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Performing the Self: Women's Lives in Historical Perspective

This exhibition was produced for 'Performing the Self: Women's Lives in Historical Perspective', the 19th Annual Conference of the Women's History Network at the University of Warwick, 10-12 September 2010.

'Performing the Self' is an interdisciplinary conference exploring the diverse representations of women’s identities in the past and how these were articulated. The conference exhibition seeks to complement this theme, illustrating the multi-textual ways that women’s private and public identities have been represented, discovered and performed through work, travel and political activism respectively. It is arranged according to the following sections: 'Representations: Women, Work, Identities' - 'War', 'Sexual Politics', and 'Collective Identity: Women Workers'; 'Self Discovery: Women and Travel'; and 'Performance: Women and Political Activism'.

Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version of each document.

 

Representations: Women, Work, Identities

The representation of women’s work and their ever-changing role in the labouring economy has been of central concern to feminist thinkers, women’s organisations, business and the state throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The competing ideologies of women’s rightful role as located in either the ‘non-economic’ sphere of home, or the public sphere of work, has meant that the history of women’s economic identity has been articulated in multiple ways. The items included in the following sections demonstrate how differing concepts and debates about women’s identity at work have been publicly articulated and represented by different groups in newspapers, propaganda and advertising leaflets, to manipulate, to deny or to protect women’s place in the fluctuating labour market. The items are displayed in three thematic sections, focusing on war work, sexual politics and the collective identity of woman workers.

War

The most dramatic changes to women’s work in the twentieth century were wrought by the two World Wars. To maintain the wartime economy, women were recruited as war workers. Their sense of national and social identity was both encouraged and regulated as government bodies, trade unions and women themselves wrestled with their new found role.

'The working life of women', 1911 
'The working life of women', 1911: Fabian Tract by Miss B L Hutchins of the Fabian Women's Group

This pamphlet examines the condition of working women in Britain and, amongst other issues, looks at economic hardship for women as a result of unequal wages. It particularly argues the case of widows, who, in the absence of social security or higher wages, were left unable to support young families.

[Included in the archives of the Union of Post Office Workers, document reference: MSS.148/UCW/6/13/41/2]

Postcard of munitions workers employed at Woolwich, [1914-1918]
Postcard of munitions workers employed at Woolwich, [1914-1918]

Photograph of seven women employed to manufacture detonator plugs at the Woolwich Arsenal.

[Included in the 'Miscellaneous series' of records, document reference: MSS.21/2164/1]

Report of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations on 'The position of women after the war', [c.1916]
Report of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations on 'The position of women after the war', [c.1916]

The report was presented to the Joint Committee on Labour Problems after the War, a body made up of trade union and Labour Party representatives. Subjects covered by the report include the effect of war on women in industry, the conditions to be in place on declaration of peace and a proposed reconstruction policy, including factory legislation, trade union organisation, housing, maternity care and political enfranchisement.

[Included in the 'Miscellaneous series' of records, document reference: MSS.21/1546]

'The Course of Women’s Wages' by Dorothea M. Barton, 1919 
'The Course of Women’s Wages' by Dorothea M. Barton, 1919

This is the published version of a paper read before the Royal Statistical Society on the average full-time earnings of women over the age of 18. It looks at conditions in different sectors of employment and examines changes that had taken place since the First World War. The table shown here gives the estimated number of women and girls employed in different industries in July 1914 and July 1918.

[Included in the archives of the Union of Post Office Workers, document reference: MSS.148/UCW/6/13/41/4]

'Women in War Jobs', February 1942 
'Women in War Jobs', February 1942

Labour Research Department pamphlet, which was intended to "give some guidance to the woman who is about to enter industry by setting out clearly what will be expected of her when she registers, works, what are some of the chief problems she will have to face and how they can best be overcome".

[Included in the archives of the Union of Post Office Workers; document reference: MSS.148/UCW/6/13/41/23]

'Are you equal to two German women?', c1941'Are you equal to two German women?', c1941
'Are you equal to two German women?', c1941

Part of a four page advert reprinted from 'Women and Beauty', which encouraged women "to get into the factories quickly" and train to do precision engineering.

[Included in the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/60.21/1]

TUC Women's Advisory Committee circular on recreational facilities for women war workers, January 1944 
TUC Women's Advisory Committee circular on recreational facilities for women war workers, January 1944

Young, often single, female munitions workers, were sent to different parts of the country for war work. Free from home constraints, they frequented local public houses causing concern about moral welfare. This 'problem', and how to regulate the new social identity of women war workers, was discussed at length by the TUC.

[Included in the archives of the TUC; document reference: MSS.292/147.672/2]

'Make this Club Your Club!' 
'Make this Club Your Club!', undated [1940s]

Leaflet promoting the new Girls' Clubs, "run by young people", which put on events such as "a dance, a party or games for the high spirited, or something quieter for the more serious minded". The Clubs provided a regulated social environment for young women.

[Included in the archives of the TUC; document reference: MSS.292/147.66/3]

'Women at War - Their future in peace', [1945?]'Women at War - Their future in peace', [1945?]
'Women at War - Their future in peace', [1945?]

Pamphlet on the "special problem" caused by the demobilisation of members of the Women's Auxiliary Services, published by the Economic League.

[Included in the archives of the British Employers' Confederation; document reference: MSS.200B/3/2/C971/1]

 

 

Representations: Women, Work, Identities

Sexual Politics

The legitimacy of women’s role in the workplace was often portrayed in terms of gender differences. Defining male and female workers according to the prevailing cultural notions of masculinity and femininity allowed distinctions in pay and conditions to be made between men and women in the work place. Ultimately it allowed women’s right to work outside the home at all to be openly questioned. At work, women’s physical appearance and reproductive function were key sites of representation. Beauty magazines suggested how the woman worker should ‘look’, capitalising on the rise in spending power of the new woman worker as career opportunities expanded. Legislation aimed at protecting the rights of women workers was debated in terms of their reproductive role as mothers.

Press cuttings reporting a speech by the President of the National Association of Schoolmasters, 1927Press cuttings reporting a speech by the President of the National Association of Schoolmasters, 1927
Press cuttings reporting a speech by the President of the National Association of Schoolmasters, 1927

The attitude of the NAS towards the employment of women as teachers can be identified through headlines such as ""Wild West" women teachers: not wanted in boys' schools", "Men teachers for boys", and "Girls who become teachers: Suggestion that it is "to keep them out of the temptations of city life"".

Other documents relating to gender and education are included in the resources for the undergraduate module 'The Sociology of Education'.

[Included in the records of the National Association of Schoolmasters; document reference: MSS.38A/7/1]

'Equal Pay is Dangerous', undated
'Equal Pay is Dangerous', undated

Leaflet on the hidden dangers of equal pay, issued by the National Association of Schoolmasters.

Similar documents are included in the online exhibition 'The Struggle for Equal Pay'.

[Included in the archive of the NAS; document reference: MSS.38A/4/6/38/1]

'Is woman's place the home?' by Winifred Horrabin, undated (early 1930s?)
'Is woman's place the home?' by Winifred Horrabin, undated (early 1930s?)

Pamphlet published by the Socialist League. It was written with the intention of encouraging women to take an interest in political affairs amid the current "economic blizzard", and to take "their full share in the new reconstruction that is going on around the world" and work for a socialist society.

[Included in a series of booklets on 'Women in Industry', from the records of the Transport and General Workers' Union; document reference: MSS.126/TG/RES/X/749B]

'Women in offices...', 1936
'Women in offices...', 1936

Report produced by the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations ("the Labour Party's Advisory Committee on women's questions"). It looks at the role and conditions of women office workers - "their entry into offices coincided with the use of machines and to a large extent their work since then has been bound up with the machine".

[Included in the archives of the TUC; document reference: MSS.292/60.21/1]

'What Do You Think?', 1938 
'What Do You Think?', 1938

Trades Union Congress leaflet about the proposed formation of a trade union for domestic workers - it asks for servants' opinions on the need for such a union.

[Included in the archive of the Transport and General Workers' Union; document reference: MSS.126/TG/RES/X/749B]

'Health & Beauty: A book for girls', 1939'Health & Beauty: A book for girls', 1939
'Health & Beauty: A book for girls', 1939

Pamphlet published by the Health and Cleanliness Council, explaining to women how "super-cleanliness" will make them beautiful. The sections reproduced here contain tips for the "home girl" and the "business girl".

[Included in the archives of the National Association of Teachers of Home Economics and Technology; document reference: MSS.177/5/8/4]

'Commonsense Beauty Hints for Women and Girls earning their own Livelihood', undated 
'Commonsense Beauty Hints for Women and Girls earning their own Livelihood', undated

Contrary to initial appearances, this is a trade union recruiting leaflet. It encouraged ladies to get "a graceful figure, a good complexion and a face radiating happiness, health and vigour" through good wages, reasonable hours of work and good working conditions obtained through trade unionism.

[Included in the archives of the Transport and General Workers' Union'; document reference: MSS.126/TG/RES/X/749B]

'Women and Babies' by Susan Lawrence, [1922?] 
'Women and Babies' by Susan Lawrence, [1922?]

Labour Party leaflet on the 1919 maternity convention agreed at the meeting of the League of Nations in Washington. The leaflet argues that the Conservative-Liberal coalition government has "betrayed" British women by refusing to sign up to the convention, which provided women with the right to "six weeks' rest and maintenance after confinement", and the option to have "six weeks' rest and pay before confinement".

Similar documents are included in the online exhibition 'Advice to Mothers'.

[Included in the archive of the Union of Post Office Workers; document reference: MSS.148/UCW/6/13/41/7]

'Prevention of Maternal Mortality', report by the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations, 1928 
'Prevention of Maternal Mortality', report by the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations, 1928

The report highlights the contrast between the success of the campaign to reduce infant mortality with the "tragic failure" to reduce deaths of women in childbirth - puerperal mortality rates had "remained almost stationary" over the past 20 years.

[Included in the archive of the Transport and General Workers' Union; document reference: MSS.126/TG/RES/X/749B]

 

 

Representations: Women, Work, Identities

Collective Identity – Women Workers

Over time, women identified their common problems as workers and organised themselves to fight for equality in their working conditions, status and wages. They formed their own national unions and were increasingly welcomed into international organisations.

'Women in the Trade Union Movement', 1955 
'Women in the Trade Union Movement', 1955

Booklet published by the Trades Union Congress, and issued on the occasion of the 25th Annual Conference of Unions Catering for Women Workers. The illustration on the front is taken from the membership card of the West of Scotland Power Loom Female Weavers Society, 1833.

Documents relating to the pioneering work of Mary Macarthur and the National Federation of Women Workers are included in the online exhibition '"Rouse, Ye Women": The Cradley Heath Chain Makers' Strike, 1910'.

[Included in the archives of the Union of Post Office Workers; document reference: MSS.148/UCW/6/13/41/29]

'Women cleaners say they won't be called Mrs Mopp', 8 February 1952 
'Women cleaners say they won't be called Mrs Mopp', 8 February 1952

Press cutting from the 'South London Press' on the formation of the South London branch of the National Union of Domestic Workers - "the members made it clear that they are determined that their job shall be recognised as a skilled and important one and that it should be given the respect it deserves".

[Included in the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/54.76/8]

'Women! It’s Your Fight Too!', booklet published by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, 1956'Women! It’s Your Fight Too!', booklet published by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, 1956 
'Women! It’s Your Fight Too!', booklet published by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, 1956

This example of Cold War propaganda looks at "the history of trade union efforts to improve the lot of working women", and contrasts the pro-Western stance of the ICFTU with that of the pro-Soviet World Federation of Trade Unions. It argues that, in contrast to the Western experience, women behind the Iron Curtain work in "legalised servitude" under "gross exploitation".

[Included in the archives of the Union of Post Office Workers; document reference: MSS.148/UCW/6/13/41/30]

'Call to the Third Conference of the Open Door International for the Economic Emancipation of the Woman Worker', 1933'Call to the Third Conference of the Open Door International for the Economic Emancipation of the Woman Worker', 1933 
'Call to the Third Conference of the Open Door International for the Economic Emancipation of the Woman Worker', 1933

The ODI argued that women should have "the right at all times to engage in paid work", and campaigned for male and female workers to be treated equally - so that "conditions and hours, payment, entry and training shall be based on the nature of the work and not upon the sex of the worker".

[Included in the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/134.1/1]

Leaflet on the objects and activities of the Over Thirty Association 
Leaflet on the objects and activities of the Over Thirty Association

Women workers were often represented as a homogenous group through the shared identity of gender. However, discourse about women as workers was frequently intersected by factors such as age, race and class. Founded in 1935, The Over Thirty Association, was one of a number of societies that identified the problems of women workers in the labour market as being dependent upon age.

[Included in the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/134.6/2]

'Bridging the Gap', leaflet for the Over Thirty Association 
'Bridging the Gap', leaflet for the Over Thirty Association

This leaflet provides information about the Association's hostel, which provided accommodation for 14 female residents who, at time of admission, were homeless and unemployed. The hostel was intended to help the "middle-aged and elderly" women regain confidence and get back into work

[Included in the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/134.6/2]

'The Negro Woman Worker', 1933 
'The Negro Woman Worker', 1933

This booklet, 'Women at Work', published by the Women's Bureau of the US Department of Labor, identifies racism and the legacy of slavery as further dividing women workers. It argues that "to the Negro woman have fallen the more menial, the lower paid, the heavier and more hazardous jobs. Her story has been one of meeting, enduring, and in part overcoming these difficulties".

[Included in the archives of the Union of Post Office Workers; document reference: MSS.148/UCW/6/13/41/20]

'Help for housewives': transcript of BBC broadcast, 1946'Help for housewives': transcript of BBC broadcast, 1946
'Help for housewives': transcript of BBC broadcast, 1946

Debate about domestic service between a representative of the National Union of Domestic Workers, middle-class and working-class housewives, and domestic servants. The section reproduced here focuses on the differences between the middle class and working class women.

[Included in the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/54.76/8, file 1]

 

 

Self Discovery: Women and Travel

Opportunities for women’s everyday travel and personal mobility increased with the technical innovations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. For instance, cycling offered new, daily opportunities to women for greater personal freedom and independence. Cycling, whether alone or as part of a club, was intimately connected by women with their wider push for social and political emancipation. Meanwhile, travel abroad was often motivated by a need for self fulfilment. This could be channelled into acceptable feminine pursuits: carrying out ‘good work’ as missionaries for instance, in areas of conflict or of humanitarian need, facilitated by organisations like the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Need however, was often determined by white, western, imperialist notions of ‘uncivilised’ cultures. Documents in this section illustrate the feelings and experiences of women who sought personal freedom and self discovery through different forms of travel and how their lives were irrevocably changed by their experiences.

The cycling diary of an unidentified young girl, 1893-1896 
The cycling diary of an unidentified young girl, 1893-1896

The diary is included at the back of the commonplace book and diary of Emily Sophia Coddington, written c.1850. The author records her thoughts and feelings about her cycling journeys and who she meets. The sense of the independence cycling gives to her emerges in the deliberate noting throughout the diary of "by myself" next to journeys she made alone.

[Included in the National Cycle Archive; document reference: MSS.328/N28/8/1].

32'The Lady Cyclist', vol.1, no.14, 22 August 1896'The Lady Cyclist', vol.1, no.14, 22 August 1896 
'The Lady Cyclist', vol.1, no.14, 22 August 1896

This issue includes an article on 'The new woman', which identifies the bicycle as delivering "untold aid to the cause of equal suffrage, by dispelling the mistaken idea of women's dependence and helplessness".

[Included in the National Cycle Archive; document reference: MSS.328/N10/K/L/3]

'The Wheelwoman', vol.3, no.81, 4 December 1897'The Wheelwoman', vol.3, no.81, 4 December 1897 
'The Wheelwoman', vol.3, no.81, 4 December 1897

This issue includes an article on 'Wheelwomen who vote', focusing on the London School Board election. Several women stood as candidates.

[Included in the National Cycle Archive; document reference: MSS.328/N10/K/M/7]

Photograph of Helen Haslam, undated 
Photograph of Helen Haslam, undated

Helen Haslam worked as a Young Men's Christian Association administrator at YMCA headquarters, Abbeville Area, British Expeditionary Force. The Modern Records Centre holds a series of vivid letters that she wrote to her old schoolfriend Marjory Gill from France and the United States of America.

[From a file relating to Helen Haslam, included in the papers of Lady Allen of Hurtwood, landscape architect and campaigner for child welfare; document reference: MSS.121/F/3/8/1-45 (this item: MSS.121/F/3/8/45)]

Letter from Helen Haslam, aged 19, describing her arrival in France, 20 October 1917
Letter from Helen Haslam, aged 19, describing her arrival in France, 20 October 1917

She talks of her shared digs and sketches herself dressed for sea-travel.

[From a file relating to Helen Haslam, included in the papers of Lady Allen of Hurtwood; document reference: MSS.121/F/3/8/1-45 (this item: MSS.121/F/3/8/7)]

Letter from Helen Haslam, whilst at No.16 General Hospital, Philadephia, USA, 19 February 1918

Letter from Helen Haslam, whilst at No.16 General Hospital, Philadephia, USA, 19 February 1918

This page records, in a series of sketches, her thoughts about her stay in an army hospital.

[From a file relating to Helen Haslam, included in the papers of Lady Allen of Hurtwood; document reference: MSS.121/F/3/8/1-45 (this item: MSS.121/F/3/8/30)]

Letter from Helen Haslam describing her station in France and her perception of the French people as "curiously primitive", undatedLetter from Helen Haslam describing her station in France and her perception of the French people as "curiously primitive", undated 
Letter from Helen Haslam describing her station in France and her perception of the French people as "curiously primitive", undated [1918?]

[From a file relating to Helen Haslam, included in the papers of Lady Allen of Hurtwood; document reference: MSS.121/F/3/8/1-45 (this item: MSS.121/F/3/8/34)]

'In the Far East', article by Geraldine Guinness from 'Our Own Gazette', vol.11, no.121, 1894'In the Far East', article by Geraldine Guinness from 'Our Own Gazette', vol.11, no.121, 1894 
'In the Far East', article by Geraldine Guinness from 'Our Own Gazette', vol.11, no.121, 1894

‘Our Own Gazette’ was a publication of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), and often contained the reminiscences of female missionaries. This article records Geraldine Guinness' experiences during her recent travels to China, and her perceptions of the "quite kind and friendly" inhabitants, "with their queer awkward garments and long tails".

Other documents regarding the work of the YWCA during the late 19th century are included in the resources for the undergraduate module 'The Victorian City'.

[Included in the archives of the YWCA; document reference: MSS.243/5/5]

 

Performance: Women and Political Activism

The history of women’s political activism has continually involved public spectacle and performance. Whether protesting or campaigning on behalf of the rights and future of their own sex, or for peace in times of conflict, women have communicated their political voices by utilizing the public realm in innovative and creative ways. Seldom granted access to masculine channels of political power and privilege, women activists have performed their politics through songs, theatre, films and radio broadcasts, in garden fetes and mass demonstrations. The documents in this section illuminate how women have performed politics from the women’s suffrage movement to the peace campaigns at Greenham Common in the 1980s.

Song sheet sold by the East London Federation of the Suffragettes, undated 
Song sheet sold by the East London Federation of the Suffragettes, undated

The ELFS was formed by Sylvia Pankhurst in 1912. It was an organisation of mostly working class women and campaigned for many left-wing policies in addition to universal suffrage.

[Included in the papers of Aaron Rapoport Rollin, document reference: MSS.240/R/5/5/4]

Circular from the Women's Social and Political Union, 1914Circular from the Women's Social and Political Union, 1914 
Circular from the Women's Social and Political Union, 1914

Emily Pankhurst exorts her supporters to renew "our splendid War of Independence" as parliament reassembles, and to join a deputation to the King. Another circular from 1914 is included in the document resources for 'British Culture and the Great War'.

[Included in the 'Miscellaneous series'; document reference: MSS.21/1815]

Circular from the Equal Political Rights Campaign Committee, 1927 
Circular from the Equal Political Rights Campaign Committee, 1927

It refers to the EPRCC's intended "intensive and continuous open-air campaign", which will make it "possible for every keen feminist to assist in the work and for every intelligent passer-by to hear the message we have to deliver".

[Included in the archives of the TUC; document reference: MSS.292/822/1]

'Equal Political RIGHTS!', [1927]
'Equal Political RIGHTS!', [1927]

Leaflet advertising a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, arranged by the Equal Political Rights Campaign Committee.

[Included in the archives of the TUC; document reference: MSS.292/822/1]

'Women electors: An appeal from Labour women', 1922 
'Women electors: An appeal from Labour women', 1922

Reproduction of an article from 'The Labour Woman', November 1922, used as a Labour Party general election leaflet. 18 prominent women appeal to the new female voters to vote for "the woman's party".

Other documents relating to women and the vote are included in the online resources for the undergraduate module 'Birth of Feminisms'.

[Included in the archives of the ISTC; document reference: MSS.36/L41/i]

'Miss Bondfield's broadcast speech', [1929] 
'Miss Bondfield's broadcast speech', [1929]

Transcript of BBC radio broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party made by Margaret Bondfield. The speech addresses issues thought to be of interest to women voters, including the peace movement, the franchise, policies affecting mothers and children, food prices, conditions of labour, marriage, religion, and "the woman at home".

[Included in the archive of the TUC; document reference: MSS.292/786.3/5]

Leaflet advertising a demonstration in Trafalgar Square to protest against the war in Abyssinia, 1936 
Leaflet advertising a demonstration in Trafalgar Square to protest against the war in Abyssinia, 1936

The demo was organised by the Women's International Matteotti Campaign Against Fascism, and included prominent female activists as speakers.

[Included in the archive of the TUC; document reference: MSS.292/963/2]

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst, editor of the 'New Times and Ethiopia News', 24 May 1937 
Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst, editor of the 'New Times and Ethiopia News', 24 May 1937

Female activists have a history of involvement with peace campaigns. When Abyssinia was the subject of unprovoked invasion by Mussolini’s Italy, Sylvia Pankhurst took up the Abyssinian cause. This letter invites Sir Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, to a garden party "in aid of the Fund of Mercy for Ethiopia".

[Included in the archive of the TUC; document reference: MSS.292/963/2]

Circular regarding a showing of two films on the Abyssinian War, undated 
Circular regarding a showing of two films on the Abyssinian War, undated

The circular was sent by Sylvia Pankhurst, in her capacity as editor of the 'New Times and Ethiopia News', to the Trades Union Congress.

[Included in the archive of the TUC; document reference: MSS.292/963/2]

Extract from 'Panik', no.7, 1983 
Extract from 'Panik', no.7, 1983

'Panik' was a journal produced by Sheffield peace activists. This edition includes reports by female activists who had travelled down to the Greenham Common camp.

[Included in the archive of Nigel (Nog) Clark; document reference: MSS.489/13]

Postcard regarding the Greenham Common protests, undated (early 1980s)
Postcard regarding the Greenham Common protests, undated (early 1980s)

One of a series of "bright radical cards" produced by Leeds Postcards.

[Included in the archive of Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: MSS.462 File 28b].

Greenham Peace Camp women and the police, 1983 
Greenham Peace Camp women and the police, 1983

[Included in the archives of Mary Brennan: MSS.410/3].

Female peace campaigners at the fence of Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment, 1985 
Female peace campaigners at the fence of Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment, 1985

[Included in the archives of Mary Brennan: MSS.410/3].