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BOOKS TO HELP US TELL WOMEN'S STORIES

Bill Barlow
5 April 2021
Writers Circle

     Last month, for the GSV Writers discussion on 'Telling Women's Stories', some members provided lists of thought-provoking references that delve into the complexities of women’s histories in Australia. Following Women’s History Monthand to encourage wider thinking about women's stories,we thought we would share these lists with you, with thanks to the GSV Writers Discussion Circle.

 

The list can be downloaded HERE https://www.gsv.org.au/sites/default/files/references_womens_stories_.pdf 

 

Dr Kristy Love*,who has recently joined the GSV Volunteers' Team, edited and added to the reference lists and contributes this overview.

 

***

 

 

In offering this list of references, we acknowledge that it is by no means a comprehensive source of writing about and of women’s histories, but we hope it gives sufficient breadth to encompass a range of experiences. 

 

History books tend to focus ontales of derring-do, royalty, the military, enterprise, exploration, and discovery, primarily by men and about men, often to the omission of in-depth portrayals of the lives of women. We hope this list goes some way to covering those gaps. 

 

The list includes several classics of feminist literature and women’s rights - a must for understanding the changing political and social forces at play in women’s lives. It also encompasses texts on intersectional feminisma termfirst used by the scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, and further developed by other Black feminists. Intersectionality has now come to refer tothe waysthat overlapping identity categories, such as gender,race, religion, ability, sexuality, class, and culture affect people’s opportunities and status in the world. These books are important as they can help us think critically about howwomen’s histories have been told, about the authors of those stories and about what they have chosen to include and omit in histories of women. These references can also help us become more aware of our blindspotsso that we can write more nuanced histories that encompass the complexities of women’s lives.

 

The list includes books that provoke thinking about the Indigenous Australian women whose families were decimated by colonisation and whose children were forcibly removed under racist acts of Parliament. It includes references about sexual and reproductive rights. About the difficult paths faced by single or unmarried mothers, many of whom also gave up their children under duress.About the lives of women who faced perilous journeys as they immigrated here or fled dire circumstances in their countries of origin. About the pioneering women, both free settlers and convicts, many of whom had to endure multiple births from a young age. Many women suffered harsh conditions living on the goldfields and on isolated back-country farms and stations.

 

It includes books about those women who lived lives outside of the norms of the time, such as those criminalised by poverty, or those demonised by differing historical ideas about mental health and institutionalisation. 

 

The list also provides references about the organisations set up by women to support other women, about the collectives of women who fought for equality and changes in legal status - the right to vote, to own property, to work, to education, and for reproductive rights. Otheritems are about individuals, of women’s personal stories of war, as pioneers in their professions, as scholars, as mothers. 

 

We encourage you to explore the list and welcome suggestions for additions.

 

Dr Kristy Love

 

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You can add your suggestions as a comment to this post on the blog or on our Facebook site. There is plenty of interesting reading for autumn to fuel your current research and writing.

 

* ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Dr Kristy Love (formerly Davidson) is a researcher with a passion for family history writing. Her particular interest is the historical criminalisation of impoverished women. She recently joined the GSV Volunteers Team and is now assisting with our GSV Blog Family History Matters. Kristy has a PhD in Creative Writing, an Honours degree in Psychology and has worked in university research management for over two decades. She is a member of the Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria and assists with their social media outreach. She is also currently undertaking the Certificate of Genealogical Studies through the Society of Australian Genealogists. 

 

Image credits 

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi (Willam Collins, 2016) - her investigation of her violent father and his new identity as a 'complete woman'.

Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory by Louise Wilson (Wakefield Press, 2016) - the story of Australia's first professional botanical artist.

A Suburban Girl: Australia 1918-1948, by Moira Lambert (MacMillan, 1990) - a memoir of 'the urban, middle-class life of her times'. 

Dear Sun: the Letters of Joy Hester and Sunday Reed, (ed) Janine Burke (Minerva 1997) - a powerful and intimate friendship between two remarkable women in Melbourne's art world of 1940s.

Firing by Ninette Dutton (Editions Tom Thompson, 2011) - an autobiography 'for her granddaughter...who is part of the story'.

Trude's Story: A journey from Vienna via Shanghai to Melbourne, by Gertude Speiser (Makor Jewish Community Library, 2008) - memoir of escape from Nazi Austria and emigration to start a new life.

White Beech: The Rainforest Years by Germaine Greer (Bloomsbury, 2014) - memoir of 'an old dog, who succeeded in learning a load of new tricks' restoring sixty hectares of Qld rainforest.

Brian's wife, Jenny's mum, by Judy [et al]: presented by Gwen Wesson (Dove, 1975) - writing of 'ordinary housewives'.

 

 

Add file here

 

Telling women's stories

Three sisters whose stories have not been told.
Three sisters whose stories have not been told.
Bill Barlow
16 March 2021
Treasure Chest
Writers Circle

By Claire Dunlop

 

At this month's GSV WRITERS discussion 'grid' on Wed 3 March we shared our thoughts around 'Telling Women's Stories'. About 25 of us fitted in the Zoom grid and our discussion covered many of the challenges in researching and writing women's stories.

 

The following observations give a useful overview for us as historians as we choose to challenge ourselves in 2021 to tell women's stories. 

 

Common challenges to finding women's history

 

Changing name to married name particularly if married a couple of times. 

 

Women who were not married but changed their name to that of a man with whom they were then living. Often in records and newspapers a woman will have been referred to as, for example, 'Mrs L Adams' when her name was 'Jane'.

 

No public profile - most history books and historical society websites barely mention women.

 

Invisible undocumented employment. Women earned money in activities but that information rarely appears on the census or electoral roles, such as some farm activities, agricultural labourers in England or egg money from chickens, also taking in laundry and dressmaking, housekeeping and domestic service.

 

Some married women continued carrying on the piecework that they had done before marriage. 

 

Some businesses were really run by women, but their husbands got the credit. Look for clues for this.

 

Documents and sources that can prove helpful

 

Birth, baptism, marriage, death, burial certificates and information– not just hers, but those around her because she may well have helped deliver a baby, witnessed a wedding or reported a death. As well as establishing facts, this information shows the people in the woman's life at that time. Look at all the names and interrogate what they were there for and what they were doing. Use your imagination.

 

Reports relating to community groups and organisations- such as churches, Country Women's Association (CWA), etc. 

 

Relevant to women in Victoria in 1891- Did she sign the petition to get the vote? https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/women-archive

 

Relevant to women in Australia- Trove. It can be easy to track teachers in country towns as the newspapers that covered those towns would have a small article on the new teacher. 

 

Relevant to women in the UK -'British Newspapers on line'.

 

Inquestsinto own death, children's deaths, husband's death or death of other near relatives.

 

Government gazettes- After 1883 women passed an exam to enter the public service in Victoria as clerks, telegraphists and later on as telephonists and their name was published.  Also in the late 1880s women who worked as nurses and warders in asylums had their appointments documented in the Government Gazette.

 

Lists of licensees of hotels- Very common for women to manage hotels

 

Family stories- best if person left a diary or letters but also common where the woman lived to be very old and shared her stories with offspring. Can usually be fact checked.

 

Women's health

Information on voyage to Australia - ref. Health, medicine and the sea - Australian Voyages c.1815-1860, by Katherine Foxhall, Manchester University Press 2012. 

Hospital and asylum registers - see Public Record of Victoria collections

Sometimes women were committed to asylums by male relatives against their will, so asylum records could be misleading.

Sometimes death certificates were unspecific about a woman's cause of death i.e. a 19th century English certificate shows a 44-year-old woman dying of 'decay of nature'. Many times this reflects the toll taken by almost constant pregnancy or lactation.

 

Information relating to husbands and male relatives

Women usually had to follow her husband to different locations irrespective of whether they wanted to go. Literate women of slightly higher social positions could obtain work via the patronage of powerful male relatives - matrons of charitable institutions, post mistresses, school mistresses.

 

The group also shared many anecdotes of researching 'our' women, such as ancestors who followed the hereditary role of ladies-in-waiting to the queen and of another's ancestor who had her husband change his name to hers as a requirement of a Marriage Settlement to preserve her assets. 

 

And how to write our stories of 19th century women in the context of the times? By our standards her 'hard life' makes her a strong woman 'because she survived what would probably kill us'.

We reminded ourselves that as historians we need to 'choose to challenge' truisms to better understand and empathise with our ancestors.

 

The challenge to get their stories out there

Penny also challenged us to look for places to publish and preserve women’s stories, such as municipal street naming, local historical societies, or contributing entries to the Australian Dictionary of Biographyor the Australian Women’s Register. The RHSV this week launched their 'RHSV Women’s Biographical Dictionary’ recognising the role of many women in that Society. See https://www.historyvictoria.org.au/search-collection/rhsv-womens-biographical-dictionary/

 

*** 

The photo

Three sisters whose stories have not been told: Norma Holland, Stella Wilson and Vida Marguerite Winifred Ebbott.

One remained single; one a mother of one; and the other a 'Soldier Settler' orchardist's wife and mother of five, whose eldest son died in a Lancaster bomber over Germany. One of their brothers was Nellie Melba's piano accompanist.

(Photo: Courtesy W. Barlow)

 

Not too late to enter GSV Writing Prize 2020 - closes 28 August

The Last of the Mail Coaches at Newcastle upon Tyne (1848) by James Pollard (1792-1867)
The Last of the Mail Coaches at Newcastle upon Tyne (1848) by James Pollard (1792-1867)
Bill Barlow
17 August 2020
GSV News
Writers Circle

 

 

You have just under two weeks - a week from Friday to enter the GSV Writing Prize 2020.

 

Last year's winner Louise Wilson painted a vivid picture of the development of the Royal Mail coaches in England unravelling the story of her coachmaster Boulton and Willson families in her article 'Masters of the Road' (Ancestor 34:8 December 2019).

 

In 2018 Helen Pearce won this prize for 'Daniel Elphingstone: his son's secret exposed' (Ancestor43:4 Dec 2018). Both these winning entries can be read by GSV Members on the website. Go to 'Ancestor Journal / View Ancestor as a PDF' where past issues from 2012 on are available.

 

But this year it's your turn. I suggest you lock yourself in (oh! done that) and polish up that family history story you have been promising to finish.

 

Members of the GSV as well as members of GSV Member Societies are eligible to enter. You can read the Judges' Report on 2019 winners on the website and 'Tips for Writing an Article' in the last issue of Ancestor 35:2 June 2020 is a very useful guide on how to 'make it easy for the judge's to say yes' 

 

Full details of the competition are on the website www.gsv.org.au/gsv-writing-prize

 

Entries close at

4 pm on 28 August 2020.

Now lock yourself away!

 

***

GSV Writers: Shut up and write

Bill Barlow
18 July 2020
GSV News
Writers Circle

 

A number of the GSV Discussion Circles have now run their first get-togethers on Zoom. This month the GSV Writers conducted a writing exercise - 'Shut up and Write'- that culminated in a Zoom session to discuss their experiences. 

Penny Mercer, the convener describes the session and this technique, aimed to get us writing and actually producing something.

***

To ensure we were organised to write, we all had to choose a topic that would, achievable, similar to the short pieces we normally share for review.

First we were asked to prepare by organising our relevant research notes and information and creating a bibliography of our sources. The goal was to have everything we might want to consult ready to hand when writing. 

We read about the Pomodoro technique: https://thesiswhisperer.com/2011/06/02/another-way-to-write-1000-words-a-day/then applied this to break up our topics into smaller chunks.

We were counselled to remove distractions; turning off our phones, closing all other windows on our computers, clearing our desk, advising anyone else in the house that we needed some concentrating time. 

On the day, everyone had to follow these instructions:

  1. Remove the distractions identified previously.
  2. Set timers for 25 minutes and write, trying not to stop until 25 minutes have passed. Then do a word count at the end of the 25 minutes.
  3. After 25 minutes, have a break for 5-10 minutes - coffee, chocolate biscuits, stretch, pat the cat, do whatever creates a mental break and a reward for your hard work.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3.

5. Optional repeat again. And again, if it’s going well.

   We had some ground rules:

  • Don't listen to your inner critic. Just keep writing.
  • You are not aiming for perfect words and sentences. Editing can be done later.
  • Focus on getting a first draft done of an achievable chunk.

 

All those who too part wrote something that we might not have written without this exercise. Having a deadline helped. It also helped to have committed to write something.

We all also agreed that assembling all your information beforehand makes it much easier. We agreed that a timer going off in the middle of a paragraph was annoying, and that it was better to finish that section rather than interrupt the flow.

Some of us found it helped with finding our ‘voice’ and with writer’s block. It was easy to just move on to another section to keep the writing flowing. Missing information was just noted for adding afterwards. 

One of us discovered freedom in removing the need to write perfect grammar, punctuation and spelling: “… the words rolled out in the second allocated time. Sitting there saying “I’m here now, tidy me up later, thanks very much!”

Everyone knew that whatever they wrote was just for their benefit. No-one else would see it unless they choose to share it. Since then, most of us have polished up our stories and shared them. 

Most of us were very satisfied with what we had achieved and are keen to repeat the exercise. 

Of course it’s important to remember that it’s not really finished until it is published or disseminated!

***

More events are scheduled to be available by Zoom and the GSV is working at offering other talks and presentations online. Check the Events list on the GSV website home page and also look at a previous blog 4 July about using Zoom HERE.

It is not hard - even writers can do it - and it is fun to see people again.

 

Describing and transcribing - My Dad's diaries

Dad's farm diaries (W.Pfeifer 2015)
Dad's farm diaries (W.Pfeifer 2015)
Bill Barlow
13 July 2020
Treasure Chest
Writers Circle

 

 

If only we had time to record the stories behind all those family objects collecting dust on our shelves! Oh, I guess we have now! I re-found a silver 5 franc 1840s coin that had been re-purposed by my great uncle in WW1 as an identity disc. Many men improvised extra identity discs and it was two years into the War, before two discs were ordered to be worn to help with identifying mutilated bodies. So this week I photographed it and wrote a short summary of its origin. If I cannot pass it to a direct descendant, the Australian War Memorial confirmed they would be pleased to accept it. Week 1 of stage 2 lockdown and one object recorded. Many to go!

 

A few years ago, Wendy Pfeifer, GSV member, wrote a lovely description about transcribing her father's farm diaries.* This is a great inspiration.

 

My Dad's Diaries

I am slowly transcribing my Dad’s diaries, which he had kept from 1931 until his death in late 2009. He had his first diary given to him for Christmas 1930 by his Aunt Emily when he was nearly fourteen years old. This was the year he finished attending his local primary school. While working on the family farm at Telford, he continued further education by correspondence.

 

Those early diaries are like reading a history book, as he mentions flights of Kingsford Smith’s planes Southern Cross and Southern Cloud along with the many political affrays. He also paints me a word picture of what life was like then, especially within the family. All the horse farm work is there, in detail, along with his sport and shooting adventures. Dad loved riding his bike and all his times are recorded when he raced at local meets. His poor sisters are only mentioned when they got taken to school or collected the mail. Dad always said that his Dad spoiled the girls because he was made to walk the three miles to school. He forgot to add, he got his first bike when he was six and could ride that to school. His sister gave me this information many years later.

 

I now know what the weather was like from 1931 to 1981, with a few misses. Each night when he had finished work, out on the farm, the last thing for the day was to sit with his feet in or on the stove and write his diary. I can pick the days when he must have been exhausted because after the weather entry it just states ‘shearing’ Other days there is a long involved series of events, including which paddock he was working in. The information was copied from his ‘Cooper’ books.

Over the war years his diaries do not exist, so I do not know if they were ever written. I have only one for 1943 when he left the RAAF base at Townsville and returned to Melbourne by train. He was a patient at the Repatriation Hospital based at the Ascot Vale Show grounds for many months. Then we are missing some which I know were in my parent’s home, but my mum did not like his frequent comments ‘I will look that up in the diaries’ so I think she moved some to the rubbish bin.

I do have all the ones from 1946 on to the 1980s, when he sold the Soldier Settlement farm in Western Victoria and moved back to the Shepparton area. They have made me smile as I have been transcribing them, because I know how hard life was at times, but he could be so dry and factual. The weather is the first entry, then farm work and at the end of the day’s entry we might find ‘baby born’. 

As a small child I remember being fascinated by how the men in my father’s family seemed to know what had happened 20 years ago, as if it was happening today. I was often allowed to draw in their Cooper’s books. These were small books produced by Cooper’s Dips, which were given to farmers each year. They were small enough for farmers to keep in their top pocket. They would also have this small pencil in the same pocket. These books were used to keep the running numbers, tallies or wages while they were out on the farm. If we, as small children, were good in church we were allowed to draw in my Grandpa’s Cooper’s book.

My Dad kept all his ‘Coopers’ books. Each year’s books contain treasures of animal and fodder prices for me to still research. I doubt that he ever realized the treasure he left for us; his children and grandchildren, to understand what life could be like.

***

* This article was originally published in FiftyPLUS News, January 2015.