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Women’s History Month with British Online Archives

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Authored by Nishah Malik
Published on 13th March, 2023 12 min read

Women’s History Month with British Online Archives

Poster for Women's History Month

This March marks the annual Women’s History Month, the month provides an opportunity to celebrate the contributions and legacies of women to history, society and culture. Generations of women have pushed boundaries, broken patriarchal ideals, and shaped our progress. Women’s History Month is all about bringing women’s stories to the surface, it is about changing the common narrative and celebrating and acknowledging the overlooked women who have played a major role in shaping the world we live in today. Alongside this, the month is all about recognising and celebrating how far women have come in terms of equality. By no means have we achieved full gender equality in society, however looking at and celebrating past accomplishments and mistakes can help to shape future changes.

British Online Archives would like to take this opportunity to celebrate these stories and accomplishments of women in history. Our archive contains primary sources covering 1,000 years of world history, from politics and warfare to slavery and medicine. We also have many historical documents relating to women’s progress and position in society. Below are some of the articles, related to women’s history, that our team have written using material from our archive:

From the Archive: The Tobacco Industry and Advertising: Women Smoking in Interwar Britain Cigarette Advert from the brand "Craven A"This article, using the Britannia and Eve publication, explores the increase of women smokers and their visibility in tobacco advertisements during the interwar years in Britain. Prior to the First World War smoking was majorly a masculine habit, this article discusses how the freedom women gained after the First World War was a catalyst for the blurring of gender norms related to smoking. Using advertisements from Britannia and Eve, the article explores how women’s new found freedom in the interwar years gave them the opportunity to partake in traditionally masculine habits and this feminised the cigarette for the first time.  

Full Article: From the Archive: The Tobacco Industry and Advertising: Women Smoking in Interwar Britain

From the Archive: Cycling to EqualityFemale cyclists in the late 1800sThis article, using the British Illustrated Periodicals series, discusses the importance of a rather surprising object in the women’s suffrage movement – the bicycle. In the modern day it is hard to imagine the controversial and transformational effect of the bicycle, however during the late nineteenth-century the bicycle was a revolutionary tool for women. This article explores the ways in which the bicycle transformed women’s role in society, by highlighting how the bicycle subverted the norm of previous generations of women who were expected to stay in the home, only leaving with male company or a chaperone. The article discusses contemporary criticism of the female cyclist, as many conservative members of society were appalled at the sexual impropriety of a young women with her legs astride a bicycle. It also explores the radical changes to women's fashion for the first time.  

Full Article: From the Archive: Cycling to Equality

From the Archive: The Failures of Women in Art Photograph of the "New Woman" in the late 1890s The Sketch, first published in 1893, published a column titled “The Failures of Women in Art” in 1898. This column highlighted and examined the perceived artistic deficiencies of women in nine fields. This article studies the author's first three columns, an examination of failures of women in literature, music, and science. 

The article, using the heated debate presented within The Sketch, provides an insight into the negative role of women within Britain at the turn of the twentieth-century. The Sketch's articles were emblematic of those that were published in defence of the patriarchal social order. The article explores the conservative backlash in response to the emergence of the "New Woman", the female suffrage movement, and changing attitudes to gender roles in the latter half of the 1800s.

Full Article: From the Archive: The Failures of Women in Art

From the Archive: Beauty Standards and Diet Culture in British Print Media, 1901-1966 Advertisements of a weight loss product called AntiponThis article discusses the medias role in the glorification of the ideal that only thin equates to beauty for women. The article explores the toxicity of diet culture within print media and the language used within weight loss adverts, by making particular reference to the weight loss adverts and advice in The Tatler and London Life publications. 

History has unfortunately shown how the medias relationship with diet culture and beauty is an extremely toxic and long lasting one that has even carried on until 2023 and is clearly something that will continue in the future. The media have been creating and feeding off women’s insecurities for over 100 years, the article highlights the past and continued sexist nature of the diet and media industries. 

Full Article: From the Archive: Beauty Standards and Diet Culture in British Print Media, 1901-1966

From the Archive: Women's Liberation, Miniskirts and The Pill in 60s and 70s BritainPamphlet titled Women in Britain produced by the Central Office of InformationWhen discussing past changes to women’s status emphasis is mainly placed on political and legal changes that were initiated by the suffragette movement in the early-1900s. However, alongside these changes, women’s status culturally, socially and economically was also changing. In particular, in 1960s and 1970s Britain women’s position changed considerably in all aspects of society.

This article, using material from our British Government Information and Propaganda collection, discusses the changes that happened in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a period that began the breakdown of traditional patriarchal ideals, a period that slowly began giving women more freedom socially. The article discusses the effects of the post-War “Youthquake”, the rise of the hemline, the sexual revolution and the introduction of the contraceptive pill. 

Full Article: From the Archive: Women's Liberation, Miniskirts and The Pill in 60s and 70s Britain

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh and The Important Role of Indian Women in the Suffragette Movement Photograph of Indian Suffragettes on the Women's Coronation Procession, 1911Throughout history women have made fantastic contributions to society, this article discusses the contributions to British society by Indian Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. The young Indian princess was a member of British elite society, a close friend of Queen Victoria, as well as a prominent member of the suffragette movement. The article not only discusses the significance of Sophia’s contributions to the suffragette movement, but her contributions as the first Indian suffragette in a time where her presence in British society, as a woman of colour, would have been unwelcome. The article draws on broader arguments about immigration and Indian women’s role in shaping modern British society.

Full Article: Princess Sophia Duleep Singh and The Important Role of Indian Women in the Suffragette Movement 

From the Archive: Women’s Liberation and the CPGBCover of Red Flag magazineThis article, using documents from our ‘Gender, Feminism, and the British Left, 1944-1991’ collection, explores the relationship between the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and the women's liberation movement. In the 1970s, the CPGB were facing heavy membership losses due to the emergence of new left-wing social movements that threatened to outflank the CPGB on a number of social issues, one of these movements was the women's liberation movement. The article displays the ways in which the CPGB had to walk the line between their theoretical commitment to progressive feminist principles and their distaste for elements of the women’s liberation movement they saw as frivolous and unruly. 

Full Article: From the Archive: Women’s Liberation and the CPGB  

The Deterioration of Women’s Rights in AfghanistanMap of AfghanistanThis article discusses the previous women's rights movement in Afghanistan, as prior to the 1970s the women's rights movement in Afghanistan appeared to be succeeding; girls’ schools had been established, and women gained the right to vote and work, however this did not last long. This article explores the deterioration of women's rights in Afghanistan after the USSR-backed Saur revolution.

Full Article: The Deterioration of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Women and War: Challenging the Archetype of Passive Women Throughout the TroublesWomen and the Troubles in IrelandAround the world today there are millions of women involved in conflict zones, however traditionally women's role during times of war has been associated with notions of peace, materialism and caregiving. This article challenges this common narrative and argues how women were not just nurses, mothers or the symbols of national unity during times of war. This article, focusing on Irish women's experience of the Troubles in Ireland, explores how Irish women were also active subjects who played influential and notable roles in the violence - on both sides of the border.

Full Article: Women and War: Challenging the Archetype of Passive Women Throughout the Troubles

Authored by Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik is Collections Editor at British Online Archives. Nishah gained a Masters in History from the University of Derby in 2020. Her research interests centre around South Asian culture and heritage, as well as the history and experiences of the South Asian diaspora. She also has a keen interest in women's history.

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The British Online Archives blog is a platform for scholars to present their research to students and the general public. The posts cover a range of historical themes and debates from around the world. The opinions expressed represent those of the authors, not British Online Archives or Microform.

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