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Monday 28 October 2013

Sex and the Medical Officer of Health

The Wellcome Library's exciting new project : London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972 (post on the Library blog here) has opened up this enormously valuable resource to a wide range of researchers.

The responsibilities of the Medical Officer of Health were wide, ever increasing for many decades up to and beyond the inception of the National Health Service. However, it may not seem obvious that these reports have anything to offer to the historian interested in sexuality.

In fact, Medical Officers of Health were one group of the medical profession (rather like women doctors) who were taking an interest in the subject of birth control at a period when most doctors were reluctant even to talk about it, and a search across the London MOH reports demonstrates that at least some of their number were mentioning the topic (if not always with approval) from the early 1920s.

They had already been tabulating induced abortion among the causes of mortality within their areas for a much longer period.

Sexually transmitted infections were another public health concern and searching on 'venereal' or 'syphilis' or 'gonorrhoea' produces a substantial number of hits.

By the 1940s and 50s, Marriage Guidance had come to be seen as falling within the purlieu of the MOH's interests and work relating to sex education of young people also features.

There are therefore a number of intriguing research possibilities that spring to mind that could be based on this new resource.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

My recent cataloguing activities

Recent posts at the Wellcome Library blog on collections/items I've been processing lately:

Having a ‘typewritten conversation’: one letter, but a long and important one, from Sir Robert McCarrison to George Scott Williamson and Innes Pearse of the Pioneer Health Centre, Peckham

The Blood is the Life: the Harrison-Howell Blood Transfusion Collection

‘One of the great leaders among medical women in India’  on the papers of Dr Margaret Ida Balfour, (1866-1945), CBE, MD, CM FRCOG.

Monday 7 October 2013

Forthcoming conferences of interest (that I probably shan't manage to get to)

October 12th 2013, British Library
A day of dialogues between Women’s Liberation activists and younger feminists.
Today Britain is experiencing a resurgence of feminist activity. From online activism to protests at the impact of government policies, women are on the march again. What is the relationship between this new feminism and the Women’s Liberation movement of a generation ago?
On October 12th the British Library will host a day of discussion on the British women’s movement. Inspired by the new ‘Sisterhood and After’ oral history archive at the BL, women’s liberationists will be talking about their experiences as feminist activists with younger women who are working on the history of second-wave feminism.
In sessions on race, sexualities, reproductive choice, the rise of women’s history, and class and work, we will both celebrate and critically examine British feminism and its legacies. There will be lots of time for audience members to pose their own questions and provide their own memories of the time, so we encourage anyone with an interest to attend. The day will close with a question: what now for the women’s movement?
For a full programme, please see below.
Tickets will be £15 for the day (£5 concession). Pre-booking is essential, through the British Library’s Box Office, which can be accessed online (http:/, via telephone (+44 (0) 1937 546 546), or in person at the Information Desk at the British Library.
‘In Conversation with the Women’s Liberation Movement: Intergenerational Histories of Second Wave Feminism’ has been supported by the Sisterhood and After: an Oral History of the Women’s Liberation Movement project at the British Library, the University of Sussex, the Raphael Samuel History Centre, and the History of Feminism Network.
9.30-10:00         Arrivals. Refreshments will be provided
10.00-10:30       Introductions
10:35-11:20       Session 1 Women’s History
Interviewees:  Sally Alexander and Catherine Hall
Interviewers:  Lucy Delap (King’s College, London) and Rachel Cohen (De Montfort)
11:25-12:10       Session 2 Reproductive Choices
Interviewees: Denise Riley and Jocelyn Wolfe
Interviewers: April Gallwey (Warwick) and Freya Johnson Ross  (Sussex)
12:10-13:10         Lunch (not provided; sandwiches can be purchased in the BL or locally)
13:10-13:55         Session 3 Sexualities
Interviewees: Sue O’Sullivan and Beatrix Campbell
Interviewers: Sarah Browne (Nottingham) and Charlotte Jeffries    (Cambridge)
14:00-14:45        Session 4 Race
Interviewees: Gail Lewis and Amrit Wilson
Interviewers: Nydia Swaby (SOAS) and Terese Jonsson (London Metropolitan)
14:45-15:15          Coffee Break
15:15-16:00           Session 5 Work and Class
Interviewees: Cynthia Cockburn and Lynne Segal
Interviewers: Bridget Lockyer (York) and Kate Hardy (Leeds)
16:05-16:30       Closing remarks: Susuana Antubam, Women’s Officer of the University of London  Union
Please contact Sarah Crook at or Signy Gutnick Allen at with any questions about the event.

Women as Wives and Workers: Marking Fifty Years of The Feminine Mystique
Saturday 30th November 2013 at Royal Holloway University of London

2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Feminine Mystique’s publication.  From the outset, Betty Friedan’s text had an enormous influence on academic and popular audiences, selling millions and shaping feminist discourse about the housewife throughout the Western world.  Yet at the same time, full-time housewifery was becoming both a less common experience and a cultural battlefield.  Since the 1950s, levels of employment amongst married women (notably white women) have risen enormously.  Women have increasingly been confronted with the ‘superwoman’ paradox, which Friedan herself encapsulated: writing about ‘the zombie housewife’ and ‘the problem that has no name’ whilst being a working wife and mother.  Many other women likewise negotiated domesticity and paid work, but their experiences were by no means uniform and were shaped by various other factors including race, age, sexuality and socio-economic status.
This conference aims to draw these themes together by offering an opportunity to explore The Feminine Mystique alongside discussions of women and employment.  Areas of consideration may include but are not limited to:
Women’s paid employment      
The Feminine Mystique, its impact and critiques, for example with regards to race
The international impact of The Feminine Mystique
Domesticity and the figure of the housewife: experiences, rights, cultural portrayals
Discourses of motherhood and fatherhood        
Evolving notions of family
Gender and education                                                 
Notions of ‘having it all’ and being ‘Superwoman’
The National Organization for Women: its impact, legacy and critics
The development of women's organisations and networks since the 1960s

We invite papers that address these topics either broadly or specifically. While papers with a particular emphasis on mid-twentieth century America may be given priority, we also encourage scholars to present work with a comparative perspective (across time and/or space) or looking at other geographical areas. Panel submissions are also welcome.  A special issue of History of Women in the Americas based on the conference papers is planned, subject to the usual peer review procedure.
‘Women as Wives and Workers: Marking Fifty Years of The Feminine Mystique’ is the sixth annual conference of the Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW) and is being co-organized with The Bedford Centre for the History of Women at Royal Holloway University of London.  The conference organisers are Helen Glew (University of Westminster), Jane Hamlett (RHUL), Sinead McEneaney (St. Mary’s University College) and Rachel Ritchie (Brunel University).
A 250-word abstract and a short biography should be emailed to by Monday 14th October 2013.  Please use the same email address for any other enquiries about the event.

Women’s History Network, Midlands Region:
Military Women
Saturday, 23rd November 2013, 10.30am-3.30pm, University of Worcester
Provisional Programme:
10.30am    Registration and Coffee
11.00am    Keynote address Title TBC
Dr Lucy Noakes, University of Brighton
12.00noon    ‘Arms and the Woman: Memories of Weapons Training in the Second World War’ – Dr Corinna Peniston-Bird, Lancaster University
12.30–1.30    Sandwich Lunch
1.30pm    'Handbags and Hand Grenades' – Dr Kate Vigurs, University of Leeds
2.00pm    ‘Captain Flora Sandes: From Croydon to the Trenches’ - Louise Miller, Independent scholar
2.30pm    ‘Cultural Transformation Associated with Women’s Integration into UN Peace Missions – Chilean Case Study’ - Fabiana Santa Rosa Pierre, PhD candidate, Universidad de Chile
3.00pm    ‘Gender in the Secret World: Women Workers and Secrecy at Bletchley Park during the Second World War’ - Dr Chris Smith, Aberystwyth University
Conference Fee:    £15
Concessions [unwaged/retired/postgraduate students] - £7.50
University of Worcester and local School/College students - Free
Postal address:    Dr Wendy Toon, Department of History, University of Worcester, Henwick Grove, Worcester, WR2 6AJ.
For further details, please contact: Dr Wendy Toon or 01905-855305