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Beyond the Politics of Motherhood?: Women's Health and Bodies, 1890-1930

Specialist Workshop
Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick

30 March 2006
Organiser: Vicky Long

Invited speakers include: Susan Aspinall, Judith Lockhart, Vicky Long, Hilary Marland, Julia Smith

This workshop, which brought together common themes and interests emerging in the work of postgraduates and staff in the Centre, presented new research on the subject of women’s health and bodies in the period 1890 to 1930. Engaging with the existing body of literature on motherhood in this era, Aspinall, Long and Marland’s papers sought to provide a broader picture of the social, economic and cultural representations and roles of women. Their papers explored the creation of a new representation of girlhood, of women at work and at leisure via magazines, health advice literature and government publications. The growing prominence of women in these fields was accompanied by new ideals of womanhood and women’s bodies which stressed vigour, movement, productivity and health rather than display, maternity and fragility. However, these new aspirations coexisted with concerns about motherhood and the potentially defeminising effects of sport, rational dress and factory work. Other papers in the workshop explored how class continued to affect the treatment of women’s health problems. Smith analysed how interpretations of women who refused food shifted from a religious context to psychiatric explanations, exploring how anorexia was perceived in this era as a disease of the upper and middle classes. Lockhart closed the workshop by returning to the subject of motherhood and gynaecological problems, arguing that in the absence of long term health care, the health of working class women continued to remain contingent upon their ability to control births.


Hilary Marland
Health and the Modern Girl 1890-1930

Susan Aspinall
“Unquestionably Quite the Rage”: The Cycle Craze of the 1890s, Dress and the Female Body

Vicky Long
Homely Factories: Women, Work and Welfare 1914-30

Julia Smith
From Sainthood to Sectioning. Interpretations of the Anorexic Body

Judith Lockhart
‘Women’s Lib’ or the Liberation of Women? The sexual health of women c.1870-1960

General Discussion