The Leah Leneman Essay Prize



Women’s History Scotland awards the Leah Leneman Prize for an essay on an aspect of women’s or gender history, focused on any time period and geographical area.

The prize was established in 2002 to celebrate the work of Leah Leneman, one of the foremost historians of women in Scotland. A trailblazer for women’s history in Scotland, she produced innovative studies on the women’s suffrage movement, on women in medicine, and on sexuality and divorce in the early modern and modern periods. 

Forms of work that may be submitted include: undergraduate dissertation, postgraduate work (e.g. Masters dissertation or chapter of PhD), a piece of original research by students or independent scholars. 

Further details, eligibility and instructions for preparation at the bottom of this page

Deadline: to be announced shortly.

Leah Leneman 

A trailblazer for women’s history in Scotland, Leah Leneman produced innovative studies on the women’s suffrage movement, on women in medicine, and on sexuality and divorce in the early modern and modern periods. She published widely reaching a large and varied audience. She was also a broadcaster, wrote and edited vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, but especially was a passionate and gifted historian of Scottish women. She returned to study as a mature student, at the University of Edinburgh with which she was mainly associated until her death in 1999. She prioritised research during her career, following her thesis on the Athol estate in the eighteenth century. She pursued a career built around research, rather than as a teaching academic, and her versatility and tireless pursuit of research grants allowed her to produce important reports, articles and books. Of particular significance was her work on ‘girls in trouble’ with Rosalind MitchisonGirls in Trouble: Sexuality and Social Control in Rural Scotland 1660 – 1780 and Sexuality and Social Control: Scotland 1660 – 1780, as well as studies on broken marriage promises, Promises, Promises: Marriage Litigation in Scotland 1698 – 1980, and studies on Elsie Inglis including, In the Service of Life: The Story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitalsand on Scottish suffragettes, A Guid Cause: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland amongst a prolific research and publishing career. Importantly she was also generous, and particularly supportive of younger scholars. As Stana Nenadic commented ‘History was Leah Leneman’s passion, especially the history of women.’ The prize was named for her in honour of her contribution to scholarship and Scottish women’s history, and her story acts as an inspiration to others interested in women in Scotland.

For more information, Stana Nenadic (2000) ‘Leah Leneman (1944–99): an appreciation’, Women’s History Review, 9:3, 449-450; publications on Goodreads:

What do the winners say?

Winner in 2021: Lucie Duggan, on Ballad Traditions of Scottish Women (18th century)

“Being awarded the Leah Leneman 2021 Essay Prize has been a wonderful encouragement to me as an early career researcher and has given me confidence in my abilities as an academic writer. It has been a pleasure and an honour to have my essay read so carefully by the judging committee of Women’s History Scotland and to feel that my work has a place alongside the prizewinning scholarship of previous years. It is a joy to have my research acknowledged by a vibrant scholarly community that values the importance of the history of women as WHS does. It gives me great pride to be associated with the name of the late Leah Leneman as I continue in the next steps of my academic career.”

Lucie Duggan is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department for the Study of Culture at the University of Southern Denmark. She completed her PhD in 2021 with a dissertation titled “I think the distinction easier to feel than to formulate: Defining the Child Ballad in the Digital Age.” Her dissertation combined her interests in ballads, gender, and digital humanities, and examined the contribution of Scottish women singers to the canonical Child ballad collection. She continues her current work on early modern women’s collecting practices as PI of a project funded by the Augustinus Foundation entitled Reading Women: Karen Brahe and Danish Female Book Ownership (1609-1736).

Winner in 2020: Amanda Gavin, on the culture of care

‘It means a great deal to know that historians in Women’s History Scotland took the time to read and evaluate my work, and it means even more to learn that they liked it! The Leah Leneman Essay Prize gave me the impetus to expand a chapter from my MSc dissertation (submitted in 2018) and that alone was invaluable experience. Winning the Essay Prize has given me greater confidence in my abilities as a researcher, and as a writer. Moreover, it has given me the confidence to pursue its publication.’ 

Amanda Gavin is a second year PhD student at the University of Glasgow. Her doctoral research explores children’s experiences of the care ‘system’ in Scotland since 1945, a project made possible by the testimony heard before the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. The project seeks to address methodological and conceptual questions about how historians can uncover children’s experiences and perspectives in a historical record written by, and for, adults in the past. She is co-convener of the Hufton Postgraduate Reading Group based at the Centre for Gender History. She is also a member of the Global Steering Group for Care Experienced History Month, which is coordinated by Who Cares? Scotland. Her research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Runner up in 2020: Mara Schmueckle on family identities

I entered the Leah Leneman Essay Prize competition in the second year of my PhD, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The pandemic had closed universities and limited access to archives and with the support of my supervisors I entered an essay based on my MSc research. 

The entire process was so easy and members of the committee were available to answer any question I had, making it a great first experience in submitting an essay for something other than my degree.  Receiving runner-up was hugely encouraging – seeing that my work could stand alongside that of other PhD candidates and early career scholars gave me renewed confidence in my ability to write.  The feedback I received was incredibly useful, and the chance to send my essay to a journal for peer review with the backing of this award is a great privilege. 

I would entirely encourage other PhD students to apply for this prize.  

Mara Schmueckle is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh

Runner up in 2020: Rachel Meredith Davis, elite women, treason and imprisonment

‘Being awarded Runner Up for the WHS Leah Leneman 2020 Essay Prize was wonderful amidst the challenges of being an ECR during a global pandemic. I received the news during a difficult month with several competing deadlines, which boosted my confidence in my writing skills and my skills as a researcher. Having the external validation from the WHS Steering Committee has given me more professional confidence as I continue to carve out a place for myself within Scottish history. Their feedback is especially helpful as I continue to develop the writing that came out of my doctoral research project and continue to think about women’s political agency in late medieval Scotland.’ 

Dr Rachel Meredith Davis completed her PhD in Scottish History from the University of Edinburgh in 2020. Her PhD thesis, titled ‘Elite Women and Power in Late Medieval Scotland, 1296-1458’ explored the ways in which women’s identities were constructed in their seals and charters and how women used these identities to access power and resources in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Her current research interests broadly include agency, gender, and material culture in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Scotland. She has an academic(ish) blog, An Errant Academic, that features her historical research and experiences as an ECR. 

Winner in 2018: Gina Bennett, ‘If any woman come over’: Exploring Early Modern Migration and Scotland’.

‘Receiving the Women’s History Scotland Award in 2019 was integral to me expanding my research connected to my PhD dissertation, titled “Imperial Women of Darien: Scottish Migration and Gender in the Atlantic World 1650-1740” that I defended this Spring. My work examines the role of early women and empire through the lens of the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies and proves the transatlantic influence of women working, investing, and traveling for the sake of the Company were integral to constructing merchant goals of colonization and Atlantic trade in the early modern era. 

I had the pleasure of having a short paper accepted on the subject for the Hakluyt Society Symposium—Rethinking Power in Maritime Encounters at the University of Leiden in Fall 2019. I am certain that receiving the Leah Leneman Prize was instrumental to me gaining this acceptance. The funds I received also helped to offset some of the associated costs. Likewise, I was excited to be accepted to my first Berkshire’s Women’s History Conference in May 2020 and was looking forward to presenting with a panel of those also working on women, travel, and commerce. Covid-19 had other plans, and historians around the world working on women and gender were disappointed to miss such an important assembly of peers. Though dishearten at the cancellation, I recognize that my association with Women’s History Scotland is helpful for planners of these large and prestigious conferences when considering submissions from emerging historians, like myself. 

All of these opportunities aside, it was a thrill to merely learn that a group of historians in the Women’s History Scotland saw value in my work, especially from a person living in Texas some thousands of miles away from Scotland. This gave me hope that, with more work on my part and the assistance from my dissertation committee, I could eventually sharpen my analysis in a way that reinserts some of the women from the Darien era into a history that they helped to create’.

Runner up in 2018: Kristin Hay, Token woman in the Gay Liberation Front … token lesbian in the Women’s Liberation Movement’: Experiences of lesbian-activists in Glasgow, c. 1970-1990 

‘I was encouraged to apply to the Leah Leneman essay prize by my supervisor in the first few months of my PhD. Having only recently submitting my Masters’ thesis before starting doctoral study, I elected to rework my BA dissertation for the submission. The prospect of having my work evaluated by total strangers at such an early point in my studies was very daunting and lacked confidence in my ability to write at a publish-worthy level. However, the whole process would prove to be consolidating, constructive and affirming. The judging panel were incredibly supportive and offered useful and practical feedback on my essay. Although I had been worried about being a first year PhD student, I felt welcomed and encouraged to participate from the first submission email onwards. 

Having my research recognised by Women’s History Scotland gave me confidence in my writing skills and my skills as an academic researcher, invaluable at such an early stage in my doctoral study. It also gave me a good understanding of peer review and academic publishing which helped me tremendously in getting my first article published in Women’s History Review

Women’s History Scotland is a positive and encouraging environment to share research and receive thoughtful advice and I would encourage anyone regardless of their career stage to enter the Leah Leneman Prize, especially early career researchers and PhD students.’ 

Kristin Hay is a second year PhD student at the University of Strathclyde. Her research interests lie in the history of health and medicine, with a particular focus on women’s reproductive health and rights. Her Wellcome-funded PhD project focuses on birth control practices in Scotland between 1960 and 1990 – from the emergence of the oral contraceptive pill to the AIDS crisis. Using oral history testimony, coupled with archival research, this project seeks to understand how everyday men and women learned about, accessed and accepted birth control following the so-called “Sexual Revolution” and the subsequent impact it had on their lives.

Winner in 2016: Theresa Mackay, ‘Women at work: Innkeeping in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, 1790-1840’.

“Being awarded the WHS Leah Leneman prize set the trajectory for my future. Not only did it acknowledge the significance of my research and result in extensive media coverage, it was ultimately the catalyst for my decision to do a Ph.D. I had a deep desire to contribute the history of Highland women, an under-researched area, and winning this prestigious award gave me the confidence I needed to take my research to the next level. It was as if I had the whole WHS community cheering me on and for that I am forever grateful.”        

Theresa Mackay is a PhD student in history at the University of Victoria (Canada). She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Simon Fraser University and a Master of Letters with Distinction from the University of the Highlands and Islands. Her MLitt research, entitled Women at Work: Innkeeping in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland 1790-1840, established the impact of women on tourism and hospitality infrastructure in Scotland, winning the 2016 Women’s History Scotland Leah Leneman prize. Her PhD research builds on her MLitt work, looking at women and food in Scotland’s nineteenth-century rural north.

Winner in 2014: Alice Glaze, ‘Women and Kirk Discipline: Prosecution, Negotiation and the Limits of Control’.

“Winning the WHS Leah Leneman essay prize provided an exciting introduction to the publication process in a supportive academic environment and gave me confidence in my work and ideas as a student and historian.”

Alice Glaze is the Research Director (Ottawa) for the historical research firm Know History. She completed her PhD in History at the University of Guelph in 2017. Alice’s dissertation focused on women’s social and economic networks in the early modern town of Canongate, and she continues to explore women and men’s networks and relationships, now within the Canadian historical context, in her current work. She can be reached via her LinkedIn profile or through Know History.

Winner in 2010: Nel Whiting, ‘Gender, class and nationality in David Allan’s ‘small, Domestic and conversation’ works’. 

“I returned to formal academic studies in my late 30s, undertaking a multi-disciplinary Women, Culture & Society M.Litt at the University of Dundee.  It was an essay based on my Masters dissertation that won the WHS prize.  This meant such  lot to me as itcountered (in part, at least!) my feelings of imposter syndrome, that I was not actually a ‘proper’ historian.  Winning the prize gave me the confidence to begin applying for funding to enable me to do a PhD.  

I would encourage anyone interested in women’s history to become involved with the network.  Through it you meet similarly interested and supportive others who encourage you in your research endeavours.  Similarly, I would encourage any early career researcher to apply for the Prize – even those not successful get really helpful feedback which can help develop your writing … and you may well find a journal article can be produced from your essay!”

Winner in 2006: Cathryn Spence, ‘Woman and Business in Sixteenth Century Edinburgh’

It is hard to overstate the effect that winning the Women’s History Scotland Essay Prize in 2006 had on me as a then-PhD student. I was, at that point, only a few months into my PhD at the University of Edinburgh, and very much still getting used to living in a new country and undertaking a doctoral degree. I am a first-generation scholar – while my parents are, and always have been – very supportive of my education, they did not themselves attend university. I had taken two years to work after my Bachelor’s degree, and while taking a Master’s degree (which I did at the University of Guelph from 2004-06) had been very enjoyable, the idea of following that up with a PhD and, potentially, an academic career, was a daunting undertaking. So when it was suggested to me that I make a submission to the essay prize using a chapter from my MA thesis, I did it, but mainly because that is what early-career scholars are told to do – apply on the off chance you are successful. When I heard I had won I was delighted for a number of reasons. First of all, such prizes are, of course, great confidence boosters. Young scholars and first-gen scholars are notoriously skeptical of their own abilities, and I was no exception. Winning the WHS Essay Prize helped me to see that my work had value, and that helped maintain my enthusiasm for my research and writing. More practically, the opportunity provided by the prize to undergo peer review and publication helped me understand and grow comfortable with the work that goes into producing an article – and these are skills and insights I called upon during my tenure as an editorial assistant with the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies during my post doc, and which continue to help inform the decisions I make as an editor for the journal Gender & History. And lastly, £100, when you’re a grad student, can go a very long way!

Cathryn Spence earned her PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 2010. She then embarked on the peripatetic life common to so many early-career scholars, teaching at Dalhousie University in Halifax in 2011, being employed as a teaching fellow at the University of Keele from 2011-12, moving back to Canada to take up a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Guelph from 2012-14, and being employed as an assistant professor at UNBSJ from 2014-15 and at Dalhousie from 2015-16. In 2016 she took up a permanent post as a professor in history at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, BC, where she teaches classes on premodern world history, medieval and early modern European history, and on women, gender, and sexuality. She published her first book – Women, Credit, and Debt in Early Modern Scottish Towns – in 2016 through Manchester University Press’s Gender in History series, which won the 2017 Women’s History Network Book Prize, and co-edited the Edinburgh Housemaills Taxation Book, 1634-6 with Dr Aaron Allen (Boydell and Brewer, 2014). She has also published several chapters and articles on women, business, and credit, one of which was published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies as a result of winning the Women’s History Scotland Essay Prize in 2006.

Winner in 2004: Katie Barclay, ‘Representations of Marriage in Texts Published in Scotland, 1650-1750’.

I won the 2005 Women’s History Scotland prize for a piece arising from my Masters dissertation on the topic of marriage and popular culture. This piece of writing led to one of my first publications, ‘“And Four Years Space they Loveingly Agreed”: Balladry and Early Modern Understandings of Marriage’, in Elizabeth Ewan and Janey Nugent (eds), Finding the Family in Medieval and Early Modern Scotland (2008), 23–34, and so contributed not only to my CV but to the development of long-term professional and friendship relationships with some other wonderful historians of Scottish women. 

Katie Barclay is Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in the History of Emotions and Associate Professor in History, University of Adelaide. She is the author of Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650-1850 (2011); Men on Trial: Performing Emotion, Embodiment and Identity in Ireland, 1800-1845 (2019); and Caritas: Neighbourly Love and the Early Modern Self (2021/2). She writes widely on family, emotions and gender history, and edits Emotions: History, Culture, Society with Andrew Lynch and Giovanni Tarantino.

How to Enter


  • The essay must be principally focused on some aspect of women’s or gender history but may deal with any time period. 
  • No area of women’s or gender history is excluded. 
  • The essay should be written in English, and in a form suitable for publication. This means that essays should be written or revised as a potentially publishable article. 
  • It should be between 8,000 and 10,000 words in length. Longer or shorter submissions will not be considered. Do not exceed the limits. The total length should include complete foot or end notes. Do not submit a bibliography. 
  • The essay should not be under consideration for publication (see below).
  • Include full name and contact details on a separate sheet, not on the essay.  


  • The author of the submission should be resident in Scotland or enrolled at a Scottish university at the time of submission of the essay. However, entries focused on Scottish history may be submitted by authors living anywhere in the world. 
  • Authors should be members of Women’s History Scotland. 
  • To be eligible to submit an essay to the competition the candidate must not be in permanent academic employment 
  • Queries about eligibility of the entrant or essay topic should be addressed to Deborah Simonton ( 


The essay will be considered by a panel of judges set up by the Steering Committee of Women’s History Scotland and the prize will be presented at one of the Scottish Women’s History Network conferences, if feasible. A winning essay on Scottish history may be considered for publication in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. Advice may be given on other appropriate routes to publication for non-Scottish essays. 


Submit 2 electronic copies (WORD and PDF) copy of the completed essay to Deborah Simonton at dsimonton@sdu.dkby Monday, 20 December 2021

Other Past Winners include:

  • 2013: Ellen Filor, ‘Of manly enterprise, and female taste!’ Single Women as Sustainers of Empire in the Scottish Lowlands, c. 1790-1850’.
  • 2001: Linda Fleming, ‘Welcome to Scotland: the Experiences of Jewish Immigrant Women in Glasgow c.1880-1939’.
  • 2000: Kay Blackwell, ‘Women on Red Clydeside: an Invisible Workforce’.

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