pounding the balliff’s men with flour and other missiles and refusing to let fellow strikers be evicted, the movement grows larger as more women in a variety of areas become involved, the labour movement get in on the action as the campaign becomes more organised and when male workers at munitions factories come out in sympathy on the 17th of November in a mass protest (there were 25,000 rent strikers by this point), Lloyd George passes the Rent Restrictions Act within a month (I’m obviously missing out a lot of detail in this potted history!).

However as the Sheffield Film Co-operative’s documentary ‘Red Skirts on Clydeside’ highlights (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/890164/) little is actually known about the women involved in the strike. Those of us interested in the history of women in Scotland know about Mary Barbour, Helen Crawfurd and Agnes Dollan (less is known of Jean Ferguson), as these women continued to be involved in left wing politics in the interwar years. But the general public today know little of these women.

Mary Barbour Portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is why the ‘Remember Mary Barbour Campaign’ (https://remembermarybarbour.wordpress.com/mary-barbour-rent-strike-1915/) is so important in raising the profile of a woman who campaigned tirelessly on behalf of working-class women and for improvements to their lives. Dr Catriona Burness has been undertaking further research so we now know a lot more about Mary Barbour and her political career (see C. Burness, ‘Remember Mary Barbour’ Scottish Labour History (http://www.scottishlabourhistory.org.uk/the-journal/), 50 (2015), pp. 81-96). The aim of the campaign is to raise money to erect a statue (the maquettes have been unveiled and are currently on tour around the city) of Mary in Govan as a permanent memorial to her life and work.

In the last few months the Remember Mary Barbour Campaign has been involved with a range of organisations in the ‘Striking Season’ to commemorate the centenary of the Rent Strikes. http://events.glasgowlife.org.uk/event/1/striking-season-mary-barbour-and-the-rent-strikes-of-1915

Striking Season

But while the story of the Rent Strikes has been told (see J. Melling’s book Rent Strikes: People’s Struggle for Housing in West Scotland 1890-1916, Polygon, 1983) we still don’t know enough about the long term effects of the strike and the Rent Restrictions Act. Some questions may never be answered – we might not find the stories of all the un-sung heroines of the strike, the rank and file as opposed to the leaders. It is difficult to capture these voices one hundred years on. But we can analyse in more depth the way in which the memory of the rent strike has been used in other housing protests (see Ewan Gibbs, ‘Civic Scotland versus Communities on Clydeside: poll tax and non-payment c. 1987-1990, Scottish Labour History (http://www.scottishlabourhistory.org.uk/the-journal/), 49, (2014), pp. 86-106). The Rent Restrictions act also had implications on the spread of municipal house building, and housing was a central plank of both Labour Party and Independent Labour Party policy in Glasgow in the interwar years and beyond.

So there were many consequences of the Rent Strike both in the immediate aftermath, subsequent decades and for today. This is the reason why, way back in February of this year, following the successful event at the University of Edinburgh ‘Women’s Movements in Scotland: From Enfranchisement to the Referendum’ we decided that we really should organise an event to both commemorate the Rent Strike of 1915 and to ask what can be learned from this action today.

Rent Strike Procession

Source: Melling, Rent Strikes, p. 98

We held this event exactly one hundred years to the day of the ‘Great Public Procession and Demonstration’ in Maxwell Park, Govan on the 27th of November, which was organised to demand the repayment of all rent increases from the start of the war. So the fight for fair rents and municipal housing did not stop with the passing of the Rent Restrictions Act.

‘Learning from the 1915 Rent Strikes: Women’s role in housing disputes in Scotland c. 1915 to the present’ was held at Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton, an excellent location for the discussion of women’s history and involvement in campaigning and we were lucky to have generous funding from the Economic History Society.

The day provided, in an informal context, an opportunity for historians and activists involved in current and recent housing disputes to reflect on the consequences of the Rent Strike and the lessons we can learn today. Has women’s position in housing changed much in one hundred years? Following the boom in municipal housing provision in the post war years, with stable tenancies and good housing conditions, at least initially, there is little in the way of ‘social housing’ left in Glasgow today. Now many women are suffering the effects of precarious housing in the private sector where rents can be increased monthly.

We are hoping to post some photos of the event and audio recordings of some of the papers on the WHS website – watch this space!

 

Dr Valerie Wright, Research Associate, Housing, Everyday Life and Wellbeing 1950-1975