Aye Lassie – Episode 2
Written by Steg on 2nd March 2019
Episode 2 – Women’s Suffrage
In episode 2 Delaina picks up our story about Scottish women’s history in 1850 when women all over the UK campaigned against poor housing condition, limited health services and no representation in Parliament and she finishes in 1928 when after almost 100 years of campaigning, women over 21 got the right to vote. She focuses on the Scottish women’s suffrage movement. Covering a dense time period of social activism, she introduces you to some of the Scottish women and organisations that helped achieve women’s suffrage in the UK. Guests include Clare Thompson, Lesley Mitchell, Tara Beall, Dr Sara Thomas and Delphine Dallison.
You can find out more by following the Aye Lassie Twitter account.
Strong Women of Clydeside
Read more about the guided historical art walks.
Strong Women of Clydeside art walk, 2015. Photo by tsBeall.
Strong Women of Clydeside art walk, 2015. Photo by tsBeall.
Strong Women of Clydeside art walk, 2015. Photo by tsBeall.
Strong Women of Clydeside art walk, 2015. Photo by tsBeall.
Strong Women of Clydeside Edit-a-thon, 2016
Read more about the group’s work improving Wikipedia articles about Scottish women.
Strong Women of Clydeside edit-a-thon, 2016. Photo by tsBeall.
Strong Women of Clydeside edit-a-thon, 2016. Photo by tsBeall.
How To Use Wikipedia (Like a Rebel) Facebook livestream
Check out the links below to read more about some of the organisations mentioned in Episode 2.
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Trish and Delaina: Hello and welcome!
Delaina: I’m Delaina Sepko.
Trish: And I’m Trish Caird.
Delaina: You’re listening to Aye Lassie, which is a 3 part series that introduces you to Scottish women’s history. We think that there are generations of extraordinary Scottish women who in their own ways have helped shape the world we live in now.
Trish: But we’ve noticed some of our heroines have been misrepresented or almost forgotten. So we’re excited to have the chance to tell you about them and their work.
Delaina: In this episode we’ll have a look at Scottish women’s suffrage movements and hear about some of the women and events in this chapter in women’s history in Scotland. To do this, we’ll pick up around 1830 and finish in 1928. This is a dense period for social campaigning not just in Scotland but in the whole of the UK and there were a lot of people and organisations involved. Some were in favour of women’s votes. Some were against and it took a long time to resolve it so the first part of this episode isn’t comprehensive. It’s meant to give newcomers to the subject some insight and hopefully spark some interest. For those listeners who are already savvy, we hope that you’ll hear at least one thing you hadn’t heard before.
Today all British citizens over 18 have the right to vote but that hasn’t always been the case.
What is suffrage? It’s the right to vote in public elections including local and national. Suffrage is also called ‘franchise’ or ‘the franchise.’
What was all the fuss about? Political representatives like MPs were the decision makers and their decisions had a direct impact on the daily lives of the population. In the early part of the 19th century approximately 3% of the British population had the right to vote. In 1831 that percentage was even less in Scotland with a reported 4,500 voting men out of a population of 2.6 million people. The right to vote was based on wealth which included property and only rich men met the criteria. That meant rich men made decisions about what was best for rich men and not necessarily anyone else.
The Reform Act of 1832 – also called the Great Reform Act – was the first of a wave of suffrage reform campaigns and parliamentary bills aimed at balancing what some considered an unequal distribution of parliamentary seats and the franchise. In this first version, voting rights were extended to more male property owners and to male householders that paid more than £10 a year in rent and this reform doubled the number of eligible male voters from 1 to 2 million. However, this was the Act that explicitly excluded women. Up until this point, there was no Act forbidding women from voting except convention but the 1832 Act specifically defined voters as male.
It’s important to say here that in the beginning, suffrage campaigners weren’t asking for all women to get the vote. They just wanted it for women who met the same voting criteria as men. But the problem was property. Owning property was a fundamental requirement for voting and women weren’t allowed to own it.
In 1867 the Second Reform Act was defeated in Parliament and this time, campaigners got organised. Suffrage societies popped up all over the UK and included the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage not just Scotland’s first but one of the first 3 in the UK.
What did these suffrage societies do? In the beginning, they hosted drawing room meetings and invited politicians and government influencers. They also collected signatures for petitions and coordinated with sympathetic MPs to introduce parliamentary reform bills. As the ‘National’ part of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage suggests, they were often local branches of national societies so they were linked to other groups working and campaigning in the rest of the UK and even in the United States.
Who joined these societies? Middle and upper-class women were the first members because they were more likely to have the means and the time to participate.
To help explain who these women were, we spoke with Clare Thompson. She’s a librarian and a researcher and she’s been looking at Scottish women’s contributions to the suffrage campaigns. She also sheds some light on the crossover between the women’s suffrage movement and other social campaigns.
Clare: So Margaret Irwin who was one of the founding members of Glasgow and West of Scotland Association was also the President of the Glasgow Council for Women’s Trades. And she was, she wrote pamphlets and books and contributed to government consultations on sweated industries. So women sitting in the house making handkerchiefs at their sewing machines for absolutely no money. So she used those strategic skills and that strategic approach to try and make a difference to the women who were doing those things and didn’t have the time to be active about it. So it shows the kind of intersection of that particular approach and the people who were affected by it. They weren’t just in it for themselves. They were in it for womenkind.
My mum always talks about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, so if you are a person who is desperately working for half a penny for a handkerchief and has got 6 children and her husband is working 12 hours a day, her needs are food, a secure roof, an affordable roof over her head but the women who have more are then able to sort of widen their needs and they’re able to, sort of, because they don’t have these basic things to worry about then they can, so really it’s about class. It’s about how do people that have more needs become involved in activism. How do they? I don’t know. It has to really be about what they need from their community. It’s about enabling people to do that I guess.
Delaina: As Clare mentioned with Margaret Irwin, there was a lot of crossover between social movements. Women’s suffrage wasn’t an isolated issue, meaning women didn’t all wake up on the same morning and say “I’d like to vote. Let’s make it happen.” It was part of a much larger umbrella of social activism and it included women’s suffrage as well as women’s higher education, employment, working conditions, housing and health. Women like Margaret Irwin didn’t see a line between one and the rest. These social concerns were connected and not just in their aims to improve living and working conditions. They were also connected by the people who participated. That’s why it’s difficult to tell and share stories about women like Margaret and their work in the suffrage movement and not mention the rest of the work they did. We don’t necessarily want to leave it out but today we don’t have enough time to share it all.
Nonetheless, we press on to 1872 when women’s suffrage campaigners took a small step forward when the Scotland Education Act created roughly 1,000 new regional school boards. Municipal franchise, which is the right to vote in local elections, was finally granted to women and this meant that not only could they vote for school board candidates but they also could run. This achievement was great but not nearly enough.
The 1881 Married Women’s Property Act granted property ownership rights to married women in Scotland. Until this point, a man assumed control of all of his wife’s assets including property and all money whether earned as a wage or through inheritance. This change in Scotland happened 11 years after it was introduced in England.
In 1897 lots of suffrage societies joined up and formed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and it was led by Londoner Millicent Fawcett who would go on to lead the organisation for another 20 years. The NUWSS was a constitutionalist organisation so in their efforts, they kept up with gathering signatures, introducing parliamentary bills and holding more drawing room meetings.
There was a lot of activity down south in London because that’s where parliament was and still is. The constitutionalists staged demonstrations outside meetings where MPs or the Prime Minister would hear their shouting or see them gathered outside when they left the building and suffragists – which is another name for the constitutionalists – would attempt to hand over petitions.
Clare explains why she admires the suffragists’ work.
Clare: I’m particularly inspired by the work of the constitutional suffragists, so the ones that weren’t militant.
Delaina: The ones that didn’t break the law.
Clare: No. The ones that didn’t break the windows. The ones that didn’t stand on roofs and shout. They used strategic methods to try and influence the people who were already in power. So in Glasgow we had the Glasgow and West of Scotland Association for Women’s Suffrage, which was a branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. So they had been really around from the late 1860s onward kind of having bit and bobs of meetings here and there. They’re really quite closely linked to the Liberal Party in Glasgow.
Clare: And they used methods to influence those in power. So they would have a drawing room meeting where this MP would be invited or City Councillor or whoever had been invited and it would all be very polite. They used these kind of soft influencing skills but they did it for a long time. And that’s what I admire. And they did, they came across so many people saying “no I think you may have to wait a bit longer.” And they kept the heid when that happened. They were like “ok” and they regrouped. “We’ll have another drawing room meeting and another and another.” And it went on and on. So that was really 1902 they were founded officially in Glasgow. Some people left the group, people like Marion Gilchrest and Janie Allen. They were annoyed at the lack of progress being made. Round about 1907 they could see all the militancy starting to happen. The first people went to jail I think in 1906 and they were like “right, this is enough. No more drawing room meetings.” I feel the WSPU and the more militant groups get so much credit for their bravery and their wonderfulness and their throwing of bricks. That was very, very brave but in the background there was this strategic work going on. And I think it needs to get more credit for the, it wasn’t the suffragettes that got the vote.
Delaina: That’s very much the long haul though. That’s a different kind of investment and commitment to something.
Delaina: I’m not saying that it’s easy to throw stones through windows and to work up to that, for it to happen, to actually go through with it and to suffer the consequences afterwards. That’s for sure one sort of commitment and a certain type of bravery but this longevity, this ability to stick with it. To take “no” over and over and over again but not take it as the final answer.
Clare: You can, it was actually reported in the newspapers, I think it was 1905, they went to the North British Station Hotel to meet David Lloyd George who was, I think, the Secretary for State at the time, and it was all, quite a lot of the speeches were recorded and this woman Nellie Gilbraith who’s always reported as Mrs James T Hunter, but her name is Nellie Gilbraith and she was from Rutherglen. She spoke to David Lloyd George and she said “this is why we want it. It’s about justice. It’s about laws that affect women and children and we think we should have a say in it.” And he said “yes, well, there might be another petition to parliament in 2 years.” You know, they took it so politely and then they went back and they had their meeting and they made minutes about it and then they met the next month and the next month and just on. The tenacity of it when they knew it wouldn’t happen straight away.
Delaina: Campaigners had a lot of opposition and they had to work very hard to get across their views and hopes for gender equality. And that’s what this was about. Gender equality. Not just votes for women but what that meant in society.
However, progress was slow and some activists grew impatient. By the beginning of the 20th century, so that’s the early 1900s, campaigners had been pushing for women’s franchise for about 70 years. That’s a long time to be told over and over “no, hen, no the now.”
Emmeline Pankhurst, an Englishwoman living in London, was very active in the women’s suffrage campaigns and so were her two daughters Christabel and Sylvia. But in 1903, she split away from the NUWSS to form The Women’s Social and Political Union. Emmeline and others were frustrated with what they saw as a lack of progress and they decided to switch up their tactics and adopted direct action.
What was direct action? The suffragettes, as Emmeline and the others became known, believed that deeds, not words would convince the government and the public to give them the vote. Direct action was the sharp end of their stick. They threw things. They broke things. They burned things. And they did it to get more attention for their cause and to prove that at least some of them weren’t going to take “no” for an answer anymore.
There are a lot of instances when Scottish suffragists and suffragettes went down south to join in campaigns and as we’ve already seen, that makes sense considering that’s where parliament was. But Glasgow, Perth, Dundee and Edinburgh were hot spots for campaigning and they attracted others to join in north of the border. Sometimes they came from even farther away.
Clare tells us about one such woman.
Clare: Yeah, it’s interesting what you say about people always going to London but because the research that I’ve done has been based around Glasgow and trying to find the places in Glasgow where things happened I’ve found a lot of, not found but read a lot about instances where people came to Glasgow. So an American Alice Paul and Lucy Burns who was also American were sent by the Women’s Social and Political Union to Glasgow to infiltrate a meeting at St Andrew’s Hall. And Alice Paul, the night before the meeting, climbs up the back of St Andrew’s Hall, which is about 60 feet something like that. We don’t know how she did it. She must have climbed on a thing, a sort of shed or something like that, but she got up there. She spent the night there.
Delaina: Oh my goodness.
Clare: It was absolutely peeing rain and the only thing she had to eat was a bar of chocolate. And then she was discovered in morning at 6 o’clock and the guys that were working on the Mitchell Library, which was being built at the time, saw her. They thought she was a drunk or something like that and they started throwing little rocks at her and she woke up and she told them what she was doing. She was a suffragist and she was staying there so she could sneak into the meeting. And the guys at 6 o’clock in the morning, the labourers were just like “we’ll leave her to it” and they basically didn’t dob her in.
Clare: Because they were like “on ye go hen!”
Delaina: Impressed that lassie’d stayed up there all night.
Clare: “On yersel” which I quite like. She’s dead lucky but it came to 12 o’clock and the foreman came up and he noticed her and then he was the one that phoned the police and all that. Then they got her down but I quite like that kinda “on yerself hen.”
Delaina: That is a very Glaswegian attitude to
Delaina: to it.
Clare: And then there’s a kind of interesting one where someone from the Glasgow and West of Scotland Association, they were campaigning in Camlachie which is a very working class area, this guy called William Mirlees. He was from Cambridge. He was from Glasgow but he moved to Cambridge and then came back and he was going to be an Independent Suffrage candidate. And this very prim and proper Glasgow and West of Scotland woman was reporting it in the Common Cause and she said “we had a lovely after work meeting with all the men from the Parkhead Forge and they stood in the rain and were all dirty and we just really enjoyed a great back and forth” and stuff. And you just wonder what the reality of that. Were they throwing eggs at her or whatever? But he got 35 votes in Camlachie in that general election. He did not do well so the way she’s talking about it is “oh what a smashing bunch” but I don’t know if any of them actually voted for William Mirlees. But he was the father of Hope Mirlees who was a famous poet, I found out. So I guess it’s all about the things that happened in Glasgow. It’s about a sense of place so the Scottishness of the campaign, you can only get a sense of it until you know about it. So the Glasgow Women’s Library have been doing suffragette walks where they do the research and they walk around a particular place and say “this is where this happened and this is where X threw a brick” but that’s what we need to build a sense of what the suffrage movement is, for people to, to recognise and have that sense of place and have that deep knowledge of it. So I think that is our job.
Delaina: When suffragettes like Alice Paul were arrested, they were put in jail. If this happened in London, they were sent to Holloway. If it happened in Scotland, they were often sent to Perth and neither was an easy place to do time.
Once in prison, some women went on hunger strikes because they believed they should be classed as political prisoners and not criminal prisoners. But the hunger strikes began as one woman’s individual act of defiance. In 1909 Marion Wallace Dunlop decided to forgo food and water and she lasted 91 hours until the prison doctor released her for fear of death. She was the first of many who went on hunger strike and after seeing how the authorities reacted, The Pankhursts included and encouraged hunger strikes as part of their WSPU direct action campaigns.
The government had two responses to the strikes. The first was to force feed imprisoned suffragettes using tubes and liquid food like eggs or milk. This method was dangerous because it could cause the prisoners harm by breaking their teeth or induce bleeding, vomiting and choking. As another form of protest and a sign of solidarity, fellow activists staged 24 hour vigils outside Perth Prison gates.
In 1914 in Scotland Ethel Moorhead, already well known to the authorities for her role in militant activities and stints in prison, was the first suffragette force fed in Scotland. By this time, England had already adopted the counter-measure but Scottish suffrage campaigners had believed the authorities would never condone it. Glaswegian Janie Allen, an active member of the WSPU, said it this way:
forcible feeding in the case of Miss Ethel Moorhead came as a shock to most of the public. It had been fondly believed that this barbarity was to be left to England, but last week it was proved that, however enlightened the Scottish public may be, the Commissioners have still ideas only suited to the Middle Ages, when torture and witch-burning were considered quite ordinary occurrences.
Delaina: The government’s second response in 1913 was the Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act also known as the Cat and Mouse Act. Now, the government could release a prisoner when she was deemed too weak from her strike. However, that release was only temporary. She was allowed to regain her health only to be rearrested to serve the remainder of her sentence. In fact, she was supposed to return on her own but few actually did.
These labels – suffragist and suffragette – were important to activists and the media. Before some campaigners took up direct action, there was no need to differentiate. They were all suffragists. But when the militant tactics gained popularity, the suffragists did not want the so-called bad behaviour of the militants to reflect badly on their efforts so far, which had been up to that point law abiding. Names did matter and they were used to draw clear lines between the two kinds of groups.
There was always opposition to giving women the vote and until the turn of the century it was the politicians that made the most noise against it. But as militant actions were adopted, there was more public disapproval. There were large parts of the population – men and women – that were anti-suffrage. In the beginning they were passively opposed to extending the franchise to women, meaning they didn’t engage publicaly with the issue, but as the campaign for women’s votes gathered support and campaigners started using militant tactics, the anti-suffrage supporters organised and pushed back. Like the suffragettes and suffragists, the anti-suffragists started organisations to champion what they felt were valuable gender differences and frustrate attempts to pass parliamentary reforms.
And then something happened that changed everything and that something was World War 1.
From the start of the war in 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst and her fellow WSPU members suspended militant activities and instead helped recruit women for the war effort.
In 1916 the UK introduced the Military Service Act and it meant all single men between ages 18 and 41 had to enlist. A sizable chunk of the UK’s male workforce voluntarily enlisted during the first week of war and while meeting resistance from employers and unions, women were taken on for those roles in what was called “dilution.” Even though employers – who were mostly if not entirely male – objected, they didn’t have much choice. So they hired women and paid them less and were comforted by the fact women had to give those jobs up once the war finished and the menfolk came home. Once mandatory conscription happened in 1916 there was an even bigger hole in the workforce and the need for female workers became even greater. In Scotland women worked in the shipyards, which would have been unheard of before 1914, but the war needed ships and the ships didn’t build themselves. So between 1914 and 1918 Clydeside shipyards produced 481 ships and women played a large part in making that happen.
Dr Elise Inglis – suffragist, founder of the Scottish Women’s Suffrage Federation and one of the first women to graduate from the Edinburgh University medical school – started the Scottish Women’s Hospitals even though she was reportedly told by an official from the War Office to “go home and sit down.” Inglis and fellow Scottishwomen took their offer to the French government and with funding from the constitutionalist NUWSS organisation and the Red Cross, they set up auxiliary hospitals in France, Corsica, Malta, Romania, Russia and Serbia. They worked as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, cooks and orderlies. Inglis was even captured by the Austro-German army and it took intervention by the American and British authorities to get her released.
In 1918, after roughly 85 years of campaigning, the Representation of the People Act finally passed in Parliament and it granted voting rights to women over the age of 30 who met minimum property criteria. One part of the Act enfranchised all men over 21 regardless of property ownership and we must recognise this as an achievement for men who were previously excluded because of this requirement. The other part granted of the Act voting rights to women over the age of 30 who owned or their husbands owned property or land with a rateable value greater than £5. Women university graduates over 30 who were voting in a university constituency were also eligible.
So why 30 years of age? Lord Robert Cecil, a rare Conservative supporter of women’s suffrage, put it simply:
[T]he reason why the age limit of thirty was introduced [was] in order to avoid extending the franchise to a very large number of women, for fear they might be in a majority in the electorate of this country. It was for that reason only, and it had nothing to do with their qualifications at all. No one would seriously suggest that a woman of twenty-five is less capable of giving a vote than a woman of thirty-five.
Delaina: The electorate tripled from 7.7 million in 1912 to 21.4 million in 1918. Because so many men died during the war, women would have become the voting majority if they were allowed to participate under the same terms as men. That possibility was simply too much for the government and the public and so 30 was the almost arbitrary age applied to women’s franchise.
1918 also saw the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act and gave women over the age of 21 the right to stand for parliament. Yup, you heard that right. A 21 year old woman could be a member of parliament but couldn’t vote until she was 30.
By all accounts, there was still much work to be done but partial enfranchisement was the biggest result to date.
After the Qualification of Women Act of 1918, the WSPU disbanded and the NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship. There were still many differences between how men and women were treated and the new NUSEC agenda was to push for reform on issues like equal pay, divorce law, pensions for widows and guardianship of children. This time women were able to address these concerns as members of parliament. The 1918 general election was the first time some women could vote and stand for office and some women won. For example, Scotland’s first female MP was a women named Katherine Murry, the Duchess of Atholl and oddly, before 1918 she was anti-suffrage. She also opposed and voted against the issues brought up by the NUSEC.
In 1928 parliament passed the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act. Finally, after almost 100 years of campaigning, all women over the age of 21 could vote and there were no more property restrictions for either men or women.
To help give us another perspective on Scottish suffrage campaigns, the women who were involved and the overlap between social movements – particularly here in Glasgow – we asked the Strong Women of Clydeside group to tell us about their work.
Lesley: My name is Lesley Mitchell. I have a wide interest in history and in sociology, in social history, in the way that women’s voices have been lost over time and they way that women are still treated poorly as second class citizens and how we can use what we find in history to inform the current day, to improve everybody’s lives.
Tara: My name is Tara Beall. I’m an artist and I just recently finished some research work with the University of Glasgow working with the Riverside Museum. And I’ve had a studio in Govan since 2009. My studio currently would say as a matter of full disclosure is in Kinning Park Complex, which is not in Govan, but is close.
Delaina: Not technically.
Tara: It’s close and it’s a wonderful place.
Delaina: Strong Women of Clydeside. Would you mind maybe telling us a bit more about the group?
Tara: Absolutely. So I started it in 2013 and we met for the first time in April. And it’s basically a team of people who are looking into and trying to sort of uncover or recover or dig and find women’s histories or histories or of women’s involvement in very specific, we started out looking at very specific protest movements. And this began partially as a way to both really celebrate and highlight what women in Govan have done as activists over 100 years and partially as a way to look at all of that and how it maybe was represented in the Riverside Museum, which was kind of new at that time, and maybe how it could be represented better at the Riverside Museum. That was kind of our initial brief. And I kind of pulled a really amazing team of people together, several of whom are still involved 5 and a half years later, which is amazing, and others who have come on since then, like Lesley. The team itself decided in 2013 were going to start by looking at 3 protest movements and those were the 1915 Rent Strikes, the 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in and the 1996 community takeover and sit-in of Kinning Park Complex. We were looking really specifically at women’s roles within all 3 of those events, those political movements or moments. And also really looking kind of the landscape that they happened within so we were really wanting to anchor it very specifically in Govan, very specifically in these streets, these towns, these tenements, these communities, this particular place and try to understand that better.
Delaina: are there any women that you’ve come across that you’ve maybe found inspiring or do you think maybe more people need to know about or anyone really that has really touched you in that sort of way. Are there any women in particular that you can think of?
Tara: So many!
Lesley: We could talk about them all day! I mean you look across, of course Mary Barbour has had quite a, publicity
Delaina: She’s a local celebrity!
Lesley: A local celebrity but still I saw recently a Facebook post where someone said “ahh now we’ve got the Mary Barbour statue but are there any other statues of women in Glasgow?” And I was like “well yes actually! Just along the road from Mary Barbour there’s Isabella Elder in Elder Park!” And so to talk about all the things she did as part, just did amazing things for Govan, which at the time wasn’t actually part of Glasgow.
Delaina: No it wasn’t.
Lesley: There’s things people don’t realise, that they don’t understand and you go from there and you look at what Mary Barbour did and it’s not just the rent strikes. She goes on to become a politician, she goes on to become a Councillor, a bailie. She opens a clinic in Govan, which is still an NHS clinic.
Tara: On Arklet Road.
Lesley: On Arklet Road just behind the Isabella Elder statue.
Tara: Which is still providing medical services literally generations later so that’s actually an amazing. We found an image. One of our team members is a really, an incredible, he has an incredible ability to dig into the archives. Ian McCracken who also works with Govan High as a retired Archivist there. Ian found an image of Mary Barbour at the opening of this clinic and actually, we know because, through the census she would have lived at that, at that time she would have lived, and when the Rent Strikes were in action, she literally would have lived about a block and a half away on, well it’s now Uist Street, but at that point it was Ure U-R-E Street. Sorry, anyways, too much detail! Forgive us! But you know, this is something that literally was around the corner from her house and that she was absolutely integral to the starting up of that clinic.
Tara: So this is somebody who is incredibly passionate about women’s health, about family, about the health of children, children’s welfare and just general medical facilities. And I think a lot of the interest of a lot of the women she was working with at that time who were campaigning for better housing was literally all about that. It was about providing places to live for families which were safe, which were healthy, which were, they were able to raise their children.
Lesley: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that people think of when they think of Glasgow are those amazing photos from both the end of the nineteenth century that Thomas Annan did but also later into the 50s and 60s of the back courts of tenements where kids are playing in filth. The kids are hanging around on street corners and stuff. And there’s this understanding of Glasgow as being an incredibly depressed place.
Lesley: But it’s also worth remembering that at points in history Glasgow’s been incredibly rich, as Govan. And so one of the things we’re able to do is show how those changes in social mobility, in the social structure, were important to the way that the women lived, the way that they were able to function because women’s voices, those voices, the housewife just doesn’t get recorded. So you have to find the points in history where people are speaking and then extrapolate from them. And I think with the work that we’ve managed to find some of these women’s speeches about housing, their essays about how to keep your house clean, how to make dinners, the fact that Isabella Elder set up a home economics school so that if you were living on a very small budget, as unfortunately many people are today.
Tara: And still relevant today, a lot of this.
Lesley: Yeah. How to feed your kids on next to no money and still get them to grow.
Delaina: I mean there have been a few points in listening to you speak that I’ve gone “well that still applies and that still applies and that still applies” so to me there feels like there’s a really, those efforts and those needs that these women were trying to address they are still needing to be addressed. They haven’t been resolved entirely. Maybe some conditions have improved, some services have been made better or added but to me, I think there’s probably more to be done in the work that some of these women started.
Tara: One of the things that we do is we host walks. We kind of call them art walks because there’s lots of creative interventions and we kind of do a lot of sort of temporary graffiti and shouting and singing and hollering
Tara: And walking around Govan and carrying banner and stuff. But in a way it’s sort of like a guided walk plus, you know
Tara: And we have always started roughly at Govan Cross. Sometimes we’ve included the Museum but we’ve started at Govan Cross and ended at roughly Elder Park, 10 Hutton Drive. One of our walks is happening on Saturday the 9th of March. This one, so all of the walks we’ve done, we’ve been doing these sort of art walks, these performative guided tours for, since 2013. This one is really focused on Mary Barbour and we’ve actually not focused on her so much in the past. We’ve always woven her in with all of these other protest movements but we’re really wanting to just celebrate the fact that her statue is up. It’s exactly one year since her statue went up on International Women’s Day last year. And we really wanted to celebrate the work of the Remember Mary Barbour Committee and all of the people who donated in that long journey. And also her life and all of the things that she has focused on. So the walk is Saturday the 9th of March. We will start at 12:30 at the Mary Barbour statue and we will walk along down Govan Road roughly ending at 10 Hutton Drive. We’ll go through the park and talk about Isabella Elder. We’ll talk about the 1971 UCS work-in but we’ll really focus in on Mary Barbour and everyone is very welcome to join.
Lesley: So not only do we do the walks but we’ve also hosted Wikipedia edit-a-thons.
Tara: Which has been great. It was a learning curve for us as well and a way for us to gather some of the stuff that we found in our archive and really
Lesley: Yeah so Wikipedia is this amazing thing where you can, anyone can edit it, but the problem is that it’s massively gender biased because it’s gender biased to the people who are doing the editing.
Lesley: So what we’re able to do with a number of amazing women around the world is just increase the amount, the number of women who get spoken on Wikipedia. And so we’ve worked with Sara and Delphine from Wikimedia to put together afternoons, days, depends on the timing, where we bring our research. And the last one we held in the Mitchell Library so we were able to bring some of the stuff from their archive, some of their books, and let people, introduce people to the concept of editing Wikipedia. Because most people have heard of Wikipedia but don’t necessarily realise that they can have an impact on it.
Delaina: And this is a way that they can very easily contribute and have
Delaina: an impact even if it is seen as a smaller one, felt like a smaller one. It all adds up especially if you’re saying that a lot of these voices aren’t even represented there to begin with. It’s really important that you start to start to invite these folks round who have these nuggets to plant them wherever they can. And that then becomes a more robust resource particularly for women’s stories.
Lesley: Absolutely. So that’s given us the opportunity to meet other people, to engage with other people’s research, to help other people put their research out there. So we helped expand the information on the Kinning Park Women’s Cooperative Society.
Tara: Another amazing organisation. I think the more you start to dig, well it depends! We’ve been both quite determined and jammy, I guess, at some points
Lesley: Yeah absolutely.
Tara: and the combination of the two means that there is a lot of information that we found that we’ve been trying. There’s some of our team members are actually absolutely brilliant at just writing entire Wikipedia articles so there’s a huge number of, well there are a lot women now represented. Scottish suffragettes, I should say, as well as Scottish women doctors. Some of the first women artists. There’s kind of a nice intersection between the Lady Artists Society
Lesley: The women, the female doctors, they were both middle-class groups so the women who would come from the Glasgow School of Art and the women who’d graduated from the University of Glasgow met as part of the suffragette societies and so they came together so you’ve got the Lady Artists helping produce banners and flyers and putting on exhibitions.
Tara: Which we’re all very interested in because we do all that!
Lesley: It’s wonderful for providing inspiration but then you’ve got the doctors and from the doctors you can get, you can follow different things so I mean. You can follow from Merion Gilchrest herself to her niece who worked with her for a while but who was also a surgeon during the First World War in one of the hospital in Doncaster because all the other surgeons were away with the army. And who had, turns up in the newspaper having had a terrible experience where one of her patients has died and she’s had to go to an inquest about why her patient has died. And it turns out that she was basically operating on her own
Lesley: doing surgery, complex surgery with nobody in the room but a nurse who was trying to keep the patient under anaesthetic and so just interesting links provide you with the opportunity to go, yeah, down the rabbit hole of research. It’s quite terrifying!
Delaina: To tell us more about how Scottish suffrage campaigners and other notable women’s stories are being shared, Dr Sara Thomas and Delphine Dallison talk all things Wiki.
Delphine: Hi I’m Delphine Dallison and I’m the Wikimedian in Residence at the Scottish Library and Information Council. So my role is basically working across all the public libraries in Scotland, training them on how to edit Wikipedia and also giving them different strategies for how they can look at uploading some of their really diverse and rich collections on to the online encyclopaedia. So we’ve been working with all sorts of different librarians and travelling all across Scotland and now we’ve, we’re reaching the end of my residency but as a legacy we’re gonna have a network of librarians who know how to edit Wikipedia and also are trained on how to train other people to edit Wikipedia. So hopefully this is gonna be a long-term project that’s gonna carry on going after my time is done.
Sara: I am Dr Sara Thomas. I’m the Scotland Programme Coordinator for Wikimedia UK. Wikimedia UK is the UK chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, which is the international charity that stewards the Wikimedia projects of which Wikipedia is one. My job involves speaking to museums, galleries, libraries, educational institutions, heritage organisations, all kind of different partners across Scotland to increase their open knowledge capacity so that’s helping them get volunteers involved, helping them open up collections, helping release things on an open licence. We do a lot of work in terms of under represented content, getting things available on open licences to, making them publicly available to anyone who wants to access them. We do work in education and in literacies and we do work around advocacy and policy in making things more open and more accessible to the general public.
Delaina: One of the things that I’ve heard the Strong Women of Clydeside speak about and I would be really interested to hear more from you guys is, what are these edit-a-thons? They have mentioned that they’ve been involved in, how do they work and what do they hope to accomplish?
Sara: So an edit-a-thon is a focused period of, usually Wikipedia focused period of Wikipedia editing where you take, you have 3 things you need for an edit-a-thon. So you need a gap in Wikipedia so somewhere where there’s a subject that’s not covered because although Wikipedia is, especially English Wikipedia, is big there are definitely gaps. You need a gap in Wikipedia. You need some sources or some resources that can help you fill that gap so specialist knowledge that can from a library or a gallery or a university or something like that. Then you need a group of volunteers, willing and able Wikipedia editors, who will then take those resources and will take the training that we’ll give them within that edit-a-thon session and then they will help to fill that gap in Wikipedia. So it’s about writing new articles and to fill those gaps in knowledge. And also improving articles that already exist.
Delphine: There’s all sorts of different ways you can contribute. There’s all sorts of things like taking photos, adding sources and adding actually little bits of information to existing paragraphs and things like that in the encyclopaedia. Your contributions can be very big. You can create a whole new article. Or it can be something smaller if you don’t necessarily have the confidence to do that there’s lots of different ways in which you can contribute to Wikipedia.
Sara: There’s a niche for everybody! It’s what I love about Wiki! It’s what I love about all of the projects. It doesn’t matter what you’re interested in or what your speciality is, there is a niche for you there.
Delphine: You did the edit-a-thon with the group Strong Women of Clydeside.
Sara: We’ve done a couple.
Delaina: I’m going to as you a bit more about that then. It sounds like there was a gap there and you guys came together to help fill that so could you explain a little bit more about that?
Sara: So when we talk about, we talk about under represented content within the encyclopaedia so we know that, although English Wikipedia especially is very big, we know there are some quite significant gaps and one of those is to do with gender. We have a bit of a gender gap. So there is a gender gap in terms of the kinds of people that edit, our editors. We don’t have enough women editing. We don’t have enough trans people editing. And then one of the, we have a content gender gap as well, which means that anything really to do with, say, to do with women’s history isn’t very well covered.
Delphine: And that’s not necessarily Wikipedia’s fault. It’s a reflection of the way women’s history has been covered in general historically up til now, which is that historically women’s history has not been very well covered in secondary sources. It’s not been very well written about a lot of the time. History books have focused on the achievements of the husband or the rather than then talking about what the women have actually achieved themselves. It’s something that academics and researchers all over the world are working to rectify at the moment. But until we have those secondary sources it’s very difficult to represent them on Wikipedia. And that’s where having the Strong Women of Clydeside, who were you know very passionate about women in Glasgow, had the interest and done all that research in the first place into the history of women in Glasgow then meant that they’d uncovered, they’d done all the hard work of uncovering the sources and things like that and then we could give them training to actually add that on to the encyclopaedia.
Sara: That dedicated group of volunteers who are really interested in a subject who know where to go to find the information and who have that deep subject knowledge, which means that they’re perfectly placed to be able to know what’s missing in the first place, to know where those gaps are and to have that information to go and fill those gaps.
Delphine: One of the things a lot of people don’t realise is that Scotland as a whole is considered an under represented area on Wikipedia. And I think a lot of people get a bit surprised by that because if you look at all the big hits, they’re covered.
Delaina: Sure, Burns! Burns is there.
Delphine: Well known but when you look down on a more local level and you start looking at local monument, local notable figures, local history and things like that, then you start finding a lot of gaps. And that’s where libraries have those kind of very specific collections that cover more of that local knowledge. But also they do the work with volunteers who are already doing local history research and so on. If you can tap into those two things, then you can start improving coverage of content. It’s important for people in local areas to actually find themselves represented on Wikipedia because if you actually start finding that local history on Wikipedia and so on, then it validates where you come from, your history, your heritage and all those kind of things.
As we’ve said, there is a gender gap in editors as well as there is in content. And so as a result, unfortunately Wikipedia represents the interests of the people who are editing it so that means military history, very well covered. Women’s history, we’re working on that. When you are putting up articles online, there will be admins who, this is the normal course of any article anyway, is that they get checked over by admins who will look at validity of the sources and how many sources you’ve used and whether the person is notable enough, etc. And we can come across a lot of challenges in terms of like is this person notable enough to be on Wikipedia? And so on. It gets a little but frustrating when very minor baseball league layers will have these massive articles that don’t get questioned at all but on the other hand, you try to write an article about women and then straight away you’re challenged about whether they’re notable enough etc. I think that’s where the Women in Red Project comes in and they’ve actually done a lot of work to bring together a community of editors that actually are very proactive but also look at how we actually safeguard these article and how we actually meeting those notability standards.
Sara: But yeah the Women in Red Project is actually, I think this is right. A wiki project is a group of editors who really want to edit about one particular subject and focus on that area. So military history, I believe, I didn’t check this before I came out but is the busiest wiki project but actually the second busiest, most active, I’m not quite sure how to describe it, wiki project is Women In Red. And the idea of Women in Red is to turn red links blue. And red links are ones on Wikipedia where you see a red link, it means that article doesn’t exist.
Delphine: It’s basically these blue links are the internal links that go from one article into another. It’s our way of creating pathways of research so that if you want to find out more about something in an article, you’ll create a blue link that’ll take you to another page in Wikipedia and find out more.
Sara: That’s how you fall down a wiki hole at 3am in the morning!
Delaina: We’ve all done it! We’ve all been there!
Sara: And suddenly you know more about theoretical physics then you did an hour ago!
Delphine: So these red links are our kind of internal flags as wiki editors that we leave for each other of this is a topic that’s notable enough. It deserves to have a page but it doesn’t currently have a page. So if you come across a red link it’s kind of like a nudge to say maybe if you have the time and the interest and you know about the subject, you can create a page on this. So wiki project Women in Red. What they do is create lists of red links for notable women who don’t currently have a page and every month they create new themes. They send those out to editors involved in the project and you can either choose to edit part of those themes where they give you these lists of red links for women. Or equally you can look in your local kind of context for so.
We’ve done a number of wiki Women in Red edit-a-thons. I ran one not so long ago in September. We did a two-day edit-a-thon on the Isle of Skye particularly looking at improving the coverage of the history of women on the Isle of Skye. So we did that in partnership with Atlas Art and the local library and the local archives. And this was a culmination of an Atlas Art project looking at the history of women in Skye as part of the 100 year suffrage anniversary. And what we did is, we basically went through and looked at women who had been notable both in the past and in the present day and the library and the archive helped us find all the sources that we needed and then we spent two days actually creating the articles and editing them. As part of that, we ended up creating 13 draft articles. 8 of those have now been published. A few more of those still need a little more work here and there. A few extra sources and things like that but they’re gonna get published in the future. Yeah it’s just helped kind of highlight some of the missing history basically of the women on the Isle of Skye. And I think especially when you’re looking at smaller communities like that where you’re growing up in those communities, you want to have role models. People to look towards. And there were some amazing women that did, fought in the Second World War. They’ve went to create hospitals on the other end of the world. And this is in the 19th century. And there’s some amazing women artists and all sorts. Writers and so on. I just think that means that kids now growing up on the Isle of Skye will have new role models that they can aspire to.
Delaina: You mentioned there’s a list that happens. Is this the best way for folks to have a look and see if this is the best way to kind of get involved?
Sara: Yeah. If you’re, especially if you’re looking to do anything around women’s biography, Wikiproject Women in Red. They’re also on Twitter so you can find them on Twitter. They’re very active online. And the information they give on that wiki project is really good. They’ve got great guides for how to write a biography. They’ve got really good guides into what happens if one of your articles is challenged. They’re very open and friendly and really lovely people.
Trish: In the next episode we’ll leave 1928 and jump to today. We’ll catch up with the Glasgow Women’s Library to find out more about the legacies left by some of the women we’ve come across. We’ll also hear about the ways the GWL keeps their stories alive.
Delaina: We’d like to thank everyone who helped put together episode 2. That’s Clare Thompson, Lesley Mitchell and Tara Beall from the Strong Women of Clydeside, Dr Sara Thomas from Wikimedia UK and Delphine Dallison, the Wikimedian in Residence at the Scottish Library and Information Council. We’d also like to thank Sunny G Radio, Lisa Donati from Gie It Laldy, Briony Cullin and Kirsty Mooney. Thank you!
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About the authors/hosts
Dr Delaina Sepko is a researcher and archivist. Although she’s not Scottish, she has a great love and respect for the women who have helped make her adopted country a fierce nation. She is drawn to and inspired by the Scottish suffrage campaigners and especially curious how they used music in their activism. When she’s not revelling in Scottish women’s history, she’s running DMF Research and most likely doing something music-related. You can check out her other work via her Twitter account.
Trish Caird is interested in women’s histories and she’s been a member of the Strong Women of Clydeside since 2013. She’s helped flesh out histories of Mary Barbour and other women involved in the Glasgow Rent Strikes as well as the Women’s Peace Crusade campaign. Her work in film, as a history tour guide and as a singer give her a unique perspective when researching and sharing stories about remarkable Scottish women.