The First Women in Law:

Normanton and Heilbron

In 1949 Helena Normanton and Rose Heilbron, became the first female King’s Counsel     [image: The Guardian]

Celebrating the past to shape the future of women in law

Thursday 4th May, 6.30-8.30pm at Royal Holloway, University of London

2019 will mark 100 years since of the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act which removed any barrier to women working as lawyers on the grounds of their sex.  To celebrate this forthcoming anniversary the Bedford Centre has teamed up with the First 100 Years to run a public panel event and discussion at Royal Holloway, University of London in Egham, Surrey.  We are delighted to welcome three exciting speakers: Dana Denis Smith (First 100 Years), Dr Judith Bourne (Lecturer at St Mary’s University, Twickenham) and Charlotte Coleman,  an alumna of Royal Holloway’s Public History MA whose work on how female lawyers in the past can inspire the next generation you can see and hear at Women in Law: Inspired and Inspirations. All three will explore the  legal and social challenges women faced to become lawyers at the turn of the last century and to highlight how much women have achieved and how history can help ins51hoN4FCT6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_pire and shape the future of women entering the profession now.  Professor Rosie Meek (Head of Royal Holloway’s School of Law) will introduce the event which will be followed by a reception and book signing by Judith Bourne to mark the publication of her new book, Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women. We will also celebrate the achievements of Mary Sykes, who graduated from Royal Holloway College in 1917.  In November 1922 women were permitted to sit the Solicitors’ Final Exam, which she passed with honours, and in 1923 she become one of the first female solicitors in England and Wales.

This free public event is open to all, but we are extending an especially warm invitation to Royal Holloway and Bedford College alumnae who have gone on to work in law and any college or 6th Form students who might be considering a legal career.  There will also be refreshments and an opportunity to talk to the panellists, so do join us for what promises to be an enjoyable evening and engaging discussion.  To reserve a place please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-first-women-lawyers-tickets-32973122497

We would also welcome any comments relating to this topic and to the event itself so do let us know your thoughts and experiences.

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Gender: New Perspectives and Future Directions CFP

CFP Rethinking Gender conf Now that term is over there is more time to write and submit your abstracts for our cutting edge conference on Gender History by 8th April.  We want to hear about your ideas and research!

The Bedford Centre for the History of Women at Royal Holloway, University of London, is pleased to announce its inaugural conference ‘Rethinking Gender: New Perspective and Future Directions’ being held on Saturday, 10 of June 2017 at Royal Holloway. The conference aims to spark discussion regarding the current scholarship, as we move towards a more fluid and multifaceted understanding of gender, and explore the future direction of the field. We hope that the conference will open a platform for researchers in the early stages of their careers working on multiple aspects of gender that have previously been marginalised or overlooked.

We are pleased to announce that the keynote for this one-day conference will be given by Dr. Justin Bengry (Birkbeck, University of London). Dr. Justin Bengry is the founder and Editor of NOTCHES blog and a Research Fellow whose work focuses on England’s LGBTQ+ heritage and the history of sexuality. He is currently working on a monograph entitled ‘The Pink Pound: Capitalism and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Britain’.

We welcome proposals from researchers from all historical backgrounds, and we particularly invite submissions from postgraduate and early career researchers working in the fields of gender history and associated disciplines. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Sexuality
  • The body and related ideas of identity
  • LGBTQ+ histories
  • Emotional history
  • National/Racial histories
  • Femininities/masculinities
  • Expressions of gender
Please submit abstracts of 200-300 words to bedfordconference@gmail.com by 8 April 2017 to:
Lyndsay Galpin, Michaela Jones and Adam McKie
Co-ordinators of the Bedford Centre for the History for Women
 Royal Holloway, University of London
 Egham,
Surrey TW20 0EX

New online resource for the Suffrage movement in Surrey

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Scrapbook for the Reigate, Redhill and District Society for Women’s Suffrage, which participated in the 40,000 strong march to the Albert Hall in 1908. Compiled by Helena Aurbach (SHC ref 3266/1)

With less than a year to go to the centenary of women first gaining the vote, we recommend you take a look at Surrey History Centre’s excellent new online local suffrage history resource.  Here, Archivist Di Stiff explores some of the material you will be able to access.

Surrey Heritage has prepared a new online resource on the Exploring Surrey’s Past website featuring various aspects of the suffrage movement in Surrey . Located under the ‘People/Politics and Activism’ theme, the resource shows the varied range of archive and library collections held at Surrey History Centre. The Suffrage themed sub pages give an overview of notable Surrey suffragettes and suffragists, links to relevant theme pages already featured on the site. All of the web pages feature sources and other useful links, with links to our online archives Collections Catalogue.

The roots of the women’s suffrage movement in England lie in the aftermath of the Reform Act of 1832, which extended voting rights among men but not women. A chronology of the growth of the movement across the county and the key people involved is featured in the main resource section, ‘The women’s suffrage movement in Surrey’.  The movement appears to have been active from the 1870s, with the first suffrage meeting allegedly being held in Guildford in January 1871, featuring speakers from the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage. Key activists resided in Surrey. Many had links to political parties, or came from landed families, such as Dorothy Hunter, Lady Betty Balfour and the Farrers of Abinger; others were educated, working women like Constance Maud of Sanderstead, who used her experiences to pen No Surrender (1911), and one-time Royal Holloway student, Emily Wilding Davison.

Many suffragettes had homes in the Surrey hills. Peaslake, in particular, became something of a hub and in 1912 Edwin Waterhouse described the village as ‘rather a nest of suffragettes…there are fourteen ladies there of very advanced views’. One of these was Marion Wallace-Dunlop, the first member of the Women’s Social and Political Union to go on hunger strike after imprisonment in July 1908. Just a few miles away in Holmwood, near Dorking, suffrage stalwarts, Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, provided a safe haven for women who had endured the horrors of force-feeding and imprisonment.

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Surrey Constabulary case file papers relating to the bombing of Oxted station, 3 April 1913 (SHC ref CC98/11/2)

The county also witnessed the rift between peaceful suffrage protesters and militant suffragettes, as featured in the section ‘Activism and militant suffragettes in Surrey’ . Helena Auerbach, president of Reigate, Redhill and District Society for Women’s Suffrage, persistently wrote to local and national newspapers decrying the violent tactics used by other groups for tarnishing the reputation of pro-Suffrage societies, she claimed that ‘aggressive political coercion is as little suited to our sex as the exercise of physical force’ (SHC ref.3266/1). Surrey was the scene of militant suffragette violence, including not only the fateful 1913 Epsom Derby but the bombing of Lloyd George’s house at Walton-on-the-Hill, and the bombing of Oxted railway station, among other incidents.

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Front cover of  The March of the Women,  1911 (SHC ref 9180/5)

Dame Ethel Smyth, the Woking composer and suffragette, is featured is some detail on the resource. She took up the suffrage cause after meeting the Pankhursts and in 1911 was one of the many women who used that year’s census to protest ‘No vote, no census!’  In March 1912, she served part of her prison sentence for smashing the window of a politician in Holloway prison and is said to have used her toothbrush to conduct female prisoners to sing The March of the Women, the suffragette anthem which she had composed the year before.

Early suffrage debates and bills, the impact of the First World War, and the final hurdle to securing the vote are featured in a section ‘Women get the vote!’  A final section on sources for researching the women’s suffrage movement in Surrey comprises a fairly comprehensive list of suffrage related archive and library sources held at Surrey History Centre, including a downloadable bibliography, online sources list and useful web links – we hope researchers will find these useful and encourage them to discover more.

In the lead up to the 2018 ‘Vote 100’ centenary we expect an increased demand for information from our users and expressions of interest from those researching new areas of the subject. We also very much hope to have a commemorative project up and running which, through community outreach and partnership working, will expand our online suffrage resource and reveal more about Surrey’s road to the vote.

Di Stiff is the Collections Development Archivist at

Surrey History Centre
130 Goldsworth Road
Woking
Surrey
GU21 6ND

Follow us on Twitter @SurreyHeritage and on Facebook

‘Mary Toft’s Monstrous Births of 1726: Then and Now’

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William Hogarth, ‘Cunucularii or the wise men of Godlimen in consultation’ (1726) Wellcome Library no. 17342i

The Annual Bedford Centre Lecture 2017

By Professor Karen Harvey, University of Sheffield

Thursday 2nd February, 6-8pm Moore Building Auditorium

at Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey

Click here to listen to a podcast of the lecture and view Karen slides

It is also available on our Podcast Resources page

In 1726 Mary Toft gave birth to seventeen rabbits or parts of rabbits in Godalming, Surrey. Toft had looked at the animals during her pregnancy and their image was imprinted on her foetus. Based on new research, Karen’s engaging presentation explores why so many contemporaries, including eminent male Physicians, believed in the hoax.  Many portrayed Toft as a devious woman who set out to hoodwink the doctors and make her fortune, yet this lecture offers other explanations for the extraordinary actions of Toft and her family.  It also explores the social, physical and emotional experiences Toft underwent in the contexts of the work of contemporary midwives, gynaecologists and reproductive medicine.

The Bedford Centre is particularly delighted to welcome back Karen Harvey, who is a Royal Holloway alumna and started her career as a student on the MA in Women’s and Gender History.

Karen is now a Professor of Cultural History at the University of Sheffield and her numerous publications include The Little Republic: Masculinity and Domestic Authority in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2012) which is Open Access and available to read online, and Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture (Cambridge University Press, January 2004).  Karen works on material culture and is committed to the public understanding of History and the past. She has been Academic in Residence at Bank Street Arts, in Sheffield, since 2012.

This engaging public lecture is free (no booking required) and everyone is  warmly invited to to join us for a wine reception afterwards.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Celebrating the past to shape the future of women in law

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“Get thee behind me (Mrs) Satan!”  A caricature of American suffragist and presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull by Thomas Nast, published in Harpers’ Weekly (February, 1872)    [Wikimedia Commons]

Women’s history has always been ‘political’ but following the US Presidential election it has taken on a new significance, as campaigners for Hillary Clinton revived memories of American suffragists and  the media sought comparisons with previous female presidential candidates.  Former lawyer Katie Broomfield teamed up with fellow Public History MA student Emily Petretta to write this post about the effect the US election result had on them and a conference run by the First 100 Years campaign, which aims to promote gender equality by commemorating inspirational female lawyers.

 

Waking to a cold, rainy, November morning last week, many of us were hoping to hear that America had elected its first female president and despite losing, former lawyer Hillary Clinton certainly came closer than any woman before her.   She was not, however, the first woman to run for president nor was she the first woman to seek selection as the Democratic Party’s nominee.  Those honours fall to Victoria Woodhull, who announced her intention to run for president in the New York Herald in April 1870; and to the first black congresswoman  Shirley Chisholm, who in 1972 also became the first woman to contend (albeit unsuccessfully) for the Democratic Party’s nomination.  Unsurprisingly, at a time when women were still denied the vote, in both Britain and America, Victoria Woodhull also failed to win the nomination of any major party.  A prominent women’s rights campaigner and advocate of Free Love,  she was known as Wicked Woodhull and spent election day in prison after having been arrested under the Comstock Laws for sending ‘obscene’ letters.  Hillary Clinton faced similar media attacks and, following accusations that she should be in jail for her use of a private email server, was dubbed Crooked Hillary by supporters of Donald Trump.  Many commentators have viewed these as misogynistic,  and speaking in 1982, Shirley Chisholm was clear that she ‘met more discrimination as a woman than for being black’.

have-women-been-trumpedPanel, chaired by Dame Jenni Murray, discussing ‘Have Women Been Trumped?’   [Image: Katie Broomfield]

On the day of the election results a more positive outlook for women was presented at the Second Annual Spark 21 Conference organised by the First 100 Years project with the aim of celebrating the past to shape the future of women in law.  Starting with a video interview of Baroness Hale, the first and still the only female Justice of the Supreme Court, the overriding theme of the day was one of optimism and courage.  A panel discussion on ‘Have Women Been Trumped?’ ended in spontaneous applause following a comment from the audience that Hillary Clinton should not be dismissed as a loser but celebrated for her courage, resilience and tenacity.  She gave it a go and as Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC said this is the best advice for success.  Sharing advice that she was once given Vanessa Davies urged women to have courage and remember that we have as good a chance as any and a better chance than many.

Speakers highlighted that by supporting each other women can achieve greater equality and diversity. Caroline Criado-Perez emphasized that she tries never to criticise other women on social media; Sarah Davis explained that by exerting their buying power women can and should support each other to force change; and Funke Abimbola emphasised how mentoring, coaching and sponsorship can provide mutual help and support.  Of course, this does not always happen.  On Tuesday, we assumed that the women pictured on twitter queuing to place ‘I voted’ stickers on the grave of suffragist Susan B Anthony were representative of broad female support for Hillary but, while New York State voted for her, over 50% of white women who voted, did so for Trump.  This highlights the importance of women’s history and the need for more public role models, like the suffragists, to remind women what we can achieve when we work together.

Underlining why the First 100 Years project is so important, Katherine McMahon revealed that when she was researching her book The Crimson Rooms she found virtually nothing written about early female lawyers.  In an attempt to rectify the absence of pioneering women from our public history, Caroline Criado-Perez, having already led a successful campaign for a woman (Jane Austen) to appear on a Bank of England bank note, outlined her next campaign to put the statue of a suffragist in Parliament Square in celebration of the centenary of votes for (some) women in 2018.

 

liz-trussLiz Truss speaking at the Second Annual Spark 21 Conference before presenting the Inspirational Women in Law Award [Image: Katie Broomfield]

 

As public role models go, Liz Truss, the first female Lord Chancellor in 800 years, is surely high on the list.  Although her appearance at the conference was overshadowed by recent events she certainly had some promising things to say about the judiciary, gender equality and diversity before presenting the Inspirational Women in Law Award to Keily Blair.  Keily’s prize was a limited edition toilet roll in a presentation bell jar symbolising the alleged lack of female toilet facilities at law firms and legal institutions which was used as an excuse to avoid the employment of women.  It is a striking visual representation of the barriers put up to women entering the legal profession; a reminder that these barriers can be overcome; and a demonstration that learning about women’s history can give us courage to overcome the barriers put up today.

 

Katie Broomfield (@KRBroomfield) and Emily Petretta (@EmilyPetretta) are both students on Royal Holloway’s MA in Public History

 

Women in Law: Commemorating the first 100 years

NPG x90837; Helena Florence Normanton by Elliott & Fry

Helena Normanton was first called to the bar in November 1922, shown here  in 1950 shortly after becoming the one of the first female King’s Counsel with Rose Heilbron. [Copyright The National Portrait Gallery]

 

Ten years ago, in October 2006, I was formally called to the Bar of England and Wales.  It was an evening to remember and came at the end of, what I then felt, had been a lot of hard work.  I had applied to become a member of Lincoln’s Inn in February 2003 whilst a history undergrad at Royal Holloway.  I graduated in 2004 before completing the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Bar Vocational Course at The College of Law (as it was then known).  How little did I realise how easy it had been for me to take these first steps in my career as a lawyer.

When I applied to Lincoln’s Inn in 2003 it didn’t occur to me that I could be refused entry merely Because I am a woman and yet this is what happened to any woman who applied to join the Inns of Court or the Law Society before 23 December 1919.  This is when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, received Royal Assent.  This Act removed any barrier to women, including married women, working as lawyers on the grounds of their sex.

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Herbert Railton, Gray’s Inn (1895), where Bertha Cave was denied admission in 1903. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The approaching centenary of the passing of the 1919 Act is an opportune moment to look back and consider how much has been achieved by women in the law in the past one-hundred years and a number of projects have been set up to mark this anniversary.  The First 100 Years (@First100years) a public history project, is an interesting introduction to the topic of women’s legal history and a good starting point for further research.  Supported by the Law Society and the Bar Council, the project charts the progress of women in the law from 1919 to the present day and in 2019 will be archived by the British Museum.

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Gwyneth Bebb with her daughter Diana (1919)   Image: The First 100 Years

The project’s timeline profiles pioneering women like Bertha Cave who, when her application to Gray’s Inn was refused by the Benchers, sought (unsuccessfully) to appeal that decision; and Gwyneth Bebb whose application to be admitted to the Law Society ended up in the Court of Appeal.  ‘In point of intelligence and education and competency’ the Court of Appeal acknowledged that Miss Bebb was ‘probably, far better than’ many male candidates but, because she was a woman, in 1913 she could not be admitted to the Law Society [1].

‘The First Women Lawyers in England, Wales and the Empire Symposia’ established in 2015 by Dr Judith Bourne of St Mary’s University, brings together academics and researchers working in the field of women’s legal history.   This is a five-year project and the next symposium, in 2017, will look at the women who, in 1922, became the first female barristers and solicitors.  Tragically, despite her earlier efforts, Gwyneth Bebb is not amongst their number as she died in 1921 following the birth (and death) of her second baby.  The pioneering women who will be considered include Ivy Williams, the first woman to be called to the Bar (as reported by The Guardian in 1922); Helena Normanton, the first woman to practice as a barrister; and Carrie Morrison, the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor.  This programme of events will conclude in 2020 with a symposium looking at “Legacy”.

As a catalyst in the study of women’s legal history, the approaching 1919 anniversary is certainly significant and, aiming to encourage collaboration and the exchange of ideas between those working in this field of study, the School of Advanced Study and Institute of Advanced Legal Studies are holding a conference on Doing Women’s Legal History on 26 October 2016.  As well as topics which obviously commemorate the 1919 anniversary there will be a wider examination on the effects the law has had on the lives of women.  The 1919 anniversary shouldn’t blind us to the fact that while having no official role in the legal system before 1919 the system has certainly had an effect on women’s lives.

 Today,  a third of all practising barristers are women and, over the course of the last five years, more women than men have been called to the Bar.  This is remarkable considering that less than one-hundred years ago women were barred from the profession altogether.  Of course, inequalities remain but, by taking the opportunity afforded by the forthcoming anniversary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 to consider what has been achieved in the last one-hundred years, we can hope to look forward to greater equality in the next one-hundred years.

[1]Bebb v The Law Society [1914] 1 Ch 286 

Katie Broomfield is a current postgraduate student on the MA in Public History at Royal Holloway. We would welcome comments on this post or you can contact Katie via @KRBroomfield on twitter.

If you would like to read more about pioneering female lawyers and their role in inspiring woment today then do visit the Women in the Law: Inspired and Inspirations website,  researched and produced by Charlotte Coleman, a 2015 graduate of the Public History MA.

“PRESERVATION OF MORALITY AND MARRIAGE”: GERMAN CATHOLIC WOMEN AND THE LEBENSBORN PROGRAM

We are delighted to welcome guest blogger and American MA graduate Katie Chaka, who wrote this post about Catholic women’s response to the Nazi Lebensborn programme.

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‘Verein Lebensborn’ Taufe (1935), Bundersarchiv, Bild 146-1981-075-01

 

In Nazi Germany women’s primary function was widely considered to be reproduction. Their roles in German society during the rule of the National Socialist regime were increasingly limited and strictly defined by the traditional ideals of Küche, Kinder, and Kirche (kitchen, children, and church).  Women were expected to embrace the value of their reproductive capabilities and focus primarily on being mothers and moralizers of the nation. One organization that fully capitalized on this gender stereotyping of women, as well as the encouragement of reproduction through eugenic measures, was the Lebensborn programme.

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‘SS Photo’ (1937),  Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R99621

Lebensborn, meaning ‘Fount’ or ‘Well of Life’, was launched on 12 December 1935 by the Nazi SS organization under the direction of Heinrich Himmler. This programme aimed to provide “racially healthy” families with welfare aid in order to encourage them to produce larger numbers of children. It also gave maternity and childcare services to unwed mothers who could still provide a racially valuable child to the state outside the boundaries of traditional marriage. This secretive programme consisted of multiple maternity homes where women were able to bring their pregnancies to full term, free from the judgment of traditional societal norms. The Katholischer Deutscher Frauenbund (KDF), was the most liberal Catholic women’s organization with 200,000 members.  It promoted women’s rights within the church and community, and thus particularly resented this type of intrusion by the state into family affairs. As a result, responses from the KDF display a distinct shift from adaptation to opposition in 1935, regarding issues related to motherhood and morality. This shift was largely due to the perceived negative social and religious effects of the Lebensborn program in German society.

As women and as Catholics, they met Hitler’s 1933 appointment as Chancellor with silence, as they awaited an official response from the Vatican in Rome. As Der Gerade Weg, a Catholic weekly journal explained, “The Church can wait. Her great strength lies in this waiting, in her ability to suffer..”.  Due to the  Concordat negotiations between the Vatican and Nazi leaders, women initially attempted to adapt to new Nazi ideas and policies, because Church leaders believed the regime would protect their religious autonomy. The KDF in particular fought to remain autonomous by rejecting mergers from not only Catholic male organizations, but from the NS-Frauenschaft as well. Unfortunately for German Catholics, almost immediately after Concordat negotiations were finished, the Nazi regime began stripping the Catholic community of its religious rights.

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‘Schwester in einem Lebensbornheim’ (1942), Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1973-010-11

Throughout 1934, Catholic institutions began to understand the extent to which Christianity and Nazism were incompatible ideologies. An article in the KDF journal Die Christliche Frau from 1934 argued that the state of modern marriage was a degeneration of its former self and warned against the “national license for sexual excesses”. The article critiqued society by asking its female readership if the Catholic Church even had authority over issues dealing with virginity anymore. Yet Catholic women were about to become increasingly more uncomfortable with the Nazis’ overt deviation from traditional religious norms of morality.

From 1935 onward, there is a perceptible shift that can be seen with regard to responses by the KDF towards issues of morality and motherhood in German society. Therefore, statements made by Catholic women, their organizations, and Church leaders that discuss the crumbling standards of morality should be read as a direct, but also veiled, response to the ideals for which Lebensborn stood, as well as the institution itself. There is no question that this was in response to the public propaganda blitz targeting the German youth on the basis of “biological marriages” instead of traditional marriages, launched that same year. A leading concern for the KDF was the subordination of “many adolescent girls operating in a downright sinister fashion”. It is also no coincidence that this was the year in which Lebensborn was founded. Therefore, the organization created a need for the eradication of Christian moral norms since traditional norms would harm Himmler’s overall goals. While it is unclear if women in the KDF knew the particularities of the Lebensborn program, they openly and consciously disapproved of, and openly responded to, the very foundation that the organization was built on.

KDF women consistently addressed these issues of morality in their writings, correspondence, and educational paths. Secular baptisms, educational classes favoring Germanic roots over religious teachings, and the validation of illegitimacy within Lebensborn homes caused many Catholic women to oppose the Nazi regime through their available outlets. The KDF specifically began to encourage women to educate their families on the sacraments of marriage and baptism within the privacy of their own homes. President Gerta Krabbel also wrote to Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber to inform him that her organization would be taking religious matters into its own hands, due to the lack of support from the male hierarchy of the Church.

As much as KDF women vociferously opposed the encouragement of the regime towards sexual “immorality” and bearing illegitimate children through the Lebensborn programme, they did not take nearly as strong a stance towards the treatment of the Jews and other minorities. Reoccurring themes throughout women’s documents present their willingness to stand up against political issues that they found incompatible with their religious beliefs, yet they did so on a selective basis. Nevertheless, the complicated, and sometimes heavily veiled, responses of Catholic women can greatly add to our understanding of women’s experiences during the Third Reich by giving new insights into how Nazi eugenic policies could conflict with Christian faiths.

Katie Chaka  is an M.A. graduate from Oakland University, Michigan USA.

We would like to thank Katie for her post and encourage other students working on women’s and gender history, in the UK and at overseas HE institutions, to submit posts for consideration.  We are always happy to receive them.

 

 

Swimming with the Spit: Feminist oral sport history and the process of ‘sharing authority’ with C20th female swimming champions in Sydney

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 By Tanya Evans (Macquarie University, Sydney)

Thursday 6th October, 6-7.30 pm

McCrae 336 in The Department of History

 at Royal Holloway, University of London

Tanya’s talk is based on her research as part of a local and community history of the Spit Amateur Swimming Club, which began on the lower north shore of Sydney in 1917. It reveals some of the tensions involved in writing feminist oral sport history and the ways in which shared authority can be negotiated between historians and sportswomen when writing a community sport history. Competitive male and female Spit swimmers were segregated into separate clubs, swam in different baths and at different times until the mid-1960s.

Tanya used feminist oral histories of the Spit’s female swimming champions in order to trace the ways in which swimming and its historical meanings have changed for women in twentieth-century Australia. Her research reveals the lack of cultural scripts local female swimming stars could call upon to narrate their life stories and sporting success, the different ways in which they want their lives remembered and how historians might approach the construction of these histories.

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Tanya Evans is a Senior Lecturer in the Modern History Department at Macquarie where she teaches Australian and Public History and we are delighted to welcome her as a Visiting Fellow to the Bedford Centre. She specializes in the history of the family, poverty and sexuality. She is passionate about researching ordinary people and places in the past and incorporating ordinary people and places in the process of her research.  Her three books so far have been about the history of ‘illegitimacy’, poverty and philanthropy.  Her previous book, Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales (New South, 2015) which examined the history of Australia’s oldest surviving charity, The Benevolent Society, was written in collaboration with family historians and won the NSW premier History Award for Community and Regional History in 2016. She is currently writing a history of motherhood in Australia while continuing to research the different ways in which family history is practiced in Australia, England and Canada.

As always, our seminars are open to everyone but this one will particularly appeal to Gender, Public, Family and Oral History researchers and students, but Tanya is keen to pitch her work to a very wide variety of audiences.  So do join us for what promises to be an illuminating and enjoyable evening followed by refreshments. If you have any questions about this event please email: N.J.Phillips@rhul.ac.uk.

 

From Bloomers to Burkinis: The Same Old Story? by Sarah Ansari

While we were on our summer break, Sarah Ansari, Professor of South Asian History at Royal Holloway and a member of the Bedford Centre wrote about her views on the controversial treatment of Muslim women wearing ‘Burkinis’. It was first posted on the Historians for History blog in August and we are pleased to be able to reblog it here.

Historians for History

194d1b1f784d4a3e99d71358a2473da6 Bathing Dresses, as featured in Godey’s Lady Book, 1864

The recent photos in the media showing armed police apparently forcing a Muslim woman wearing a burkini on a French beach to remove it, or alternatively some of her outer clothing, in public, and then seemingly fining her, highlight beautifully the challenges facing historians in a post-modern historical world. What the ‘facts’ of the matter really are is no longer relevant. It is what we believe to be happening that counts, and so it is our interpretation of those facts that matters.  Whether or not it was really a dreaded burkini (an outfit “not respecting good morals and secularism”) – at best, unhygienic, or at worst, to quote the French Prime Minister, part of the “enslavement” of (Muslim) women, this episode underlines yet again how central Muslim women’s bodies are to wider questions of identity, community and ‘modernity’. For the last…

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Interwar Visitors to Royal Holloway

Taking tea next to the tennis courts with Founders building behind in the 1920s. With permission from Royal Holloway Archives

Taking tea in the 1920s, next to the tennis courts with Founders Building behind. [Image: Royal Holloway Archives]

We are delighted to welcome our guest student blogger, George Severs, who took time out from his final year studies to explore some little known sources in Royal Holloway’s Archives with some surprising results ….

Recently, I embarked on a minor research effort to find out whether or not Unity Mitford had visited Royal Holloway in 1937, knowing that she had been to Egham to drop her childhood nanny Laura Dicks (Blor to the Mitfords) off on holiday with her family. As I expected, there is no record of Unity Mitford or Blor in the Royal Holloway archive, but this search posed more questions than I had originally expected. Namely, how much do we know about interwar visitors to Royal Holloway College, and how do we know it?

There are two major sources which inform our knowledge of the College’s visitors during the interwar period: the Royal Holloway Visitors’ Book, and the Picture Gallery Visitors’ Book. Similar though they may sound, these two volumes are markedly different.

The Royal Holloway Visitors’ Book is a grandiose, lacquered tome, spanning the years 1887 to 1984 which holds the signatures of many members of the royal family and other esteemed visitors. Its interwar entries alone include the signatures of Queen Mary and Princess Helena Victoria both of whom visited in 1937, and the chairman of the London County Council who visited in 1939. Entries from these VIPs were often permitted an entire page for their entry.

The Picture Gallery Visitors’ Book, by contrast, is a worn ink-stained volume, full of entries. This book would have been accessible to the general public on days when the Picture Gallery was open to public visitors, which, during the interwar period, would have been Wednesdays and occasional Saturdays.

At first glance, then, we might assume that the Visitors’ Book was reserved for grand, often state occasions, whilst the Picture Gallery equivalent was available to the general public. Largely true though this is, closer consultation of both volumes yields a few unexpected entries.

Whilst entries of visitors to the Picture Gallery do overwhelmingly paint a picture of family outings and local visitors during the interwar period, there are a few remarkable exceptions. Tucked away just below one Hilda Price from Addlestone we find the signature of H. G. Wells, author of The War of the Worlds. Quite why he visited the Picture Gallery in August 1937, seemingly by himself, we do not know. What is interesting, however, is the lack of spectacle made of his visit, since Wells was well known internationally by 1937. Perhaps this points to the fact that the College’s managing parties were most, if not singularly concerned with titled and regal patrons, something which has gone largely unchanged.

Entry recording the visit of H. G. Wells. RHCAR/501/1. Image: George J. Severs

Entry recording the visit of H. G. Wells. RHCAR/501/1. Image: George J. Severs

 

More surprising, and indicative of the College’s seeming lack of interest in non-royal visits, is an entry from May 26th 1938 which records the visit of a 500 strong delegation from the League of Nations, “about 100 of which signed this book”. As you may imagine, the College archivist and myself were quite astonished when I discovered this. Neither of us had any idea that this event had occurred, not least, perhaps, because it is quite literally squashed at the bottom of a page.

Entry recording the visit of the League of Nations delegation. RHCAR/501/1. Image: George J. Severs

Entry recording the visit of the League of Nations delegation. RHCAR/501/1. Image: George J. Severs

 

The Visitors’ Book also contains entries which seem to go against the supposed grain of the volume. Ordinary, local people have their entries in the book, though a great deal less frequently. We do not yet know how, when and where this book was kept during public occasions, but it is safe to assume that it was infrequently available for the public to sign.

Both of these visitors’ books, then, tell us fairly extraordinary things about the people who visited the College between the wars. We know of the queens, princesses, and the politically powerful men who came, but what of the ‘ordinary’ women? Royal Holloway was, after all, a women’s college, and my search had originally been for a woman (though, admittedly, not an ordinary one).

A great many women visited Royal Holloway during the 1920s and 1930s, and the visitors’ books go some way in telling us about how women negotiated the College as a public space. Entries, particularly those in the Picture Gallery Visitors’ Book, suggest that women tended to visit the College in groups, whilst men like H.G. Wells, more often visited alone. Whether they were local, like Mrs Butler and Mrs Bauchamp (both from Egham, visiting on September 10th 1936), or foreign visitors, such as a group from Paris visiting in June 1937, female visitors overwhelmingly came in groups.

As sources, the books are of course imperfect. We know very little about when, where and how exactly they were used, and often even less about the signatories themselves, hence they remain overlooked by most people. Yet, as this blog post has suggested, they can also offer valuable insights into the ways in which women (and men) visited the College during the interwar period, as well as the range of better known guests.

If you know anyone who visited Royal Holloway and why they did so please do let us know.

George J. Severs is a finalist in the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London, and an Undergraduate Liaison Officer at the Bedford Centre for the History of Women.