Conference Abstracts

Adrian Bingham Oxford University,
'Creating the ‘modern woman’: war, ‘flappers’ and the mass press after 1918' 
Much has been written about the ‘impact’ of the First World War on women’s lives and gender discourse. A consensus has formed that any changes were largely insubstantial and fleeting, and were met by an attempt to reassert conventional norms and promote domesticity. Reference is often made to a press-orchestrated ‘backlash’ against young women and their claims of ‘freedom’ in the form of a negative portrayal of ‘flappers’. This paper seeks to investigate these claims by examining material in the five main popular national newspapers of the inter-war years (Daily Mail, Express, Mirror, Herald, News Chronicle). It questions the prevailing interpretation and seeks to illustrate that the war produced a lasting journalistic fascination with the ‘modern woman’. The events of wartime were said to have fundamentally altered gender identities and behaviour and were used to explain and legitimise new activities. The war also seemed to herald the beginning of an inexorable progress towards equality. The ‘flapper’ became a powerful symbol of the post-war world and onto her were projected many hopes and fears. Whatever its impact on the lives of actual women, I argue that the war as an imaginative event continued to structure definitions of gender at least until the 1930s.

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 Katherine Bradley Oxford Brookes University
 A conflict of interests: the impact of World War One on the Oxford suffrage movement

‘…..it is a strange, unnatural Oxford that our war-time memory recalls- full, on the surface, of busy ‘war-time activities’ –at heart seared, desolate and forlorn’(Butler, R F and Pritchard, M H (eds) St Anne’s College. A History. OUP, 1958, p.73)

Although Oxford did not directly experience the horrors of the First World War, it was as Vera Brittain commented ‘an invisible presence’. (Brittain, Vera, The Women at Oxford, Harrop, 1960, p.137) ) Oxford was transformed from a university city into a military, medical and refugee centre. Women, as they did elsewhere, took on men’s jobs and played a more important role in the city’s political life and economy.

Throughout the previous decade many of these women had been active in local branches of the women’s suffrage and anti-suffrage movements. The suffrage discourse was an important and controversial part of the local political scene. By 1914 Oxford had eight different suffrage societies with a combined membership of nearly 1000 women and men as well as over 500 members who belonged to societies opposed to women’s suffrage. With the advent of war all these local societies had to decide whether or not to follow the national lead and cease their campaigning and use their skills and members to support the war effort.

In this paper I will analyse the impact the war had on the suffrage issue in Oxford and whether or not women’s contributions to the war effort resulted in an increase in women’s political and public role after the war.

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 Sara Brady University of Wales, Lampeter,
Nursing in Cardiff during the First World War
The King Edward VII Hospital and the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital in Cardiff were both occupied by military patients during the First World War. Military casualties took over nearly half the beds in the former and entirely occupied the latter hospital. These changes disrupted the normal work and training patterns of all the staff, including nurses. This paper will include a discussion of the social backgrounds, recruitment, training and working lives of probationer and qualified nurses, as well as Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) at these two Cardiff hospitals. It will argue that nursing during this period offered women more opportunities than ever before to fulfil private ambitions whilst still maintaining a public service, despite their apparent gender disadvantage in medical and military spheres. There were close connections between Cardiff and other military hospitals, such as the Welsh Hospital based at the Royal Victoria Hospital, at Netley in Southampton, and the Scottish Women’s Hospital group, run by Dr. Elsie Inglis. These offered alternative sources of employment for nurses and highlighted the involvement of Welsh organisations in other British medical ventures during the War. The conclusion of the paper will be that nursing during the First World War was an occupation which involved women in spheres of public life to a greater extent than ever before, and that those working and training in Cardiff had access to a variety of other opportunities with Welsh connections.

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Charmian Cannon, University of the Third Age'
Everyday life in the First World War –through a mother’s letters
‘I am waging a war on the thistles in the field. Something belligerent to do! It is no use writing about the war. It is a nightmare. Upsetting the whole world and all one’s previous ideas of the Germans…’ So writes Peg, mother of three daughters and two sons in September 1914.

After her sons were away in the forces Peg continues to chronicle the daily lives of herself and her daughters throughout the war. She writes detailed monthly letters to her brothers and sisters, keeping them informed of the anxieties and tragedies suffered by her family, as well as the shortages, war work and comic relief of everyday life on their little piece of the ‘home front’.

In this presentation I will draw out certain themes from the letters to illustrate the attitudes and experiences of one middle-class family; I will discuss the delights and difficulties of using personal letters as a source of everyday women’s history and argue that the letters play a significant part in the maintenance of the family network. Through them Peg defines what ‘counts’ as family, expresses solidarity, and affirms a strong idiosyncratic family culture. They are an important means of preserving intergenerational continuity in face of the disruption of war. They also enable the writer to ‘tell her story’ through a series of episodes, thus projecting herself as a central figure in keeping the family together in a time of stress.

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Viv Newman University of Essex
 Standing Up to the War Office

When War was declared in August 1914, many British women demanded the right to serve the nation. Had Kitchener’s sister called for a million women, recruitment would have been as easy as for her as for her brother. Many women assumed that Red Cross First Aid and other Proficiency certificates would provide an entrée into the charmed circle of military nursing. Others expected the War Office would welcome their professional skills as doctors and surgeons and send them on Active Service overseas. Still others imagined that their birth, breeding and total confidence in their own usefulness to the Allied cause would be as self-evident to the military authorities as to themselves. However, in 1914 the War Office believed that, apart from the small exclusive corps of professional military nurses, in wartime, women should go home and sit still. If they wanted to be useful, they could knit socks for soldiers.

This paper uses their own writings and biographical accounts, to reconstruct the war stories of three different British women: Sergeant-Major Flora Sandes, probably the only British woman to have borne arms during the Great War; Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland who arrived at the Front ahead of the B.E.F., before the war was even 100 hours old and suffragist Doctor Elsie Inglis, founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals whose units served on the Western and Eastern Fronts. Together they represent the thousands of women who refused to accept that war had nothing to do with the ladies.

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 Fiona Reid University of the West of England
Return of the Soldier : Shell Shocked men at Home
 Rebecca West’s novel describes the way in which a shell-shocked officer returns home and painfully recovers his sanity. The central character can now be seen as the most potent cultural icon of the First World War, and as such is used to symbolise the barbarity and futility of the conflict. In retrospect we can associate shell shock with an opposition, albeit unconscious, to the war and to those who were responsible for it. Yet contemporary approaches to shell shock reinforced the prevalent class and gender based hierarchy, and allowed it to progress unimpeded into the post war period.

Showalter has demonstrated the extent to which many British men were unable to adhere to the prevailing social codes. If madness is a female malady, then a great number of men frankly revealed their lack of masculinity during combat. However, the government, the military authorities and the Royal Army Medical Corps were all determined that popular sympathy for shell shock sufferers should not erode masculine prestige.

Treatment of shell shock was seriously divided by class but united by approaches to gender, and all diagnoses were based on the search for innate non-masculine attributes. Suffers were then given the opportunity to reassert their masculinity. Officers were prescribed a modified rest cure which differed significantly from that offered to neurasthenic women, whilst men were subject to a variety of rapid treatments, all designed to send them back the Front as soon as possible. All of these processes emphasised male sociability and traditional masculine values. All were united in insisting that the men should not be labelled as lunatics. As a result, despite the traumas of World War One, the link between madness and femininity was maintained, and male protege continued to be largely based upon a martial ideal.

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 Oleg Riabov Ibanov State University, Russia
Gender aspects of the Russian-German relationship in Russian philosophy of history during the First World War

This paper is based on the analysis of texts of Russian philosophers (Rozanov, Berdiaev, Bulgakov, Ivanov, Ern, Merezhovsky and others). The idea of feminine Russia and masculine Germany was popular in phiosophy of history of both cultures. Interpreting Russia as Other, as ‘embodiment of the barbaric East’, german authors attributed to it feminine traits both in Russophobic and Russophilic discourses. Idea of the femininity of Russia was accepted in Russia by the adherents of messianic ideology, who connected Russia’s mission with feminine values. The idea of complementarity of Russia and Germany was reflected in the image of their spiritual marriage.

During the First World War this view was criticised by Russian philosophers; one can distinguish several themes in this critique. The adherents of the first point of view considered such an interpretation of the opposition of Russia-germany as an ‘invention of German imperialism’. They deconstructed the idea of manhood of the German principle and stressed Russian masculinity (at the same time the substantiation of the new geo-political picture was reflected in other gender metaphors such as England had to become masculine to complement ‘the feminine Russian soul’. The adfherents of the second point of view admitted the extreme femininity of Russia but saw it as a danger to be overcome by the Russians.

The third point of view was based on a kind of ‘autofeminization’ of Russia and included: a) a stress on the self sacrifice of mother Russia and feminine suffering b) the substantiation of Russia’s moral advantage by ascribing masculine traits to

the enemy. The ‘purity of intentions’ of the Russian Government, the ‘just character of the war’ and the ‘altruism’ of Russia’s external policy were set against a background of the ‘brutalization’ of Germany which was characterised as having attributes of ‘brutal masculinity’, pride, egoism, mechanization, cult of violence, will, rationalism. c ) that female power and strength could surpass the male, thus the feminine image in Russian culture could be seen as an advantage in war, not as a defect. The image of ever victorious Mother Russia could be used to underpin the view that the defeat of Germany was inevitable.

Gender interpretations of the war could be used to represent other rivals of Germany –the suffering and humility of Belgium and Poland, German soldiers’ rape of Russian women and the Virgin Mary’s protection of Orthodox and Catholic countries in comparison to Germany.

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 Angela Smith University of Plymouth
Suffragists at War: The Scottish Women’s Hospitals and the Vote

The story of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals is well known. The War Office rebuke to Dr Elsie Inglis, when she offered the services of her hospital unit, ‘My good lady, go home and sit still’, and her resolute determination not to do so, provide a stirring start to one of the most dramatic stories of the First World War. Backed by the Scottish Federation of Suffrage Societies, Inglis’s Women’s Hospital Corps eventually saw action in France, Serbia, Russia, Salonica and Macedonia, making an effective contribution to the war effort of the Allies.

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals are important for many reasons, but two are of particular interest here. Firstly, the close link between the war action and the Suffrage Movement raise important questions about the interface between the two, with particular regard to the achievement of the vote in 1918. Secondly, many of the women involved, including Inglis herself, left detailed records of their experience, articles, diaries and letters. These are invaluable sources for the writing of women’s histories but they also provide important literary texts, written documents which may themselves have played a significant role in the promoting of the women’s cause.

This paper uses these written texts to assess the impact of this medical work on the progression of the campaign for the vote. How important were these actions and these words in the final securing of women’s enfranchisement? Did the relationship between the war and the campaign produce and promote a discourse, which, in itself, was helpful in reaching that long-sought goal.

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 Victoria Stewart University of the West of England,
 Virginia Woolf Between the Wars

In her novels of the 1920s Virginia Woolf dealt with the aftermath of the First World War as it affected families and individuals. In Jacob’s Room (1922) we gradually learn that the life being depicted will end with Jacob’s death in action; Mrs Dalloway (1925) features the shell-shocked and suicidal Septimus Smith as a foil to its eponymous protagonist; and Andrew Ramsay in To the Lighthouse (1926) is killed, ‘offstage’, in France. By the 1930s, however, the threat of a second world war became a growing concern of Woolf, one which she attempted to connect to concerns about the place of women, and particularly, the place of the woman writer in society.

In this paper I will focus on Three Guineas, the essay in the form of letters which Woolf worked on from the early 1930s and which finally appeared in 1938. Here Woolf, often contentiously, links masculinity and bellicosity in an uncompromising fashion and bases her views of the possibilities for woman on what many saw as a blinkered analysis of class. (Woolf’s suggestion that women had often had to stir the pot with one hand and rock the cradle with the other led to Q.D.Leavis’s retort that Woolf would not know which end of the cradle to stir). I will suggest that re-contextualising Three Guineas can help, if not to excuse the deficiencies in Woolf’s argument then at least to clarify some of its themes. The essay can be seen as a continuation of the earlier A Room of One’s Own (1929) I its discussion of the possibilities for female education; as a response to the death in the Spanish Civil War of her nephew, Julian Bell; and as an attempt by a non-combatant and pacifist woman to assert a continuing role for herself and her work in the face of imminent catastrophe. In this respect it will also be relevant to make reference to Woolf’s two fictions, The Years (1937) of which Three Guineas was originally a part, and Between the Acts (1941), a final attempt to look to the future, written as the Second World War broke out. I will suggest that Three Guineas, although looked on askance by some of her contemporaries, crystallises many of Woolf’s concerns at a time of impending crisis, as well as raising important questions about gender relations and war.

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 Katherine Storr University of Sussex
Refugee relief and the renewed Call for the Contagious Diseases’ Act in the Great War

The Contagious Diseases Acts of the 19th Century had emphasized women’s subordinate status and role in a patriarchal society. Although repealed in 1886, once the Great War started there were attempts to reinstate these Acts and so restrict women’s movements just at the time when the British Government invited the Belgian people to come to this country and officially encouraged women to provide succour for the thousands of refugees arriving at ports and in London, often late at night.

War conditions created new openings for women to use their ‘caring power.’ Members of local War Refugee Committees, mainly women, were responsible for the care of refugees at ports of entry; they were met at London railway stations by members of suffrage Societies and other women’s organizations where women volunteers acted as interpreters. Suffrage networks were used to find places of hospitality; women served on Relief Committees, organizing the buying of houses, equipping them as refugee homes and dealing with problems such as zone prohibition. They set up maternity homes, hospitals and hostels, coped with funding and dealt with the myriad day-to-day details of administration. It will be argued that women’s relief work constituted them as social subjects in an international setting and acted as a balance to sexual hysterics which sought to increase control over their bodies.

Van Drenthe, Annemieke & DE Haan, Francisca, The Rise of Caring Power. (Amsterdam:1999:14)

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 Melanie Williams University of Hull
Odette, Alice and Alex: Women in the British War Film
This paper will look at the representation of women in the British war film genre, and more specifically the films made in the 1950s, looking back at the second world war. It has been argued that this group of films are reactionary in their class politics, reclaiming Britain's WW2 victory as a result of the effort of the middle classes. They are also remembered as paeans to a certain kind of cheery, dogged masculinity, exemplified by Kenneth More in Reach for the Sky. However, there are a significant minority of films that deal with women's experience in WW2, as spy in Odette (1950) and Carve her Name with Pride (1957), POW in A Town Like Alice (1956) and army nurse in Ice Cold in Alex (1958). This paper will examine these films in the context of the shifting ideals of femininity in the war and post war period and also explore the construction of the war as a liminal space in women's lives and a site of possiblities previously unavailable.

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