Posts

History, Made by Women

Foreman, AmandaOn Sunday, the final day of CVHF 2015, award-winning historian Amanda Foreman will be speaking about the history of the world, as made by women. Writing as a woman with a particular interest in women’s history, I am understandably extremely interested to hear Amanda’s talk. More importantly, I am excited by what such a high-profile discourse signifies – the growing public interest in women’s history, as evidenced by the ever-increasing number of books, TV programmes and films dedicated to female narratives, let alone the academic work that is going on behind the scenes.

Anand,-AnitaWomen’s history doesn’t get much more powerful than the suffragettes, and it has been fantastic to see their story given a new lease of life in a year in which female politics have been very much in the public eye. Later this year comes the much-anticipated film Suffragette, starring Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, but at the festival on Saturday night the acclaimed journalist and writer Anita Anand will tell the story of a far less well-known suffragette: Sophia Duleep Singh. Dispossessed Indian Princess, godchild of Queen Victoria and society darling turned revolutionary, Singh has been described as one of the ‘unknown giants of women’s suffrage.’ The suffragette story was also the inspiration for Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power, a recent TV series presented by previous CVHF speaker Amanda Vickery, a powerful and inspiring advocate for women’s history. As well as this series and other television appearances, Vickery has published numerous books in which the lesser-known stories of women’s lives are told, often through the objects and material culture of their social spheres.

Helen CastorThe life of Joan of Arc – a similarly powerful woman from a very different era – will be the subject of a talk by medieval historian and BBC broadcaster Helen Castor at CVHF on Sunday morning. The story of the French peasant girl who heard the voice of God has become somewhat lost in myth and legend, and it is fantastic to hear an old tale re-told with a new clarity. Castor demonstrated the depth and magnetism of this gripping history in her recent BBC Two programme on the same subject, Joan of Arc: God’s Warrior. Alongside festival co-founder Tom Holland, Castor also hosts BBC Radio Four’s Making History programme, and last year made a number of recordings live at CVHF will are still available as podcasts on the BBC website.

Summers, JulieThere is perhaps less drama in the smaller social and cultural details of women’s history, but the resulting stories can reveal a huge amount about the experiences of our female ancestors, whose lives have been less extensively or formally recorded that those of men. Julie Summers is a writer who often dwells on historical subjects, and this year has most notably written the accompanying book to Fashion on the Ration, the Second World War fashion exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, and seen her recent book Jambusters translated into a successful ITV series: Home Fires. The book and consequent TV adaptation tell the story of the Women’s Institute during the Second World War, and it is on this subject that she will be speaking at CVHF on Friday afternoon. For myself, I am hoping that some forties fashion makes it into her talk also!

Kate MosseIt is important to note, of course, that female historians are interested not only in women’s history. At the festival this year we will be lucky to witness the work of some of the UK’s biggest names connected to the broad field of historical study. Speaking on Thursday is the internationally bestselling author Kate Mosse, who has shown in her incredibly popular novels the way historical fact can be interwoven with fiction to extraordinary effect. Awarded the OBE in 2013 for services to literature, I am personally very excited to hear from such a successful female writer on how she has shaped historical narratives into a world of her own cJanina Ramirezreation. I am also particularly looking forward to talks from Alice Roberts and Janina Ramirez, both of whom have made regular TV appearances alongside their successful academic careers. Ramirez, most recently spotted as a panellist on BBC museum-based quiz show The Quizeum, will be speaking about the Private Lives of the Saints at the festival on Wednesday.

Roberts, AliceAlice Roberts, meanwhile, will be speaking on Tuesday about evolution, the human body, and our historical understanding of anatomy – which, based on her compelling on-screen presence, is sure to be a highly engaging and fascinating event.

It is great to see – in both private research and the public eye – how female historians are re-shaping history in the present day. Forging a career in academia or writing is no mean feat and it is wonderful to see how many women are juggling roles in broadcasting, teaching, publishing, science, museums and more to do just that. The increasing respect for female historians bodes well for an ever more diverse and dynamic history of the world, as made by women.

 


lucie bw pic

On Saturday, 27th June at 5pm, fashion historian, Lucie Whitmore, will be giving a ‘Pop Up History’ talk at Chalke Valley History Festival, discussing how women’s fashion changed and was influenced by the conflict, and how we can study the garments today to learn more about women’s experience of war.

The Battle to Include Women

From Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Myrlie Evers to Title IX, the long struggle to ensure that half of humanity is not kept down and out.

ElizabethCadyStanton PHOTO:UNIVERSALHISTORYARCHIVE/UIG/GETTYIMAGES)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton PHOTO:UNIVERSALHISTORYARCHIVE/ UIG/GETTYIMAGES)

Since its staid beginnings in 1971 as an annual management symposium at a Swiss ski resort, the World Economic Forum in Davos has grown into the premier talking shop for the global financial elite. Unsurprisingly, given the opportunities it offers for smug pronouncements and ostentatious parties, Davos (as it is known) has attracted—and earned—some trenchant criticism. The late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington coined the term “Davos Man” to pin and puncture a kind of obnoxious alpha male who flits from one international meeting to the next in self-serving pursuit of wealth and power.

But Huntington’s Davos Man highlights another issue about the forum: It was (and is) overwhelmingly male. This year, some 19% of the 2,500 delegates were women, according to the forum—a number that has barely changed since a (widely ignored) quota system meant to involve more women was imposed by the event’s corporate sponsors in 2011. (Saadia Zahidi, who heads the forum’s gender-parity initiative, said that the gender ratio in Davos reflects “global leadership as a whole” and that the forum is working to increase women’s participation.)

Behind some of the most famous public gatherings in history lie arguments and controversies about whether to include women. One particularly egregious example was the first World Anti-Slavery Convention, which met in London in 1840. Women on both sides of the Atlantic had been campaigning to abolish slavery since the 18th century. Nevertheless, the 350 male delegates were divided over whether to allow seven American women to participate. One faction, led by William Lloyd Garrison ’s supporters, favored their inclusion; friends and colleagues of the New York abolitionist Lewis Tappan vehemently opposed it. The latter won, and the women were forced to watch from the gallery.

Half a century later, women faced similar discrimination when the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in April 1896. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee, refused to include women. It would be
“impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect,” he claimed. Four years later, when the summer games were held in Paris, the Olympic committee ignored his objections, and 22 women were allowed to compete alongside the 997 male athletes (although only in five sports: sailing, equestrian, tennis, croquet and golf). At the 2012 London games, some 44% of the athletes were women.

One notable irony relates to the U.S. civil rights movement. The only woman listed as an official speaker on the program for the famous 1963 March on Washington was Myrlie Evers, widow of the murdered Medgar Evers ; she got stuck in traffic. Leading female activists—including Rosa Parks —were not allowed to accompany the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. down Constitution Avenue but were sidelined to walk alongside the wives of male activists. After the women protested, organizers added a short tribute to their work. No women were among the delegation that met with President John F. Kennedy.

But in the long run, these slights only deepened women’s determination. Furious over their exclusion from the 1840 conference against slavery, the activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott went on to hold the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848, marking the start of a 72-year fight for women’s suffrage in the U.S. Similarly, frustration among women’s rights activists in the early 1960s led to the rise of second-wave feminism, from the founding of the National Organization of Women in 1966 to the passage of Title IX and Title X in the 1970s to guarantee educational and employment equality.

Davos Man still rules today, but history is against him. One day, he will be joined by Davos Woman—and she will, we hope, be as unlike him as possible.

“The Battle to Include Women” by Amanda Foreman, originally published as a “Historically Speaking” column in the January 24, 2015 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Copyright © 2015 Amanda Foreman, used by permission of The Wylie Agency LLC.


Foreman, AmandaAmanda Foreman is the award-winning historian and internationally best-selling author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire. She won the 1998 Whitbread Award for Biography. In addition to her writing and lecturing, she has served as a judge on almost every major literary prize on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award. She is currently a research fellow at Queen Mary, University of London. Her latest book is The World Made by Women with a BBC documentary this spring.

Amanda will be speaking at Chalke Valley History Festival on Sunday, 28 June with a talk entitled ‘The World Made by Women: A History of Womankind’