Tag Archives: women’s history

50 objects 43: Travellers’ Aid Society poster

Special Collections at Brunel holds a range of material useful for studying the changing role of women in society, and for more general women’s history. One item giving a window onto women’s lives in a different time is this framed poster warning women to make sure they have respectable, safe, accommodation before travelling to a new town – advice still relevant for everyone today.

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The Travellers’ Aid Society was set up in 1885 by the Young Women’s Christian Association in collaboration with organisations such as the Girls’ Friendly Society and the National Vigilance Association. The aim was to have accredited workers meet female passengers on arrival at stations, to help them travel safely and find safe accommodation and work. The Society could vet potential employers or accommodation providers on request. At this time there was a constant stream of young women travelling from rural locations to London to seek jobs in domestic service, many of them vulnerable to exploitation.

From 1939 the Society was run by the National Vigilance Association, and it was wound up in 1952.

For other records of the Travellers’ Aid Society and the National Vigilance Association, contact The Women’s Library which is based at the London School of Economics.

50 objects 41: Letters of Mary Anning

Mary Anning: Letters ed. Bill Griffiths, 1973; Pirate Press.

Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was a fossil-hunter, searching along the cliffs at Lyme Regis for remains from the Jurassic period, which she sold to collectors. Arising from this work she is said to be the subject of the tongue-twister “She sells seashells by the sea shore“. She made many significant finds, including a number of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. She became acquainted with several recognized scientists and members of the Geological Society of London, which did not at that time allow female members. Anning’s work led to Dr William Buckland’s publication of the conclusion that certain Jurassic animals had used ink for defence, just as modern cephalopods do; and it was she who worked out that the stones known as “bezoar stones” were in fact coprolites, fossilized faeces.

Buckland credited her publicly for this work, but she was not always acknowledged. Her great contributions to palaeontology and related sciences were not properly recognized during her lifetime, since, as a rural working-class woman, she was outside the scientific community and the influential groups. Her letters fit in with many other items in Brunel’s Special Collections which can be grouped thematically as marginal voices or unheard stories.

In recent years there have been many publications on her life and work, including children’s books and fiction based on her story; you can find a range of these via our Library catalogue or via union catalogues such as COPAC.

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This is a small and plain booklet, the only illustration being the simple but effective cover. There is a short preamble about Anning’s life, but no indication of why this subject was chosen for the Pirate Press, or why these particular letters, amongst the whole of Anning’s surviving correspondence, were chosen for publication. The introductory text reflects Bill Griffiths’ interests in local history, dialect, and language change, noting that in Lyme Regis in Anning’s time vertebrae were called “verteberries” and fossil fish “turbot”.

The text of the letters is given, with some corrections and clarifications in brackets, but as the original letters are not reproduced it is hard to gauge the accuracy of the transcription. There are some mistakes, such as “dof” for “dog” and “leyyer” for “letter”, which are clearly typing mistakes in the transcription, rather than faithful copies of mistakes in the original, but other unusual readings are less clear-cut.

The letters here are mainly to Mrs Murchison, wife of geologist Roderick Murchison, who became Anning’s lifelong friend. Perhaps the most vivid writing is this spirited description of being caught by the tide when digging out a plesiosaur, from February 1829:

“I [was] so intent in getting it out that I had like to have been drowned and the man I had employed to assist me, after we got home I asked the man why he had [not] cautioned me [about] the tide flowing so rapidly he said I was ashamed to say I was frightened when you didn’t regard it, I [wish] you could have seen us we looked like a couple of drowned rats”.

Select bibliography:

Cover imageMcGowan, Christopher. The dragon seekers. Persus Publishing, 2001.

Allaby, Michael, (ed.). A Dictionary of Geology and Earth Sciences (4 ed.), OUP, 2015 online edition.

Lyme Regis Museum: Mary Anning

University of Berkeley: Mary Anning

Bill Griffiths collection at Brunel

 

 

 

50 objects 39: International Labour Organization

ilo2The International Labour Organization describes its origins  like this: “The ILO was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice. […] The driving forces for ILO’s creation arose from security, humanitarian, political and economic considerations. Summarizing them, the ILO Constitution’s Preamble says the High Contracting Parties were ‘moved by sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world…’ ”

When the ILO closed its London office and library in 2005, Brunel University Library inherited its collection. We are the only institution in the UK to house such material: it is a collection of international materials, including books, journals and treaties, relating to employment and labour law, and reflecting ILO’s emphasis on the need for social justice in contrast to the exploitation of workers that was common in the interests of economic gain. The books and journals can all be found in the Library catalogue.

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Much of the material reflects enduring concerns and problems; for example, there are debates in the International Labour Review from 1966, fifty years ago, which are still relevant today: the index includes the introduction of the forty-hour work week in Finland; occupational disability insurance in the Netherlands; employment of women with family responsibilities in Japan; a new law on holidays and a weekly rest day in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

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The breadth of subjects the collection touches on is shown by this volume of conference papers, covering the employment aspects of three very different areas.

The collection as a whole is a valuable resource for the study of politics, international law, employment history, and trade.

50 objects 37: Reactions to Old Age

Fiction and the Cultural Mediation of Ageing”  was a project run  at the Brunel Centre for Contemporary Writing  between 2009 and 2012, as part of the cross council New Dynamics of Ageing programme.

One of the research methods used was to set up eight reading groups of University of the Third Age members across London in order to read, write about, and discuss postwar novels featuring different representations of ageing. The data generated by these reading groups now forms part of Brunel’s Special Collections, and is available for further research. Aspects of the participants’ writing complements the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, in reflecting the everyday ups and downs of the lives of ordinary people; they also give first-hand accounts of issues related to ageing and to the way society views the elderly.

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Some of the books used in the reading groups

A flavour of the content is given by a brief study of the information given by one participant. Each reader was given a unique identification code in order to preserve anonymity; this one is known as SEL003, and she participated in a reading group in South-East London. From SEL003 we have a brief life history, and three diaries recording her reading of the set novels, her views of their representations of aspects of ageing, and her group’s discussions of them.SEL003 was born in Dublin in 1938 to a well-off family, reared by a nanny, and sent to a Quaker boarding school. Her favourite school subjects were maths and handwork, and since neither she nor her mother could think of a career formed of those two things, she became a teacher. She is now thoroughly enjoying her retirement, and her writing constantly reflects her joy and optimism about her current, fulfilling, lifestyle.

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The end of SEL003’s “Life History” document

She writes in a lively, enthusiastic, style. The reading diaries cover her thoughts in general of the books, characters, and authors, but also her perspicacious comments on subjects arising, including how one’s writing style changes with age; whether it’s possible to predict which individuals will get Alzheimer’s; how society is geared towards younger people and how the young patronise the elderly; whether it’s appropriate for an agile old lady to run for a bus.

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She is insightful about character attributes and how world-view and morals change over time, and she adds in anecdotes about her own experiences and those of her family and friends.

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Reading through the diaries gives the impression of someone lively and thoughtful, who analyses the problems that ageing can bring but who enjoys life to the full.

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50 objects 33: Norah Elliott’s autobiography

The collection of documents on Norah Elliott is number 2:242 in the Burnett collection of working-class autobiographies, held in Special Collections.

Norah was born into the Pilch family in 1903, and writes of her early life and her memories of her grandparents. Disaster struck in 1913 when her father was drowned; the family went to the workhouse, and Norah was adopted. She recalls her work as a teacher, and her life in Australia, sending food parcels home to her siblings in the UK, during the second world war.

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Norah’s poem on her Aunt Susan

 

Her file includes several handwritten workings not only of her own story, but also of substantial research by her and other family members into her family history. The writing is interspersed with maps, copies of primary sources, family trees, and poetry by Norah, and accompanied by original documents including a birth certificate, a union card, and burial records.norah2

There is a vaccination certificate, made out in 1879 for Norah’s ancestor John Pilch, in linenorah3 with the legal requirement to demonstrate that children were vaccinated against smallpox: see http://www.genguide.co.uk/source/vaccination-registers-amp-certificates/51/  for more on these records.

 

 

Another interesting aspect of this collection is the insight given into Norah’s writing and editing process: there are several drafts, with footnotes and amendments, and a few comments on the writing process. A late diary entry states “I’ve finished last night’s crossword and got up to date with this mish-mash. I don’t think I want to read what I’ve written”. She may not have wanted to, but the file is well worth reading.

50 0bjects 28: The Ladies Home Journal

A post by Graduate Trainee, Becky Tabrar

The Ladies Home Journal was an American monthly lifestyle magazine which was established in February 1883. By the turn of the century it was the leading women’s magazine in the US, and reached one million subscribers in 1903. Within our collection we hold editions spanning from 1939 to 1961, and studying the Journal allows us an insight into the attitudes and opinions of the time.

Persistent themes can be seen throughout the editions we hold; the most prominent of which is sexism. Advertisements frequently urge women to look their best for their husbands, as seen in an advert for Lady Esther cosmetics in the July 1939 edition, which states ‘the wrong shade of powder can turn the right man away’. Women are also advised on the best methods of keeping an orderly home. An Annual Report to Housewives, featured in the July 1961 edition, advertises the newest domestic appliances available, but exclusively addresses women. The article advises the reader to ‘ask a user what service she gets before you buy’; the assumption being that only women will ever use the domestic appliances. Moreover, adverts for domestic products universally feature women, and even when only a hand is shown, nail polish is used to ensure femininity is represented.

Another frequent theme is consumerism. Since the late 19th century, shopping had been changing from a functional role for women, to a leisured and respectable activity. Companies began to see women as the ‘chief purchasing power’ for households and the adverts seen in the Ladies Home Journal reflects this. In fact, the journal itself was enforcing the link between women and consumerism, which was further strengthen by technological inventions in the domestic sphere, allowing women to spend less time on the household and more time shopping. The most frequently advertised items in the Ladies Home Journal include new domestic appliances, make up products and cleaning products.

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However, apart from tracing overarching themes through the editions, we can also gain information on the reaction of the American public to specific historical events. An article in the July 1945 edition documents the shocked reaction of the American public to the discovery of extermination camps following the collapse of the Third Reich. It claims that a cynical world, which has lost morality, and is obsessed with power, was to blame, and urges the world to return to religion. Similarly, reactions to the signing of the United Nations Charter can be seen in the September 1945 edition, whereby an article surmises that the agreement signed at San Francisco will not eradicate greed, but ‘can keep the peace when the inevitable threats of war arise again’.

Though attitudes differ, the special features of the Journal are still recognisable in today’s magazines. Each month a novel segment was included, and Eleanor Roosevelt, like celebrities today, was a regular columnist, answering queries from financial woes to the most fashionable hairstyle. Similarly, interviews with Hollywood celebrities were a frequent trend, along with fashion segments. In later editions, ladies could receive advice from a medical column, and letters of readers were published within the magazine.

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50 objects 20: Neglected Voices

Neglected Voices is a project by Allan Sutherland, a leading figure in the Disability Arts movement, who was poet-in-residence at the Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University during 2010-11. Sutherland interviewed disabled people about their experiences and life histories, then wrote poems based on his transcriptions of the interviews.

The project listens to, and shares, the voices of the individuals. Sutherland explains in his introduction how these are the stories that aren’t heard; how too often the voices of people with disabilities are ignored in favour of stereotypes or perceptions from outsiders.

The poem cycles are poignant and thought-provoking, tragic and funny, displaying a wide range of emotions and experiences and highlighting at once the speakers’ individuality and their common humanity. There are stories of abuse, of fierce independence, of miscarriage, of teaching and learning, of relationships, of hope, and of an essay that had to be handed in with squirrel footprints on it.

The poems can be read at Disability Arts Online. The interview transcripts can be read at Brunel, and the interviews can be listened to via the British Library.