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

mary-toft

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

 

‘Translating Women’s History for Television’: A Lecture by Pam Cox

Pam Servants2

At 6pm on Thursday 2nd June  Professor Pam Cox (University of Essex) will be joining us to talk about the benefits and challenges of telling women’s histories on television and setting them in the broader context of creating, writing and filming TV documentaries.

Pam has written and presented two highly successful BBC history documentaries. The first, Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs (2012) focused on the 1.5 million people who worked in domestic service (more than those working in factories or farms) who are often portrayed as characters in period dramas, but whose real lives and stories are rarely shown. More recently Shopgirls: The True Story of Life Behind the Counter (2014) traced how the predominantly male world of mid-Victorian retail shops was challenged by a major influx of female workers at the turn of the century. It explored their working conditions and realities of life for female shop assistants from then until the 1960s.  

If you would like to see Pam in action before the talk and you have access to Box of Broadcasts, you can watch both her TV series, click on the links below for the first episodes of each. Some episodes are also still freely available on You Tube. 

Pam shopgirls2

BoB Servants episode 1 

BoB Shopgirls episode 1 

She has also co-authored a book of stories from this series with Annabel Hobley entitled, Shopgirls: True Stories of Friendship, Hardship and Triumph From Behind the Counter (2015).

Pam is strongly committed to public history in all its forms, including work with policy makers in child protection and youth justice. She works across both history and the social sciences and is the Chair of the Social History Society. She is currently completing a digital life-course project tracing 500 nineteenth century lives. 

The lecture is free and takes place at 6pm in the Moore Building Lecture Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London. Everyone is welcome to attend and there is no booking required. For more information please contact Nicola Phillips.  We look forward to seeing you there!