History seminars at the IHR

Voluntary Action History

This seminar series is organised by the Committee of the Voluntary Action History Society (VAHS). VAHS aims to advance the historical understanding and analysis of voluntary action through seminars, occasional conferences and symposia. Please see http://www.vahs.org.uk for further information.

Convenor: Colin Rochester (LSE) cirochester@macace.net

  Cait Beaumont (London South Bank University); Kerrie Holloway (Queen Mary, University of London); Sarah Lloyd (University of Hertfordshire); Michael Nelles (Southampton University); Alison Penn (Open University); Bill Rushbrooke (Practical Wisdom R2Z); Bob Snape (University of Bolton); Megan Webber (University of Hertfordshire); Meta Zimmeck (Practical Wisdom R2Z)


Venue: Room 304, third floor, IHR, North block, Senate House, unless otherwise noted in the programme, below

Time: Monday 5.30pm

Some podcasts from this Seminar are available online

Summer Term 2016
DateSeminar details
16 May 'Not just a "club for girls" but "a women's movement": the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), citizenship and voluntary action in Britain during the interwar years

Dr Caitriona Beaumont (London South Bank University)

The history of the women’s movement, female activism and voluntary action in the decades following the 1928 Equal Franchise Act has featured a wide variety of women’s organisations and key campaigns.  These histories include post-suffrage feminist societies, women’s sections of the established political parties, women citizens’ associations (WCAs) and working-class organisations such as the Women’s Co-operative Guild (WCG) (Caine 1992, Scott 1998 & Pugh 2000).   More recently this scholarship has expanded to include a wider variety of women’s groups, including professional societies, religious groups and mainstream voluntary women’s organisations (Andrews 1997, Moyse 2009 & Beaumont 2013).  As Kirsta Cowman has observed, the inclusion of a more diverse range of women’s organisations, some openly rejecting a traditional feminist agenda, has broadened the size and scope of the interwar women’s movement considerably (Cowman 2010).

In 1928 the YWCA welcomed the introduction of the universal suffrage by declaring that women in Britain were now entitled to the full political privileges of citizenship.  This paper will explore the way in which the YWCA, previously omitted from histories of the British women’s movement, sought to educate and inform its members about the rights and duties of democratic citizenship.  The involvement of the YWCA in citizenship education and its role in campaigning for the citizenship rights of women will be assessed, with a particular focus on the rights of women workers.  Despite its reluctance to be identified as overtly feminist, the YWCA was determined to ensure that women had access to social and economic rights within a democratic society.  The paper will conclude by arguing that the voluntary action of the YWCA on issues pertaining to women’s everyday lives in the interwar years demands that the association be recognised as part of ‘a women’s movement’.

13 June The Untold Story of the St Pancras House Improvement Society: More than Charismatic Leadership

Dr. Michael Passmore

Seminar and Conducted Walk

Following the presentation of his paper Dr Passmore will lead a conducted walk around the social housing estate in Somers Town (near the British Library) featured in the talk.

This paper will focus on factors which resulted in the formation of a successful housing association and a slum clearance and redevelopment scheme that was to lead to a permanent organisation, the St Pancras Housing Association.

Recognition has been given in the literature to the success of the charismatic founder-leader, Father Basil Jellicoe, understandably verging at times on hagiography. This paper will briefly review his part in winning the trust of the local slum dwellers, and the patronage of influential members of the British establishment which involved raising enormous sums of capital from wealthy persons. The estate, which was probably the first voluntary scheme of its type put up after World War I, was let at low rents to make the new accommodation affordable to unskilled tenants of the slums being replaced - unlike the rents of council housing in the area which were only affordable to skilled workers.

The paper will focus on the support roles played by the ‘backroom’ members or the housing society: to Jellicoe’s friend and collaborator, Percy Maryon-Wilson, who was the ‘anchor man’ of the early venture; to Irene Barclay who was one of the first women Chartered Surveyors and who applied the principles of the Octavia Hill housing management. The contribution of these talented people was to prove invaluable when Jellicoe’s presence in the housing society’s office became infrequent.

The paper will argue that without the support roles performed efficiently by the backroom staff, it is doubtful whether the innovative project would have survived beyond its early redevelopment scheme. It will suggest that this case study provides an example that is valid for new voluntary projects being set up under similarly inspired leadership today.