The Role of Welsh Women in Our Diverse History; WELSH HISTORY MONTH Today, We Launch Welsh History Month - Using It as the Perfect Excuse to Celebrate the Role Women Have Played at the Very Heart of Wales. Here Historian Dr Lesley Hulonce Gives Her Introduction to the New Series of Articles from Academics and Experts from across the Nation

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 7, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Role of Welsh Women in Our Diverse History; WELSH HISTORY MONTH Today, We Launch Welsh History Month - Using It as the Perfect Excuse to Celebrate the Role Women Have Played at the Very Heart of Wales. Here Historian Dr Lesley Hulonce Gives Her Introduction to the New Series of Articles from Academics and Experts from across the Nation


WHENEVER the history of Welsh women is discussed, I am reminded of the words of historian Deirdre Beddoe who, in 1981, argued that Welsh women were written out of Welsh history.

She claimed that "if a creature from outer space landed in Wales and worked through Welsh history, she would be perplexed as to how the Welsh procreated. They were all men!" She was right. While American historian Joan Wallach Scott felt able to claim with confidence that the "call for a history of women" had been comprehensively answered by 1983, within Wales a complete work dedicated solely to Welsh women's history was not published until 1991.

I have been told off in the past for comparing Wales to bigger countries, but Welsh scholarship was at the forefront of labour history in the 1970s and 1980s, so why not women's and gender history? That first book of Welsh women's history was Our Mothers' Land which was edited by Angela John, and it started a slow process of remembering that women are important to our understanding of Welsh society in the past. However, Paul O'Leary commented that this alternative women's chronology of Welsh history had been met with a "deafening silence" by Welsh historians and did not change the overall thrust of male-dominated scholarship. Has this changed in subsequent years? Certainly, anyone reading the last Welsh History Month would have agreed with Deirdre's claim from 1981 and I'm so pleased that the editors accepted my proposal that this year women will take centre stage.

The vitality of Welsh women's history can be demonstrated by the overwhelming response to my call for historians to contribute to this year's history festival. I received so many offers from historians keen to be included that I am now compiling a book which will also showcase how vibrant and central women's history is today, and The Other Half: Welsh Women's Histories will be published by the University of Wales Press.

I hope that this year's Welsh History Month will encourage more historians, both amateur and professional, to research the fascinating histories of Welsh women and rather than a "deafening silence" - we should be as noisy as possible about it.

I have not relied solely on the contributions of academic historians from our Welsh universities.

The dedicated amateur historian Louvain Rees personifies Raphael Samuel's words that "if history was thought of as an activity rather than a profession, its practitioners would be legion". Her essay focuses on Caroline Williams, a "radical" Liberal, who was elected as president of the Governors of Aberdare Hall, Cardiff, and also paid for a reading room and a Workmen's Institute.

Similarly, Welsh artist Anthony Rhys presents a vivid account of his grandmother's life in Cardiff's Grangetown.

As this demonstrates, it is not always the famous who have made history and stories of the everyday in Welsh life also enhance our understanding of our personal and collective pasts.

My own research has always included women's history. My writing on the Victorian and Edwardian poor laws explores female inmates as well as women workers in workhouses across Wales. Similarly, while researching the history of prostitution in Wales I found that many Welsh middle-class women worked hard to "rescue" working-class women defined as prostitutes.

Even the South Wales coalfield of the early 20th century, that bastion of masculinity, cannot be fully understood without the wives who worked long hours in the home to enable their husbands to mine coal. Their daughters were often considered "little mothers" and took over their mothers' duties in times of trouble which often led to their own education being sidelined.

Career prospects were so limited for girls in the coalfield that most married, had too many children and began the cycle again and again. …

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The Role of Welsh Women in Our Diverse History; WELSH HISTORY MONTH Today, We Launch Welsh History Month - Using It as the Perfect Excuse to Celebrate the Role Women Have Played at the Very Heart of Wales. Here Historian Dr Lesley Hulonce Gives Her Introduction to the New Series of Articles from Academics and Experts from across the Nation
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