History seminars at the IHR

Women's History

Convenors: Dr Kelly Boyd (IHR), Dr Anna Davin, Dr Lucy Delap (ICBH/KCL), Dr Amy Erickson (Cambridge), Dr Laura Gowing (KCL), Prof Clare Midgley (Sheffield Hallam University), Prof Janet Nelson (KCL), Dr Krisztina Robert (Roehampton), Prof Pat Thane (ICBH/KCL), Prof Cornelie Usborne (IHR/Roehampton)

For enquiries relating to this seminar please contact Kelly Boyd: k.boyd at blueyonder.co.uk

Venue:  John S Cohen Room N203, 2nd floor, IHR, North block, Senate House

Time: Friday, 5.15pm

Spring Term 2016
DateSeminar details
22 January Interracial Relationships and the 'Brown Baby Problem': White British Women, Black GIs and their Mixed Race Offspring in World War 11

Lucy Bland (Anglia Ruskin)

When GIs arrived in Britain in 1942 in preparation for an invasion of France, amongst their numbers were 130,000 African Americans. Many British women formed relationships with these black GIs, resulting in the birth of 1700 to 2,000 mixed-race children. Despite racial prejudice and stigma, approximately half of the mothers kept their children. The African-American press named these children “brown babies”. To the African-American newspaper Pittsburgh Courier “the entire ‘Brown Baby’ question is one of the most controversial subjects in this country [USA] today. It is a question that involves two great nations – the United States of America and Great Britain.” The nature of this “controversial subject” is the focus of this talk – a subject that has received little historical attention but at the time filled the pages of the press both sides of the Atlantic.


5 February Women and Work in Provincial English Towns: 1851-1911

Amanda Wilkinson (Essex)

This seminar has been cancelled and will be rescheduled for a later date


19 February Battered but not Broken: Women's Resistance to Marital Violence in Post-Independence Ireland, 1922-1970

Cara Diver (KCL)

In the years following Irish independence, abused wives had little hope to escape their violent marriages: they no access to divorce facilities and few legal remedies; most did not work outside of the home and were thus kept in a state of financial dependence; and social and religious pressures dissuaded them from seeking formal or informal marriage separations.  However, as this paper will discuss, many women actively resisted the violence of their husbands.  Although their options were limited, abused wives fought back with retaliatory violence, sought outside help, and took legal action against their husbands.  In the process of resisting their husbands’ violence, abused women involved a wide variety of people in their private plight and drew upon a broad network of support.  As this paper will argue, marital violence blurred the boundaries between ‘private’ and ‘public’ behaviour because so many people outside of the conjugal home were forced to confront the issue.


4 March Married Women Pleading their Cases in 17th Century England

Tim Stretton (Saint Mary’s University, Nova Scotia/Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Cardiff University)

This paper uses the extraordinary testimony of Mary Whettenhall from East Peckham in Kent–who was prosecuted for adultery, incest and slander after accusing her father in law of rape and theft–to explore the constraints married women laboured under in the seventeenth century and the limited legal options and remedies available to them. It identifies two divergent patterns of change over the seventeenth century, setting the expansion of equitable possibilities against a narrowing of overall legal options, and reflects on the implications of these developments for the exercising of female agency.


18 March Lesbian mothers and practices of conception in post-war Britain and Australia

Rebecca Jennings (Honorary Fellow: Macquarie University, Sydney/Visiting Research Fellow: Kings College, London)

The post-war period witnessed significant shifts in the experience of lesbian mothering in Britain and Australia.  Prior to the 1970s, the typical experience was of a woman who had conceived children in the context of a heterosexual marriage, before recognising or acting upon same-sex desires.  For these women, resolving potential conflicts between their roles as wives and mothers and their same-sex desires could pose significant challenges, and some women chose to remain married while others faced contentious custody battles for their children.  A small number of women in the 1950s and 1960s sought to become mothers in the context of same-sex relationships, through adoption or extra-marital conception, but it was not until the 1970s that this became an increasingly common experience.  The development of reproductive technologies in this period, combined with new ideological approaches to the family, encouraged a growing number of women to explore the possibility of conceiving children in the context of a lesbian relationship.  Drawing on oral history interviews with British and Australian women, press reports and other written accounts, this paper will trace the shifting ways in which lesbians became mothers in this period and explore a range of discourses of lesbian motherhood.