Tag Archives: women

Hidden women of history: how mother of 8, Mary Anne Allen, made do on the goldfields amid gunshots, rain and sly grog


S. T. Gill, 34. Iron Bark Eagle Hawk, in Original Sketches, 1844-1866.
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Katrina Dernelley, La Trobe UniversityIn this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

In February 1852, 46-year-old Mary Anne Allen set off from Melbourne for the Mt Alexander (Castlemaine) diggings with her husband Reverend John Allen and their eight children, the youngest aged five.

Histories of the Victorian gold rushes often overlook women’s presence on the goldfields in 1852. Women, children and home, however, were always part of goldfields life.

Mary Anne Allen’s diary appears to have been written for publication. In it she observes life on the diggings, not through the lens of masculinity and mateship, but through family and home.

A perilous journey

Englishwoman Mary Anne and her family had arrived in Port Phillip before the gold rushes. They migrated in 1849 to deliver the word of God for Scottish evangelist and colonial enthusiast John Dunmore Lang. Yet two years later the family abandoned their congregation in search of gold, “dreaming of little beyond wealth and competency”.

On route to Mt Alexander, the family almost lost their dray over a ravine. Their son Frederick tried to “scotch the wheels” (likely wedging a stone or bar to stop them rolling) but to no avail.

“My little girl came running towards me”, wrote Mary Anne in her diary. “She said we expected father would have been killed but Fred’s hand was smashed and two of his fingers broken.” Disaster was averted, but it would be just the beginning of the family’s trials.

drawing of men fighting
Most stories of the goldfields were told through the lens of mateship and masculinity. An early illustration by S. T. Gill.
State Library of Victoria

Next, four bushrangers bailed up a bullock driver ahead of them. The Allen family continued cautiously forward, one of her sons armed with a gun, the second with a hatchet, a third with a club. Mary Anne’s younger children inquired anxiously, “What will they do with you Mamma?” Fortunately, fate spared Mary Anne an answer.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Catherine Hay Thomson, the Australian undercover journalist who went inside asylums and hospitals


Life in the clearings

Mary Anne found the new goldfields “remarkably picturesque and singularly beautiful”. The countryside was already home to miners’ mia-mias (based on Aboriginal dwellings) and hundreds of tents, scattered for miles through the still dense bush.

But clean drinking water was impossible to find. A German miner gave Mary Anne’s children a cup of water, milky with chalk. Another miner gave Mary Anne a loaded gun to help her protect any water they found. The family moved on to nearby Barker’s Creek, where there were fewer tents and more available water.

The Allen’s erected their tent and furnished it with handmade “bush bedsteads”: saplings driven into the ground and bed cases filled with dried leaves. Their table was topped with bark and the floor carpeted with the same. Mary Anne wrote that the bark decomposed rapidly in wet weather, producing an “exceedingly unpleasant” smell.

Henry Winkles, ‘Interior of a digger’s tent’, c.1853.
National Library of Australia

Many miners’ tents, she wrote, were lined with blankets inside and bullock hides externally to keep out the weather. Her sons built a stone fireplace with bark sides, which they topped with an old sugar cask. They put up a tarpaulin awning so the family could bake damper and roast meat without standing in the rain. Even with these precautions, mould covered everything.

Living with uncertainty

Families lived in fear of the dangers presented by mine shafts. The lesson was brought home for the Allen family as they watched a man trapped down a shaft. Then another man went in after him. The father of one of the men rushed forward and he too fell headlong into the mine. The whole party, Mary Anne noted disapprovingly, was the worse for “the influence of spirits”.

Bushfires were a frightening, yet entertaining, reality:

One small tree burnt through fell at our horses feet. We hastened onwards and when out of danger we sat and admired the grandeur of the scene.

At night, diggings glowed with fires outside every tent and lamps lit by candlewicks made from honeysuckle flowers soaked in oil. One night, as the family sat reading around their table, a gun was fired through their tent. The bullet landed on her son’s book: “So uncertain was life at Barker’s Creek”.

On the diggings, Sunday was not for religion but for domestic duties and domestic quarrels. Sometimes Mary Anne expected that “instant death would ensue from stabbing members of their own families”.

bark hut on goldfields
Canvas and bark tents smelled terrible when wet.
S. T. Gill/State Library of Victoria



Read more:
Emancipated wenches in gaudy jewellery: the liberating bling of the goldfields


Abrupt endings

Living next door to a sly grog tent, Mary Anne reported: “Drunkenness, fighting, profanity and robberies were every day occurrences”. Her diary ends abruptly, to cries of murder and an aborted gold robbery.

She did not record whether her family found gold. Historical documents reveal the family only stayed six months on the diggings. John did not return to the church until just before his death in 1861, by which time the couple had bought a number of properties in Melbourne.

My doctoral research is the first time Mary Anne’s diary has been written into goldfields history. Her manuscript is entitled Mrs Allen’s Trip to the Gold Fields, suggesting she intended it for publication. Now, almost 170 years later, we can read her observations as one of many women on the diggings in early 1852.




Read more:
Friday essay: masters of the future or heirs of the past? Mining, history and Indigenous ownership


The Conversation


Katrina Dernelley, PhD Candidate in History, La Trobe University, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


How a Scottish graveyard in Kolkata revealed the untold stories of colonial women in India


A group of Scottish nurses who worked in a local government hospital in Calcutta in the mid-19th century.
Author provided

Sayan Dey, University of the WitwatersrandWhen I was a child growing up in Kolkata, I would hear stories about the European colonisation of Bengal – the precolonial name of India’s West Bengal. These were selective narratives from a particularly male perspective, and presented colonisers as transforming social benefactors installed to provide a civilising influence. The rich histories of Indian philosophy that were once associated with religion, education and health were replaced by the colonial philosophy of conversion, modernising and improvement.

But it was not just European men; women too played a pivotal role in normalising colonisation in Bengal in the 19th century. The wives and daughters of merchants, engineers, ministers, doctors and architects came to India and not only supported their husbands and families, but took on what they saw as humanitarian roles where they felt they could be useful in the community.

But you wouldn’t know this from reading any European colonial histories of Bengal, because the stories of these women have largely been ignored. The majority of existing narratives about the Scottish influence on the colonisation of Bengal reduces women to just “partners”, or those who came to India “because they wanted to find husbands”.

My research rediscovers the stories of such women interred at the Scottish Cemetery in Kolkata, the West Bengal city that was once the administrative HQ of British India (previously called Calcutta). I wanted to highlight and explore these forgotten social histories through a “hauntological” perspective. Rather like a ghost, these unearthed stories were a returning of the past to “haunt” the present.

By uncovering the complicating histories of colonial women, I wanted to highlight the challenges of the decolonial gaze, which seeks to counter traditional historical narratives created by colonisers. In other words, the untold stories of the Scottish women in Calcutta revealed in my documentary (below), returned to the present to disrupt the accepted interpretations of European colonial history in West Bengal. This now invites people to engage with a different and overlooked perspective of the period.

While their husbands were building, buying, managing and administrating British India, wives and daughters were working in hospitals, teaching in schools and helping to provide community services. But their efforts and contributions went unacknowledged in the historical unfolding of empire.

A documentary approach

In 2019, I collaborated with academics from Bridgewater State University in the US in making my documentary to unpack these issues. The documentary argues that the physical death and decay of the human body does not necessarily erase the social and historical narratives that have shaped a person’s existence.

Through their discovery and circulation, the cemetery stories of the Scottish women endure beyond graveyards that decline with time, and now exist in the present and the future. The women’s stories make an effort to “honour and resurrect the future inside the past” because they have laid bare another dimension to European colonisation that previous interpretations had overlooked.

The documentary engages with the narratives of 11 Scottish women, selected from the available list of names in the cemetery records. Initially, 24 women were identified for documentation, but less than half could be used as the carvings on so many of the gravestones were too faded or degraded to use. The film shows that these stories have not come from existing written or oral accounts. Instead, these tales of real and often difficult lives have been resurrected from the information chiselled onto gravestones.

Here we find stories of Scotswomen like Jane Elliott, who worked as a missionary and looked after homeless children in Calcutta; or Christina Rodger Wighton who worked with people suffering from cholera, malaria and dysentery and died herself of cholera aged just 27; or Caroline Leach who arrived in India in 1850 just as epidemics broke out and worked as an apothecary in a leper colony; or Anne Baynes Evans who worked with the poor through the Baptist Missionary Society and was committed to educating young Indian women. Apart from their gravestones and cemetery records, no account of these women’s lives and achievements exist.

Many other colonial women’s lives in India follow the same pattern. Here were Scotswomen who saw their role as benevolent colonisers, contributing towards the “growth” and “development” of Calcutta by establishing schools for girls, health centres, nature parks and places of worship. But the ultimate goal of their high-minded and no doubt well-meaning contributions was to justify why colonisation was necessary.

The battered gravestone of Scotswoman Jane Elliott in the Scottish cemetery in Calcutta.
The gravestone of Jane Elliott who looked after homeless children in Calcutta.
Author provided

Voices from stone

But these women played an important role as doctors, teachers, apothecaries, nurses, missionaries and even piano tuners. The gravestone stories reveal the various ways Scottish women independently played an active role towards shaping the European colonial administration in Bengal, and particularly in Calcutta.

But their stories have remained mostly undiscussed due to lack of documentation – their lives not seen as even deserving a note for posterity. The stories that remain on their gravestones function as what anthropologist Fiona Murphy calls “unpacified ghosts”. Their stories call out to be heard, and to challenge the practice of “conditional inclusion” which preserves historical colonial power structures, by unearthing untold stories of women’s lives and contributions.

This research not only makes an effort to document the historical narratives of these Scottish women, but also illustrates how cemetery gravestones literally remind us of the past, revealing stories that show once again how history is so often written from a singular – and male – perspective. But now the lives of these woman have at last been illuminated. Even in their silence, the dead have a story to tell.The Conversation

Sayan Dey, Postdoctoral Fellow at Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Melanesian indentured labourer Annie Etinside, hailed as a Queensland ‘pioneer’ on her death


Annie, pictured on left with her children in the town of Halifax, circa 1910, forged a rich life in difficult circumstances.
Author provided

Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui, James Cook University and Claire Brennan, James Cook UniversityIn this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

The women of the tropical north Queensland frontier were a varied lot
and included Melanesian indentured labourers brought to work on sugar cane plantations. Annie Etinside was one of them.

She was brought to Halifax, a small, sleepy town bordering the banks of the Herbert River that was once a thriving port and tramway terminus for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s Victoria sugar plantation and mill.

Evidence today of the indentured labourers who once toiled on the plantation is found in small signposts such as one at “The Gardens”, formerly a small Melanesian village on the outskirts of Halifax. Here lived a few families who were not later repatriated to their islands.

Far fewer women than men were recruited as indentured labourers. In 1906, when forced repatriation of these labourers began, only 14 Melanesian women and 500 men remained on the Herbert. Annie, one of those 14, did not live in The Gardens community. Her life took a very different course.

Available records reveal a woman of colour who defied all odds to participate in a predominantly white community. Yet Annie remains an enigma.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Wauba Debar, an Indigenous swimmer from Tasmania who saved her captors


Recruitment

The “frontier” is generally thought of as a masculine space. In part this is because most frontier history has been written by European men, who tended not to notice women beyond their domestic arrangements, if at all. Fleshing out the lives of pioneering frontier women is difficult enough if they are white, let alone for women of colour.

The first Melanesian men were brought to the Herbert River district around 1872; women came about ten years later. Annie appears to have been among them. While some islanders volunteered, others were secured against their own will by deceit and even kidnapping.

They were paid, and at the end of the three-year indenture period could either return to their islands, re-indenture, or work freely in the sugar industry on a set wage. Following the existing record trail leaves many questions unanswered about when Annie arrived and where from.

Annie’s headstone.
Author provided

In the Halifax cemetery, her simple headstone tells us she came from Ureparapara (the third largest island in the Banks group of northern Vanuatu). Yet her death certificate records her as born on “Lambue South Sea Island”. Her marriage certificate records her birth as “Burra Burra South Sea Island”. Neither of these locations can be identified, but the latter may be a corruption of Buka Buka.

A register was kept listing the names of recruited labourers and other details. The only Etinside on this register is a man brought over on November 5, 1888 from Ureparapara. We don’t know if this was Annie, mistakenly recorded as a male.

Details of Annie’s arrival are further muddied by the information provided on her gravestone, marriage and death certificates. According to these, she was born around 1870, so would have arrived in Australia in 1881 as an 11-year-old.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Isabel Flick, the tenacious campaigner who fought segregation in Australia


Marriage

Indentured women were employed both in fields and houses by small farmers, and on plantations. Annie’s obituary, published in the Herbert River Express, says she was first engaged as housemaid to Norwegian sugar cane farmer Johan (John) Ingebright Alm and his wife Antonia, then to an English farmer, Francis Herron and his wife Lucinda.

By 1884, she was housemaid to George Gosling who had migrated from Britain in 1881. George was an overseer of indentured labour gangs, then farmed on leased land and in his own right, turning a piece of land called “Poverty Flat” by locals into a successful farm, Rosedale.

George and Annie Gosling, circa 1885.
Albert and Rachel Garlando

Annie married Gosling in 1898 in a civil ceremony. By this time, she had borne him two children. The children’s birth records are the first bearing the name Etenside (misspelt). At this point, Annie may have begun to feel unsafe. The Aboriginal Protection and Restrictions of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897 had just been passed.

Without an official record to prove she had arrived as an indentured labourer, officials could have identified Annie as Aboriginal. This would have meant restriction of her movements and associations; her children, as mixed race and born out of wedlock, could have been taken from her.

The indentured labour scheme was never meant to permit Melanesian people to settle permanently in Australia. In 1901 the White Australia policy legislated to stop the scheme. From the end of 1906, all Melanesian indentured labourers were to be forcibly deported back to their islands, except for those with exemption tickets.

Marriage offered Annie protection. Rather than social disapproval, it seems to have met with tolerance, even if expressed in a patronising way. One Cairns newspaper described her with tongue in cheek as Gosling’s “little black duck”.

George Gosling’s headstone.
Author provided

Annie and Gosling had three more children although tragedy struck on January 17, 1905, when Gosling died of malaria at the age of 45. Annie was left with five young children, the youngest only eight days old. On Gosling’s death, Annie was recognised as his lawful widow, inheriting all his estate. The success of his farm can be partly attributed to her. On the Herbert, small farmers depended on wives and children for all field labour, apart from cane harvesting.

Annie had another child in 1907, who she named Robert Gosling. She went on to marry William John Davey on February 17, 1909. But one month after their marriage, she registered the death of little Robert. Davey died on August 30, in the same year. After his death she reverted to using the name Gosling.

Remarkable feats

Despite her “alien” status, Annie integrated herself successfully into the largely white social fabric of Halifax, becoming a respected member of the community at a time of institutionalised racism. She participated in civic life, was registered on the electoral roll and ran a farm.

Her children attended the Halifax State School, her sons farmed and held jobs at the sugar mills (unusual for children of indentured labourers) and her children married Anglo-Australians, Europeans and Asians.

Annie’s were remarkable feats, given the prevailing racial attitudes and prohibitions regarding land ownership, education and constitutional rights. They indicate her determination to be recognised as an accountable, independent and hard-working member of society, regardless of her skin colour.

When Annie died on November 23, 1948 at the recorded age of 78, she was described in the Herbert River Express as a “grand old pioneer”.The Conversation

Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui, Adjunct Lecturer, James Cook University and Claire Brennan, Lecturer in History, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


‘I want to scream and scream’: Australian nurses on the Western Front were also victims of war


An unusually sturdy and comfortable CCS during the first world war.
Australian War Memorial

Fiona McLeod, The University of Queensland and Martin Crotty, The University of QueenslandThe revival of interest in Anzac since the 1980s has depended in part on the repositioning of soldiers as victims. We rarely celebrate their martial virtues, and instead note their resilience, fortitude and suffering.

This shift in emphasis opens up more promising space for the inclusion of women. Nurses were not warriors – they were caregivers. But they too suffered trauma as a result of their service.

In what must be regarded as something of a miracle, no Australian nurses were killed. But like the men they devoted themselves to, they were worn down and in some cases shattered by the horrors they witnessed.

From 1916, Australian nurses served in Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS), almost on the front line, often under fire and always under immense pressure. This was the most dangerous and intense working environment in which they could serve. It was far removed from the hospital ship environment at Gallipoli, or the hospitals further from the lines, where there was at least the prospect of regular respite.

The CCS was a 1915 innovation designed to provide treatment to men as soon as possible after they were injured. They operated close to the front lines, and so took nurses into the danger zone. CCS nurses were assailed by the realities of trench warfare and the demands of treating damaged men. Soldiers came to the CCS within hours of wounding, bloody and dying, needing urgent surgery for their shattered limbs and mangled bodies, or blistered and blinded from gas attacks.

The sight of the battle front was terrifying and compelling — Sister Elsie Tranter, for one, was captivated. She wrote in her diary that on her first night at a CCS near Grevillers, in March 1918 she:

[…] had the flaps on the tent fastened back and spent most of the night watching the flashes in the sky from the guns […] everything seemed so surreal.

For Sister May Tilton, it was the industrial sounds of battle that impressed. She wrote that the Third Battle of Ypres (also known as the Battle of Passchendaele) started with:

[…] a continuous rumble and roar, as of an immense factory of vibrating machinery filled the night. The pulsing sounds and vibration worked into our bodies and brains; the screech of the big shells, and the awful crash when they burst at no great distance, kept our nerves on edge.

Shrapnel falling to the ground, the thrilling sight of aerial dog fights, damp and dirty dugouts, sandbagged tents, constant artillery fire, the smell of gas, the tremble of the earth — this was the landscape of the CCS.

Nurses and soldiers at the 3rd Casualty Clearing Station.
Australian War Memorial

Sister Connie Keys did not expect they would come through safely, and later confided to her mother that now “I’m only afraid of being afraid”. She had experienced terror beyond measure.

CCSs struggled to cope at the height of battle, and staff worked extremely long hours to deal with the flood of casualties. One of them, 2nd Australian CCS, had a nursing staff of 20 and put through 2,800 patients in the first 18 hours of the “Messines push”.

May Tilton recalled in her memoir that she often “went on duty at 8pm, worked continuously during a ‘stunt’[a minor military operation], until the following midday, with ten minutes for supper at midnight, and half an hour for breakfast at 8am”.

The experience of nurses attests to the aphorism of war as long periods of boredom interspersed with brief periods of terror.

Static attrition warfare, conducted through artillery bombardment, gassing and close fighting, produced fighting conditions and wounds that appalled both the victims and those who cared for them.

The resuscitation wards were the greatest test for nurses. Tilton recalled that:

[…] only the worst cases could we possibly hope to attend to. The work in the resuscitation ward was indescribable. The butchery of these precious lives […] To watch them dying was ghastly.

The night sister confessed

I cannot speak of it […] I want to scream and scream.

Nurses were brought to despair – not because they were unable to save lives, for nurses were accustomed to death, but because they were unable to care for patients as they would have done “at home”. They had been trained to fashion order out of chaos, to bring a patient through the days and nights of a health crisis with patience, gentleness and watchful vigilance, and in some cases to ease their path to a painless and tranquil death.

Nurses and patient at the Auxiliary Hospital Unit in Belgium.
Australian War Memorial

But in war, they wrestled with the irresolvable conflict between duty and fear, and between their compassion and the realities of conflict. Death on the Western Front was ugly, chaotic and painful, so much so that some “ministering angels” came to doubt their Christian faith. “I can’t believe there is a God,” wrote Sister Alice Ross King after the Ypres Offensive, “it is too awful for words”.

Nurses, like soldiers, knew when they were at breaking point, and feared being unable to fulfil their duties. Tilton confessed:

[…] the privacy of our tents was a welcome relief for the weakness we dared not show before our brave, suffering boys.

Even the Armistice, when it eventually came on November 11 1918, brought little comfort. Anne Donnell became terribly depressed and, like many, found joy impossible when she contemplated the sadness of empty homes and hearts.

Nurses carried the burden of putting back together the victims of conflict, yet struggled to maintain their own physical and mental health. For many, their return to Australia was marred by ill-health, and what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

But they also displayed courage and resilience. The experiences of Australian Army nurses on the Western Front can be a starting point, reaching through all Australia’s wars, for discussion of the response to extreme physical and psychological stress borne by those who treat the casualties of war. They too were war’s victims.The Conversation

Fiona McLeod, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland and Martin Crotty, Associate Professor in Australian History, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


What is suffragette white? The colour has a 110-year history as a protest tool


A silent protest parade in New York City against the East St. Louis riots in 1917.
Library of Congress

Michelle Staff, Australian National University“Suffragette white” is proving to be a popular fashion choice for women who want to make a statement. Most recently, former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate donned a white jacket in her appearance before a Senate inquiry into her controversial departure from the organisation.

Her sartorial choice formed part of the “Wear White 2 Unite” campaign, which encouraged people to sport the colour in support of Holgate and call for an end to workplace bullying.

In doing this, Holgate, like Brittany Higgins last month at the Canberra March4Justice, is building on a trend in which women are wearing white clothing — and often referencing suffrage history — to draw attention to gender inequity today.

Deeds not words

The term “suffragette” is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to all those who campaigned for women’s voting rights. But it was actually a label applied to a specific group of women — initially in a derogatory sense.

The women’s suffrage movement in Britain took off during the 1860s. By the turn of the 20th century, women still did not have the vote.

Four white women in brilliant white dresses
Emmeline Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst, Mabel Tuke and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, 17th June 1911, marching at the head of the Prisoners’ Pageant at the Coronation Procession.
Digital image copyright Museum of London

This led Emmeline Pankhurst to establish the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. Her group of primarily white women believed militancy was the only way they could achieve change, living by the motto “deeds not words”.

The British press mockingly labelled these women “suffragettes”, adding the diminutive suffix “-ette” in an attempt to de-legitimise them. But Pankhurst’s group was not deterred. It reclaimed the term, eliminating the element of ridicule and rebranding it as “a name of highest honour”.

One of the WSPU teams that drew the carriage of released prisoners away from Holloway in 1908.
Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science

Her group’s dramatic actions – from disrupting meetings to damaging public property – cemented their place in the history of women’s suffrage.

Purity, dignity and hope

Early 20th century suffrage campaigns relied heavily on spectacle and pageantry, using striking visual imagery and mass gatherings to garner the attention of the press and the wider public.

Many suffrage organisations adopted colours to symbolise their agenda. In Britain, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies used red and white in their banners, later adding green. The WSPU chose white, purple and green: white for purity, purple for dignity and green for hope.

An original Women’s Social and Political Union postcard album, with the circular purple, white and green WSPU motif printed on the front.
Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science

Suffragette white was first donned en masse in June 1908 on Women’s Sunday, the first “monster meeting” hosted by the WSPU in London’s Hyde Park. The 30,000 participants were encouraged to wear white, accessorised with touches of purple and green.

Ahead of the march, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence’s newspaper Votes for Women explained:

the effect will be a magnificent moving colour scheme never before seen in London’s streets.

White fabric was relatively affordable, which meant women of different backgrounds could participate. The colour’s association with purity also helped those involved present themselves as respectable, dignified women.

A stream of women in white between crowds of men in black.
The Suffragette Coronation Procession through central London, 17 June, 1911.
Digital image copyright Museum of London

Suffragette white became a mainstay of the WSPU’s demonstrations. In 1911, women who had been imprisoned for militancy were among those who marched in white in the Women’s Coronation Procession.

The Australian suffragist Vida Goldstein, wearing a white dress, famously headed the Australian contingent.

Goldstein later brought the WSPU’s colours to Australia in her campaigns for a parliamentary seat.




Read more:
Friday essay: Sex, power and anger — a history of feminist protests in Australia


Two years later in 1913, members of the WSPU wore white in a funeral procession for their colleague Emily Wilding Davison, who died under the hooves of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

American suffragists soon picked up this tactic, influenced by the British suffragettes as well as by the temperance movement’s use of white ribbons.

Cities like Washington D.C. witnessed similar scenes of women in white dresses marching through the streets, making striking material for photographers. Contemporary black women — who were excluded from the suffrage movement in many ways — used the colour in their protests against racial violence, too.

Poster: Bring U.S. together. Vote Chisholm, 1972. Unbought and unbossed.
Fifty years after Black American women wore white in protest marches, white suits became a calling card of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.
Library of Congress

Feminist solidarity

The modern trend towards white has had particular traction in the US.

In 2019, Donald Trump faced a sea of suffragette white at his State of the Union address. Last year, Kamala Harris wore a white pantsuit to deliver her remarks as vice president-elect.

Closer to home, at the March4Justice rally in Canberra, Brittany Higgins made a surprise appearance in a white outfit, standing in contrast to the funereal black worn by attendees.

By wearing white, these women — either consciously or not — are building connections with their feminist forebears across the Anglosphere. At times this can flatten the complex history of women’s suffrage. It is important to remember it was primarily white, middle-class women who led these suffrage movements, often to the exclusion of women of colour and others.

In drawing on their feminist genealogy, women today need to acknowledge the limitations of feminisms past and present — and not simply celebrate and reproduce the attitudes of over a hundred years ago.

At the same time, wearing suffragette white is a powerful and highly symbolic gesture that reminds us just how long women have been fighting.

By establishing a sense of feminist solidarity across time and space, this move can also generate inspiration and energy and attract media attention. Women of colour’s choice to wear white can be read as a way of asserting their place within a movement from which they have historically been (and continue to be) excluded — and honouring women of colour who have come before them.

Like the suffragettes of the early 20th century, women today are showing the power of visual spectacle to grab the public’s attention. Whether this will, in turn, lead to real change remains to be seen.The Conversation

Michelle Staff, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Did a tragic family secret influence Kate Sheppard’s mission to give New Zealand women the vote?



Kate Sheppard (seated at centre) with the National Council of Women in Christchurch. 1896.

Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

The family of pioneering New Zealand suffragist Kate Sheppard kept an important secret – one that possibly explains a lot about her life, her beliefs and her motivation.

The secret involved her father, Andrew Wilson Malcolm, and what happened to him after Kate was born. An extensive and painstaking quest by her great great niece Tessa Malcolm has revealed the truth about his fate.

Sadly, Tessa died in 2013 before publishing her decades-long research. I am now completing her work and hope to publish a new biography of Sheppard in 2023, the 130th anniversary of New Zealand becoming the first place in the world to give women the vote.

Solving the mystery of Andrew’s death deepens our understanding of Kate and her extraordinary life.

What happened to Kate Sheppard’s father?

Following family leads and with detailed searches of official and military records, wills and graves, Tessa finally established the truth: Andrew Malcolm died aged 42 of the delirium tremens (DTs) in New Mexico on January 26, 1862.

The DTs are a severe form of alcohol withdrawal and a horrible way to die. Symptoms include fever, seizures and hallucinations.

Kate Sheppard.

It had already been a long and difficult slog for Andrew. He was one of thousands of Scotsmen who served in overseas armies throughout the 19th century, motivated by a lust for adventure, sympathy for a cause, financial reward, a desire to emigrate or just to escape their lives at home.

When he died he was months short of completing ten years service in the Union Army. His burial site at Fort Craig was recently looted, which led to the official exhumation and reburial of bodies, Andrew’s remains possibly among them.

So we now know the Scottish father of a leader in the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) died an alcoholic amid the horrors of the American Civil War. He had served and sacrificed his life on US soil, far from his wife and five children at home in the British Isles.




Read more:
NZ was first to grant women the vote in 1893, but then took 26 years to let them stand for parliament


The personal becomes political

As is well known, after the family left Scotland and re-grouped in New Zealand, Kate went on to play a key role in the movement to grant women the vote.

The late Tessa Malcolm, great great niece of Kate Sheppard.
Author provided

The peaceful campaign was closely aligned with the temperance movement. It argued that moral, enfranchised women were needed to clean up society by voting against the “demon drink”.

A New Zealand tour in 1885 by Mary Leavitt of the American WCTU was a catalyst for local organising. Sheppard became the secretary of the WCTU franchise department.

With her own family experience and connection with America, we can certainly speculate that for Kate temperance was more than a platform from which women could gain the vote. It’s highly probable that her quests for a sober society and votes for women were personally entwined.

A missing page from history

So why did Andrew’s death remain a secret? Stigma, a sense of shame, or just the natural desire for privacy could all be explanations.

In her 1992 biography of Kate Sheppard, Judith Devaliant dedicated only two pages to Kate’s life prior to her 1869 migration to New Zealand around the age of 21. Of Andrew she wrote: “His death has not been traced with any accuracy, although it is known that he died at an early age leaving his widow to cope with five young children.”




Read more:
Hundred years of votes for women: how far we’ve come and how far there’s still to go


The biography is also vague about the details of his life. He was born in Dunfermline, Fifeshire, in 1819 and married Jemima Crawford Souter on Islay in the Hebrides in 1842. Documents describe his occupation variously as lawyer, banker, brewer’s clerk and legal clerk.

There is no mention of Andrew in either the New Zealand History Net or Book of New Zealand Women entries on Kate Sheppard. Until now, the focus is on Kate’s adult life and work, with family taking a back seat.

Even in her own 1993 entry on Kate in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Tessa simply wrote: “Her father died in 1862”. The implication was that Andrew had died in Scotland, although Dublin and Jamaica also appear in genealogical records.

Ruins of the officers’ quarters, Fort Craig, New Mexico, USA: last resting place of Kate Sheppard’s father.
CC BY-SA

The search goes on

But Tessa was already aware of Andrew’s New Mexico fate by 1990, two years before Devaliant’s book was published. After following dead ends and disproving family rumours she had solved the puzzle of what really happened to the ancestor she referred to as the “bete noire” of her research.

Can we conclusively say that Kate Sheppard’s temperance and suffragist work was directly linked to knowledge of her father’s death? Or are we dealing with an irony of history, albeit a sad one?

As yet we can’t be sure. But Kate’s mother definitely knew the cause of Andrew’s death and we know she greatly influenced Kate. I believe it was also likely known by other senior (and also influential) family members, but kept quiet.

The fact the truth was hidden so well suggests a degree of deliberate concealment. By building on Tessa’s groundbreaking research I hope to reveal more of a remarkable story that connects Scotland, America and New Zealand to a global first for women.The Conversation

Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


How Julia Gillard forever changed Australian politics – especially for women



Lukas Coch/ AAP

Blair Williams, Australian National University

The Conversation is running a series of pieces on key figures in Australian political history, examining how they changed the country and political debate.

When Julia Gillard was sworn into office as Australia’s first female prime minister on a chilly Canberra morning in 2010, it seemed like the ultimate glass ceiling had been smashed.

But this momentous occasion was marred by the onslaught of sexism and misogyny Gillard endured from the opposition, and especially the mainstream media, over the next three years of her term.




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Since she lost the prime ministership in 2013, Gillard has fostered a legacy that extends beyond parliamentary politics, with a focus on women’s rights, education and mental health.

The two Es: education and equality

Born in Wales in 1961, Gillard’s family moved to Australia in 1966. She grew up in Adelaide as the daughter of a nurse and aged care worker.

Gillard was educated at local public schools before studying at the University of Adelaide and then the University of Melbourne.

She told the Harvard Business Review last year her involvement in the student movement, protesting education cutbacks, was a formative experience:

That’s what spurred an activism and engagement in public policy in me, and I went on to lead the student movement nationally … people had said, ‘You really should consider politics’. It was a slow dawning over time that it would be a fantastic way of putting my values into action — and realising that someone like me could do it.

Graduating with an arts/law degree, Gillard joined law firm Slater & Gordon in 1987 and was a partner by 1990.

While she has said she felt “quite at home in many ways” as a young woman in the “larrakin” culture of the law firm, she also worked on affirmative action campaigns in the 1990s. She was a founding member of Labor women’s support network, EMILY’s List Australia.

She continues to maintain this focus on gender and education in her post-politics advocacy.

Going to Canberra, creating history

Gillard was elected to federal parliament in 1998 and was a frontbencher by 2001.
In 2007, with Labor’s election victory, she became deputy prime minister and minister for education, workplace relations and social inclusion.

Gillard was sworn in as Australia’s 27th prime minister by Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
Alan Porritt/ AAP

However, despite the popularity of prime minister Kevin Rudd, the Labor party became increasingly frustrated with his leadership style ahead of the 2010 federal election.

These tensions saw Gillard challenge Rudd for the top job in June 2010, in one of the most dramatic episodes in recent Australian political history.

Gillard’s unexpected promotion would have lasting consequences for her, the Labor Party and Australian political culture.

It initiated a “coup culture” in Australian politics, where a series of challenges saw the removal of four out of the five most recent prime ministers.

A sexist backlash

The unprecedented removal of a popular first-term prime minister during an election year also prompted an overwhelming backlash from the opposition, the media and the public.

Gillard faced accusations of disloyalty that marred the historic significance of her victory and status as the “first woman”. It also unleashed what seemed like a ceaseless tirade of sexism and misogyny that she endured for the next three years of her term.

The more prominent examples include broadcaster Alan Jones saying Gillard should be put in a “chaff bag” and taken “out to sea”. A menu at a Liberal National Party fundraiser described a dish as “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”.




Read more:
Dining out on the prime minister – time to change the ‘Menugate’?


Opposition leader Tony Abbott stood in front of – and tacitly endorsed – sexist placards.

Julia Gillard faced repeated sexist abuse during her time as prime minister.
Alan Porritt/AAP

A productive parliament

After the 2010 federal election, Gillard had to work with a minority government.

But in a sign of her formidable negotiating skills, Gillard’s term as prime minister was extremely productive.

Despite the surrounding political turmoil, 570 bills were passed by the Senate, with key achievements including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the child abuse royal commission, a carbon price, education funding and paid parental leave.




Read more:
Labor’s legacy: six years of … what exactly?


It wasn’t all warm and fuzzy

Yet not all Gillard’s policies are so fondly remembered.

On the same day Gillard delivered her famous “misogyny speech”, her government passed welfare reforms that moved single parents off the parenting payment and onto Newstart (now called JobSeeker Payment). This reduced people’s payments by $60 to $100 a week, disproportionately affecting women.

Her asylum seeker policies and opposition to marriage equality also garnered widespread criticism from progressive Australians, particularly the LGBTIQ+ community and refugee advocates.

‘I will not be lectured by this man’

Twelve iconic words have come to define Gillard’s legacy:

I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man.

This statement launched a blistering 15-minute speech, in which Gillard called out the sexism and hypocrisy of Abbott during Question Time in October 2012.

The anger and frustration she felt about Abbott – known for his sexist sentiments – and the systemic double standards she’d endured for years, resonated with women around the world.

Julia Gillard delivered her “misogyny speech” on October 9 2012.

Though it was initially critiqued by the Canberra Press Gallery, which accused Gillard of “playing the gender card”, the speech went viral.

It has become the definitive moment of her prime ministership and is often the only thing people overseas know about Australian politics.




Read more:
Gillard’s misogyny speech looks even better than it reads


Earlier this year, it was voted the “most unforgettable” moment in Australian TV history by a Guardian Australia poll. Last month, a senior advisor to former-US President Barack Obama revealed they often watched the speech whenever they were frustrated with then-prime minister Abbott.

The misogyny speech has even entered into the pop cultural canon, inspiring young women today to create memes and TikToks paying homage to those famous words.

Changing the way we talk about sexism and politics

Gillard’s misogyny speech and her time as our first woman prime minister changed the way that politics and sexism were talked about in Australia and highlighted the toxic nature of parliament.

Rather than “playing the gender card”, Gillard drew attention to it, calling out the sexism and misogyny that many women in politics had to silently endure.

Julia Gillard, pictured here with former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, continues to advocate for gender equality.
David Moir/ AAP

Speaking with Gillard last year in preparation for my doctoral research, she noted how the conversation around gender and sexism is “everywhere now”, and that people are far more aware of and likely to challenge gendered double-standards.

In recent years, we have seen multiple women politicians breaking their silence, from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young suing fellow senator David Leyonhjelm for defamation, to former Liberal MP Julia Banks calling out “gender bias” and “bullying”.

Post-politics: ‘what would Julia do?’

Gillard lost the Labor leadership in 2013, when Rudd got his revenge and his old job back.

Gillard left Parliament immediately after she lost the leadership.
Lukas Coch/ AAP

But she has left a lasting legacy as a role model for girls and young women. This stems not just from her political career, but for the way she has gracefully moved on.

Since leaving politics, Gillard continues to work in the areas she cares about, with high-profile appointments in education, mental health and women’s leadership. Earlier this month, she was also appointed as the next chair of medical research giant, the Wellcome Trust.

Julia Gillard’s official portrait was unveiled in 2018.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Like all politicians, she’ll continue to have her critics, but her post-political life and demeanour has largely been admired. Gillard’s former foe, Abbott, even attended the 2018 unveiling of her official portrait.




Read more:
The political tragedy of Julia Gillard


And her career continues to resonate with people, particularly women.

This was recently seen when she received a handwritten note from a stranger on a flight, which thanked her for being “such a strong, intelligent and unapologetic role model for myself and so many of my peers”.

The note added that the author and her female colleagues used the phrase “WWJD” or “what would Julia do”.

As the woman explained: “It’s our rallying cry to be the absolute best at our jobs”.The Conversation

Blair Williams, Political Scientist, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Cook commemorations are mute on intimate encounters and their profound impact on Indigenous women



Artist: John Pickles, Author provided

Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.


History is always selective, particularly when it is tied up with national identity. Certain stories are recovered, while others remain silent.

Intimate encounters are often muted, even though we know they played a central part in first encounters during the colonial era.

Tuia 250, a government-sponsored series of events to commemorate 250 years since Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand, focused on Pacific voyaging and first onshore encounters between Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) during 1769–70, at the expense of reconsidering private history.




Read more:
My ancestors met Cook in Aotearoa 250 years ago. For us, it’s time to reinterpret a painful history


Colonial comfort

The laborious maps and longhand entries in explorers’ journals, their sketches of specimens gathered during their long journeys – these can all be seen as skillful antiques of a bygone era. But they also represent potent past tools of imperialism.

Tuia 250 was about both voyaging and encounter histories, but it seems that re-enacting traditional sailing was easier than restaging the intimate encounters that were central to the colonial enterprise.

Captain Cook charted New Zealand during his voyage in 1769.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

Commemorations of voyages across the open oceans sailed clear of the awkward topic of intimacy. The history of intimate encounters remained consigned to a private space, perceived as outside of the making of history and national identity.

But as historian Anne Salmond has written, bodily contact involved Cook’s sailors exchanging items such as nails for sex with women.

In her book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, Salmond describes the Endeavour’s arrival at Anaura Bay, where Cook’s party went ashore, and the expedition’s official botanist Joseph Banks commented about Māori women being less accessible than Tahitian women.

Banks remarked ruefully that they ‘were as great coquettes as any Europeans could be and the young ones as skittish as unbroke fillies’. If the local women were reluctant to make love with the strangers, however, they were wise, because by Cook’s own reckoning several of his men had stubborn venereal infections, and at least half of the rest had contracted venereal diseases in Tahiti.

In historian James Belich’s view, described in his book Making Peoples, sexual contact became the initial intercultural trade in New Zealand.

The sex industry began at first contact in 1769, and from the 1810s it became large and important – very probably preceding wool, gold and dairy products as New Zealand’s leading earner of overseas exchange.

But Hazel Petrie has argued that intimate encounters have to be considered within the context of cultural practices that emphasised hospitality.

Contemporary Western attitudes sometimes led to characterisations of more casual sexual activity between Māori women and visiting Pākehā men as ‘prostitution’, and in our own time such liaisons have been deemed to represent a ‘sex industry’. But these perceptions may be in large part the result of the different moral codes of the narrators and seeing sexual relationships through different lenses. Māori society may have more typically viewed short- to medium-term relationships with sailors or other visitors in terms of manaakitanga or the normal extension of hospitality with expectations of a courteous material response.




Read more:
An honest reckoning with Captain Cook’s legacy won’t heal things overnight. But it’s a start


Women as agents of history

According to historians, Cook disapproved of the sexual behaviour of his officers and men, but was unable to stop it. In his journal, Cook wrote:

A connection with Women I allow because I cannot prevent it, but never encourage tho many Men are of opinion it is one of the greatest securities amongst Indians, and it may hold good when you intend to settle amongst them; but with travelers and strangers, it is generally otherwise and more men are betrayed than saved by having connection with their women, and how can it be otherwise since all their Views are selfish without the least mixture of regard or attachment whatever; at least my observations which have been pretty general, have not pointed out to me one instance to the contrary.

Sailors embodied the complex, disease-ridden, sexual shipboard culture of the 18th century, combined with western unequal attitudes towards women and the perception of Polynesian women as exotic.

As indigenous and cultural studies scholar Alice Te Punga Somerville puts it:

Gender is so central to the story of Cook. And how Cook, and everything that came after, has done so much to gender in this region.

Māori women were entangled in the encounters as two worlds met. First contact marked the beginning of changes to customary processes (tikanga Māori), ended pre-colonial balance and had profound effects on Māori women’s lives, as the work of indigenous scholar Ani Mikaere has shown.

Mikaere has argued that:

It is often assumed that, according to tikanga Māori, leadership was primarily the domain of men and that men in Māori society exercised power over women. However, evidence abounds which refutes the notion that traditional Māori society attached greater significance to male roles than to female roles.

It came to pass that Māori women, white women missionaries and settlers were all integral to history. As feminist scholar Anne McClintock pointed out of women in imperialism, they were not “hapless onlookers”. They were variously colonisers and colonised.

Just as women were a central part of those first encounters in 1769-70, they continued to be agents of history. Some women, as the helpmeets of Empire, taught generations of schoolchildren about Cook the hero as part of an imperial curriculum.

Navigating a shared future needs to recognise women’s part in colonial encounters. It needs to consider that in the present, as with the past, public and private spaces are interconnected.The Conversation

Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury and current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi James Cook Research Fellow, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Auschwitz: Women used different survival and sabotage strategies than men at Nazi death camp



Women prisoners at the Auschwitz train station around 1944.
ullstein bild via Getty Images

Judy Baumel-Schwartz, Bar-Ilan University

Nearly all the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland, were murdered – either sent to the gas chambers or worked to death. Life expectancy in many of these camps was between six weeks and three months.

Over a million of the Auschwitz dead were Jews, and scholars have concluded that more than half of them were women.

While male and female slave laborers in Auschwitz faced the same ultimate fate, my research on gender and the Holocaust finds that some of their behaviors and responses to captivity differed.

Methods of sabotage

Gender has been long overlooked in Holocaust research. Writing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, early scholars such as Joan Ringelheim and Sybil Milton had to fight for their legitimacy in a field that insisted that separating stories of Jewish men and women under the Nazi regime was a blow to their joint fate or to Jewish solidarity.

Today, however, the topic is being explored in depth, allowing us to better understand not only how Jews died during the Holocaust, but also how they lived.

Of 1.3 million men and women sent to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, 1.1 million died.
API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

During the late 1980s, I conducted a study of Jewish men and women who had been part of Auschwitz’s “Canada Commando,” the forced labor detail responsible for sorting through the possessions inmates had brought with them to the camp and preparing those items for reshipment back to Germany for civilian use.

Since the barracks were the only place in the camp where one could find almost unlimited food and clothing, this forced labor troop was named after Canada – a country seen as a symbol of wealth.

Examining the behavior of the men and women of the Canada Commando, I noted an interesting difference. Among the items of clothing sorted there were fur coats. While both male and female prisoners in the Canada Commando tried to sabotage this work, acts punishable by death, their methods differed.

Male prisoners would usually rip the lining and seams of the coat to shreds, keeping only the outer shell intact. At first use, the coat would come apart, leaving the German who wore it coatless in the winter.

The few surviving women in the commando whom I interviewed did not use this tactic. Rather, they told me, they decided together to insert handwritten notes into the coat’s pockets that read something along the lines of: “German women, know that you are wearing a coat that belonged to a woman who has been gassed to death in Auschwitz.”

The women, in other words, chose psychological sabotage. The men, physical.

Coping with hunger

One of the most central experiences of all camp prisoners during the Holocaust was hunger. While both men and women suffered from hunger during incarceration, male and female prisoners used disparate coping methods.

The former Auschwitz Nazi extermination camp, in occupied Poland, now a public museum.
Peter Toth/Pixabay, CC BY-SA

While men would regale each other with tales of the fantastic meals they would enjoy once liberated, women would often discuss how they had cooked they various dishes they loved before the war, from baking fluffy cakes to preparing traditional Jewish blintzes. Cara de Silva’s 1996 book, “In Memory’s Kitchen,” movingly documents how this phenomenon played out among women prisoners in the Terezin camp.

The differences between men’s and women’s coping methods may have derived from the gendered behavior in their lives before the war, in which men ate and women cooked – at least in the middle and lower classes.

In the case of women, this may also have been a female socialization process meant to solve two dilemmas simultaneously: the psychological need to engage – at least verbally – with food, and the educational need to prepare the young girls in the camp for culinary and household tasks after the war.

Under normal circumstances, mothers would have taught their daughters by example – not story.

Motherhood under Nazi rule

Various historical studies make mention of motherly sacrifices during the Holocaust, such as women who chose to accompany their children to death so that they would not be alone during their last moments on Earth.

Jewish women and children, some wearing the yellow Star of David patch on their chests, undergoing ‘selections’ at Auschwitz circa 1943.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some mothers, however, acted otherwise, as documented by the Polish non-Jewish Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Borowsky in his book “This Way to the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen.”

During the “selections” at Auschwitz – when prisoners were sent either to live or die – prisoners arriving were usually divided by sex, with the elderly, mothers and small children being separated from men and older boys. The mothers with small children, along with the elderly, were automatically sent to death.

Borowsky writes about a number of young mothers who hid from their children during the selection, in an attempt to buy themselves a few additional days or possible hours of life.

If a German soldier found a small child alone at a “selection,” Borowsky writes, he would take the child up and down the rows of prisoners while screaming, “This is how a mother abandons her child?” until he tracked down the hapless woman and condemned them both to the gas chambers.

At first, the female Auschwitz survivors I’ve interviewed said they’d never heard of any such thing. Eventually, however, after I returned to the question several times via different topics, a few women admitted to hearing that a handful mothers who arrived in Auschwitz with small children did indeed try to hide to save their own lives.

Historians are not judges. I do not mention the actions made in mortal fear to condemn these women but rather to contribute, 75 years later, to our understanding of Jewish life and death under Nazi terror. Doing requires relinquishing preconceived notions about both men and women, mapping out a broader canvas of the grim reality at Auschwitz.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]The Conversation

Judy Baumel-Schwartz, Director, the Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research, Bar-Ilan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The hidden history of women’s filmmaking in Britain



Ruth Stuart, the filmmaker of To Egypt and Back with Imperial Airways (1933)
EAFA, Author provided

Melanie Williams, University of East Anglia

The history of women making excellent films but not having their achievements fully acknowledged stretches back a very long way. This was most recently seen in Pamela B Green’s documentary Be Natural about the “lost” foremother of film, Alice Guy-Blaché. The French-American filmmaker was largely forgotten in formative accounts of the history of cinema. This was despite her important innovations, including making what is arguably the first narrative film La Fée aux Choux (1896).

It is vital historical work to recover women’s filmmaking, which is always prone to being overlooked, downplayed or forgotten. Organisations like the Women Film Pioneers Project and the Women’s Film and Television History Network, alongside other initiatives and people, have laboured to prevent its erasure from the historical record, but there is always more to be done to ensure its preservation and celebration. Archiving is key to this.

The recently released report, Invisible Innovators: Making Women’s Filmmaking Visible across the UK Film Archives, strives to rewrite women into history. Commissioned by Film Archives UK, the report surveys work by women held in UK media archives and proposes strategies for making it more accessible. It suggests there are incredible riches waiting to be unlocked, and compelling stories that deserve to be more widely known.

Creative amateurs

Amateur film of various kinds constitutes a large proportion of those collections. Many are home movies, which women were actively encouraged to make at the advent of home movie-making technology in the early 20th century. This was because it was seen as an extension of their roles as wives, mothers and custodians of family keepsakes.

Although some amateur films might have interest solely as historical or familial records, others are much more aesthetically inventive. Such films suggest how filmmaking could become a vehicle for unleashing women’s creativity.

For instance, one of the most intriguing filmmakers discussed in the report is Ruth Stuart. A teenage prodigy, she was described as “the maestra of Manchester” by Movie Maker magazine after her 1933 travelogue To Egypt and Back (begun when she was only 16) and her 1934 apocalyptic vision Doomsday. Both won the highest accolades for non-professional work from American Cinematographer and Amateur Cine World.

However, a gendered double standard was in operation around the status of amateur film at this time. While amateur filmmaking could act as a launchpad for the professional filmmaking careers of talented young men like Ken Russell and Peter Watkins – who both went from amateur filmmaking to the BBC and onto acclaimed feature film production – no such leverage seems to have been available to their female equivalents, however talented. As such, Stuart’s filmography is frustratingly brief. Little is known about her life or why she appears to have stopped making films altogether by the 1940s.

Clearly some women relished their adventures as hobbyist filmmakers and enjoyed the freedom of amateurism. In the flourishing cine club culture from the 1930s to 1960s, women were key participants, and not merely as helpful companions or tea-makers. As early as 1928, an all-female amateur filmmaking team put together the madcap comedy Sally Sallies Forth. Featuring an all-female cast, it was a rare gynocentric achievement.

A still from the 1928 film Sally Sallies Forth.
EAFA, Author provided

More often women worked collaboratively with men, but this has resulted in systemic problems in their work’s attribution. When the prize-winning films made by married couple Laurie and Stuart Day were discussed in amateur film magazines, it was automatically assumed that Stuart was the main filmmaker and Laurie just his wifely assistant. Evidence from the films themselves seems to suggest that actually the reverse was true. However, these kinds of assumptions have impacted the cataloguing of films when deposited in archives, inadvertently effacing women’s contributions.

Films by female filmmakers to watch:

Women’s films should be a priority for digitisation, and archival catalogues and records should accurately reflect female contributors. If all relevant works across all film collections could be marked with an easily searchable term like “woman filmmaker”, it would really help to bring these women’s works out from the shadows.

Here are five films by female filmmakers that have been successfully digitised from the East Anglian Film Archive which give a flavour of the range and richness of women’s filmmaking across the 20th century:

  • Doomsday (1934): Ruth Stuart’s haunting vision of a very English apocalypse.

  • 1938, the Last Year of Peace (1948): Laurie and Stuart Day’s montage of memories of suburban family life just before the outbreak of the second world war.

  • England May Be Home (1957): A moving documentary about Italian migrant workers. Bedfordshire cine-club member Margaret Hodkin is part of the team behind this.

  • The Stray (1965): Marjorie Martin’s moody tale of an errant wife with laddered stockings returning to her taciturn shepherd husband.

  • Make-Up (1978): A hand-drawn animation about “putting on a face” from Joanna Fryer, who went on to work on The Snowman(1982).The Conversation

Melanie Williams, Reader in Film and Television Studies, University of East Anglia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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