Women’s Studies Group: 1558-1837 Speaker Session – Foundling Museum, 30 March 2019

Women’s Studies Group: 1558-1837 (London) 2018-1 SPEAKER SESSIONS
All meetings on Saturdays at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ.
Sessions will run from 1.00-4.00 pm. So please arrive a little early if you can. Tea and coffee will be available on the day, so please come along.

Mary Chadwick: “Thy work appears unnotic’d or unknown”: Elizabeth Harcourt (1746-1826)

In 2008 the Bodleian Library acquired the archive of the Harcourt family of Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire. Amongst the estate papers are over 100 manuscript poems written by Elizabeth Harcourt, nee Vernon, (1746-1826), wife of the 2nd Earl and Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte. Carly Watson has produced a valuable overview of the hundreds of commonplaced and original poems in the archive (2010) and has researched Elizabeth Harcourt’s authorship of private theatricals (2011) but these remain the only scholarly works produced since the Harcourt papers entered the public domain. An anonymous poet of Harcourt’s acquaintance described her charitable work as “unnotic’d or unknown”, a description which is, today, intensely applicable to her poetry, thanks to her gender, her preference for scribal rather than print publication, and the relative inaccessibility of the Harcourt archive.
In this paper I draw on Harcourt’s poems as I argue that she deserves to be both noticed and better known amongst scholars of literature and history in general, and women’s literary history in particular. She experimented with a range of genres and topics, including verse epistles, autobiography, advice texts addressed to friends and her future self, antiquarian-inflected “Cambria” poetry and, demonstrating the continuation of this genre beyond the early eighteenth century, country house or estate poetry. I demonstrate that close readings of her poems extend our understanding of issues which shaped and were shaped by the literary, cultural and geo-political events of the eighteenth century, including the nature of manuscript authorship, especially for women, in an era of print; experiences of aging; and relations between England, Wales, Ireland and France.

Caitlin Kitchener: ‘The Mania of Amending the Constitution’: Female Reformers in 1819
During 1819, numerous female reform societies were founded across the north of England and in Glasgow. These were lively and active groups of women who aimed to contribute to the political reform movement, with the Peterloo Massacre spurring them on further again. They did not escape conservative criticism, being deemed “women well known to be the most abandoned of their sex” and questioned, “Might not women be better employed?” Using an historical archaeological perspective, this paper will discuss how female reformers performed their gender, crafted material culture, and utilised ritual within radical meetings and landscapes. Through using a queer reading, female reformers’ gender is analysed as being a form of female masculinity. Particular attention will be paid to the first society founded, the Blackburn Female Reform Society. The analysis also demonstrates the capabilities of using multiple strands of evidence (material, documentary, visual) to understand lived experiences and landscapes.

Valeria Viola : ‘…they would overcome men by far’: Maria Anna Alliata and her agonal Spaces in eighteenth-century Palermo

What happened to the early-modern mechanisms of teamwork (Ago, 1992) if members of a same aristocratic family did not agree on their roles and spaces? What if women openly opposed the gendered organisation that placed them in the domestic realm? What if they competed for distinction in the agonal space of politics as equals to men (Benhabib, 1992; Honig, 1992)?
In eighteenth-century Palermo a long dispute between Domenico Alliata and his mother Maria Anna arose whilst the palace underwent its greatest renovation. While guiding de facto the renovation works of her palace (1751–1758) apparently on behalf of her son, Maria Anna patronized an apology (1737) arguing the superiority of women over men and influenced the writing of a history of the Alliata family (1760). The cross-examination of documents and works permitted investigation of the meaning that Maria Anna gave to her participation in the renovation, how she used culture to challenge the constraints of the environment in which she lived, and how culture acted on her for a continuous negotiation of spaces.

Peter Radford: Women as Team Players in the Long Eighteenth Century
Women and girls have played team running and ball games for centuries, for diversion and entertainment: fun and frolic for the enjoyment of the moment. In the first half of the 18th century they began playing representative matches too, often at cricket; one town, village or hamlet against another, or one part of a community against another (single v. married), or a combination of the two. In these representative matches the result matters to more people than those playing; scores were kept, crowds went to watch, and reports of them were read in newspapers all over the country. For inter-community matches teams could travel considerable distances, but the intra-community matches were local and were usually followed by the whole community getting together afterwards with the losers paying for the party. In these matches we glimpse winning players urging each other on as a jockey would his horse, and of others holding on to their “hearts of oak” strength in defeat. Team members ranged from 14 to 60 years of age, and being selected for a representative team conferred considerable social status on the players. We see the bowlers on a victorious cricket team being “placed in a sort of triumphal car, preceded by music and flying streamers”, and winning teams becoming so confident that they challenged any in the whole county, or even the whole country. In 1756, two players, Sarah Chase and Mary Coote, were described as “the two most famous Women in the Kingdom.” Noble ladies encouraged women’s teams, as their husbands encouraged men’s, and in 1777 Ladies of Quality, joined in the play. Before attempting to draw conclusions, all the known women’s matches (1740-1840) are considered. The language used in the mid-18th century to report their matches is indistinguishable from that used to report the men’s; later comments continue to be positive but with some surprise expressed at how good they were, or even that they played at all; but by the 1830s the mood of the reports has changed and is often negative, patronising, or even insulting.

Chair: Angela Escott
Assistant Chair: Miriam al Jamil

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