In-Tract After all These Years

Cheque found in ‘Mr Mill’s Subjections of Women’, from Joseph Cowen to the London Society for Women’s Suffrage (Cowen Tracts, V.40 n.2)

As students of the Museum and Heritage Studies Masters course at Newcastle University, we recently undertook a 30-day work placement with the Special Collections team at Newcastle University Library. The main focus of this placement was to research and develop a temporary exhibition showcasing some of the archival material held in Special Collections.

This year marks the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which granted some women the right to vote in this country for the very first time, and we decided to take this as our inspiration for the exhibition. Entitled, ‘The North’s Forgotten Female Reformers’, the exhibition celebrates the involvement of Northern women in movements which fought for various causes, including female suffrage, education, homosexual equality and foreign policy.

Researching the exhibition has allowed us to explore a range of archives held in Special Collections but to begin our research, we read some of the printed pamphlets contained in the Cowen (Joseph) Tracts to provide some context and understanding of the attitudes the British public had regarding women’s suffrage and their place in society. Whilst looking for one particular pamphlet entitled, ‘Mr Mill’s Subjection of Women’, we made an interesting and unexpected discovery.  Nestled in the first page of this pamphlet – perhaps to mark the page – was a receipt for a cheque for one guinea made out to the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage (LNSWS) from Joseph Cowen himself.

‘Mr Mill’s Subjection of Women’ (Cowen Tracts, V.40 n.2)

The LNSWS was formed in 1867 and was one of the earliest Suffrage societies. Cowen is remembered as a well-known politician and MP for Newcastle upon Tyne who was interested in the social, educational, economic and political issues of his day. The discovery of his cheque is tangible evidence that he was an active supporter of women’s suffrage.  The discovery of this item in a volume of Tracts adds further significance, as this collection of  tracts was Cowen’s own collection of pamphlets and articles which reflected his personal interest in the social, educational, political and economic issues of the day, including foreign policy, women’s rights, religion, education and public health.

Cowen’s cheque can be seen in the exhibition, ‘The North’s Forgotten Female Reformers’, curated by the two Museum and Gallery Studies students, alongside many other treasures from Newcastle University’s Special Collections and Archives. The exhibition is on show on Level 2 of the Robinson Library from Monday 6th of August.

Written by two Art Gallery, Museum and Heritage Studies Masters students, Katie Cumming and Mariance Spence, whilst undertaking a 6 week placement to create ‘The Norths Forgotten Female Reformers’ exhibition.

Edith Stoney – Unsung hero of the Turbinia story… – July 2018

Letter from Charles Algernon Parsons to George Johnstone Stoney concerning mathematical work undertaken by on the the Stoney’s daughters (GB186/MSA/2/22)

Thank you to the Heaton History Group, whose research into the Stoney family of Heaton solved one of the mysteries in our archive!  A fascinating letter in our Manuscript Album (Letter from Charles Algernon Parsons to George Johnstone Stoney concerning mathematical work undertaken by one of Stoney’s daughters’, GB186/MSA/2/22) was obviously about one of the Stoney sisters, but we didn’t know which one.  Whilst we still can’t be 100% sure, the Heaton History Group have found evidence that one sister, Edith, worked for the Parsons firm whilst living in Heaton in Newcastle, and all evidence points to Edith as our mystery mathematical genius!

You can read the first installment in March 2016’s Treasure of the Month, ‘The Turbinia Steamship and a mystery in the archives…

The following is an extract from the Heaton History Group’s research piece.  A full version, which includes their research about all of the Stoney family, including Edith’s brother George who was also connected to the Turbina story, can be seen here.

The Turbinia

Most people in Newcastle have heard of Sir Charles Parsons, the eminent engineer whose invention of a multi-stage steam turbine revolutionised marine propulsion and electrical power generation, making him world famous in his lifetime and greatly respected still. Parsons’ Heaton factory was a huge local employer for many decades. It survives today as part of the global firm, Siemens.

But, of course, Charles Parsons did not make his huge strides in engineering alone. He was ably supported by a highly skilled workforce, including brilliant engineers and mathematicians, some of whom were much better known in their life times than they are today.

One that certainly deserves to be remembered is Edith Anne Stoney. Edith worked for Parsons only briefly but her contribution was crucial.  This is her story.

Family background

Dr George Johnstone Stoney (1826-1911), Edith’s father, was a prominent Irish physicist, who was born near Birr in County Offaly.  He worked as an astronomy assistant to Charles Parsons’ father, William, at nearby Birr Castle and he later taught Charles Parsons at Trinity College, Dublin. Stoney is best known for introducing the term ‘electron’ as the fundamental unit quantity of electricity. He and his wife, Margaret Sophia, had five children whom they home educated. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Stoney children went on to have illustrious careers. Robert Bindon became a doctor in Australia; Gertrude Rose was an artist;  George Gerald was an Engineer (who also worked on Turbina in his career); and Florence Ada (awarded the OBE in 1919), was the first female radiologist in the UK. But it is Edith Anne whose mathematical genius is shown in the fascinating letter we have here at Newcastle University Special Collections.

Edith Anne Stoney

Edith was born on 6 January 1869 and soon showed herself to be a talented mathematician. She won a scholarship to Newham College Cambridge where, in 1893, she achieved a first in the Part 1 Tripos examination. At that time, and for another 50 years afterwards, women were not awarded degrees at Cambridge so she did not officially graduate but she was later awarded both a BA and MA by Trinity College Dublin.

After graduation, Edith came to Newcastle to work for Charles Parsons. In a letter sent by Charles Parson to Edith’s father, George Johnstone Stoney, in 1903. Parsons pays tribute to:

your daughter’s great and original ability for applied mathematics… The problems she has attacked and solved have been in relation to the special curvature of our mirrors for obtaining beams of light of particular shapes. These investigations involved difficult and intricate original calculations, so much so that I must confess they were quite beyond my powers now and probably would have been also when I was at Cambridge… Your daughter also made calculations in regard to the gyrostatic forces brought onto the bearings of marine steam turbines…

It looks like the sort of reference someone might write for a perspective employer except that, a sign of the times, it doesn’t mention Edith by name and is addressed to her father.

Stoney Edith,_Florence,_Johnstone_Stoney

Edith, Florence and George Johnstone Stoney. Image courtesy of Heaton History Group

After working in Heaton, Edith went on to teach mathematics at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and then lecture in physics at the London School of Medicine for Women in London. There she set up a laboratory and designed the physics course.

In 1901, she and her sister, Florence, opened a new x-ray service at London’s Royal Free Hospital and she became actively involved in the women’s suffrage movement as well becoming the first treasurer of the British Federation of University Women, a post she held from 1909-1915.

During WW1, both sisters offered their service to the French Red Cross to provide a state of the art radiological service to the troops in Europe. In the x-ray facilities at a new 250 bed hospital near Troyes in France, planned and operated by her, she used stereoscopy to localise bullets and shrapnel and pioneered the use of x-rays in the diagnosis of gas gangrene, saving many lives.

She was posted to Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and France again, serving in dangerous war zones for the duration of the war. The hospitals in which she worked were repeatedly shelled and evacuated but she continued to do what she considered to be her duty.  Her war service was recognised by several countries. Among her awards were the French Croix de Guerre and Serbia’s Order of St Sava, as well as British Victory Medals.

After the war, Edith returned to England, where she lectured at King’s College for Women. In her retirement, she resumed work with the British Federation for University Women and in 1936, in memory of her father and sister, she established the Johnstone and Florence Stoney Studentship, which is still administered by the British Federation of Women Graduates to support women to carry out research overseas in biological, geological, meteorological or radiological science.

Edith Anne Stoney died on 25 June 1938, aged 69. Her importance is shown by the obituaries which appeared in ‘The Times’, ‘The Lancet’ and ‘Nature’. She will be remembered for her pioneering work in medical physics, her wartime bravery and her support for women’s causes. Although her time in Newcastle was brief, she deserves also to be remembered for her contribution to the work in Heaton for which Charles Parsons is rightly lauded.

Thank you to Heaton History Group for this piece.

Link to related article: The-turbina-steamship-and-a-mystery-in-the-archives/

Votes for Women: Newcastle’s own Radical Suffragist – February 2018

To mark the centenary this month of the 1918 Representation of the People Act which gave some womens the right to vote for the first time, our Treasure of the Month takes a closer look at Ethel Williams, Newcastle’s own radical suffragist.

Portrait photograph of Ethel Williams (Ethel Williams Archive, EWL/2/4)

Dr Ethel Mary Nucella Williams (1869 – 1948) was Newcastle’s first female doctor, and became the first woman to found a general medical practice in the city as well as co-founding the Northern Women’s Hospital.

Ethel was also a radical suffragist and pacifist. As a suffragist, she served as Secretary of the Newcastle Women’s Liberal Association and became president of the Newcastle and District Women’s Suffrage Society. As a pacifist, she was a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Being a radical suffragist meant that Ethel believed in more peaceful means of campaigning and demonstration but took a broader view than many other suffragists, who tended to be drawn from the middle classes, recognising as she did that the movement needed the support of working class women, and that the issue of the franchise should draw women from all sections of society together with a common identity.

Ethel was one of the first women in the North East of England to own and drive a motor car. We see her here photographed with her car, which was crucial to enable her work in mobilising the women’s suffrage movement in the region.

Photograph of Ethel Williams in her car (Ethel Williams Archive)

Ethel took part in the ‘Mud March’ of 1907 in London, the first large procession organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies Sand so-called due to the terrible weather conditions on the day. Despite the hardship, over 3,000 women from all walks of life took part.

This Ethel Williams Archive in Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections includes letters from her contemporaries, a number of photographs of her throughout her life, and objects connected to her involvement with the campaign for women’s suffrage, including a suffragist banner and a ‘Winged Victory’ statuette bestowed on her in 1918 to commemorate the Representation of the People Act which momentously gave women householders and wives of male householders over thirty the right to vote for the very first time.

Ethel’s suffragist banner is currently undergoing conservation work at The People’s History Museum in Manchester; when it returns to Newcastle later this year, it will be fit to be enjoyed by all as we celebrate this significant centenary year of women achieving the vote.

Ethel Williams’ suffragist marching banner (Ethel Williams Archive, EWL/3/5)

Learn more about the Ethel Williams Archive in Special Collections here.

And read more about Ethel’s suffragist banner here

Suffragette banners on the march!

We recently came across a piece of historic film on the British Film Institute website, showing a Suffragette march through Newcastle in 1909. Clearly on view near the beginning of the film is the banner of the Newcastle Women’s Suffrage Society. A second banner can be seen later in the film.

View the video from the British Film Institute here.

One of these banners may be the one made by Newcastle’s first female GP and suffragist Dr. Ethel Williams in about 1905. These banners were carried on national demonstrations, not only in Newcastle, but also in London.

Ethel William’s suffragette banner (Item reference: GB 186 EWL/3/5) is part of our Ethel Williams Archive, which you can find more information on here.

banner300dpi

Making the Archive Public #3 – Women’s Work: Oral Histories of the Women’s Institute

This is #3 of the ‘Making the Archive Public‘ series, where we are showcasing examples from this project, using the rich archive and rare book collections on offer to researchers in the North East.

Women’s Work: Oral Histories of the Women’s Institute

Visit: http://winortheast.omeka.net/

This website was created by Jess Kadow and Shelby Derbyshire as part of the Making the Archives Public: Digital Skills, Research and Public Engagement project at Newcastle University.

The Women’s Work project is a collaboration organised between Newcastle University, the Northumberland Federation of Women’s Institutes and The Northumberland Archives. The project consisted of recording and archiving the oral histories of the North-Eastern WI community, particularly its oldest members, as a means of preserving the tradition and heritage of the Women’s Institute.

The diversity of each woman’s experience with the WI, the changes they have witnessed, the friendships they have made and the activities they have participated in have given this project a great level of depth. This exhibition hopes to showcase its best elements.

 

Marching On Together: Ethel Williams’ Suffragist Banner – June 2013

Suffragette Marching banner with 'Newcastle on Tyne' across the top and 3 castles in a reddish background
Suffragette Marching banner (Williams (Ethel) Archive, EWL/3/5)

The 8th June 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of the suffragette Emily Davison. A militant suffragette, whose family originated from Longhorsley in Northumberland, Emily infamously ran in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby on 4th June 1913. She was seriously injured and died of her injuries in hospital four days later. It has long been speculated whether Emily was actually trying to kill herself in order to draw attention to the suffragette cause. Analysis of newsreel from the day now suggests that she may have been simply trying to attach a suffragette banner to the horse.

This is Ethel Williams’ suffragist banner. Ethel was the first woman to found a general medical practice in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1906. She was also reportedly the first woman to drive a car in the North of England that same year. She attended the London School of Medicine for Women and graduated in 1891, but had to gain her hospital experience abroad in Paris and Vienna due to male prejudice against women training in British hospitals. Such obstacles and her belief in the need to supplement medical care with social reform led to her active involvement in the suffrage movement.

Ethel was an active member of the National Union of Woman’s Suffrage Societies (also known as the NUWSS or the Suffragists). Unlike the Suffragettes, the Suffragists aimed to achieve women’s suffrage using lawful and peaceful methods. Ethel took part in the ‘Mud March’ of 1907 in London, the first large procession organised by the NUWSS, so-called due to the terrible weather conditions on the day. Despite this, over 3,000 women from all walks of life took part. There is a good chance that she may have used this banner during the march as women from across the country brought banners to show which area they represented. Red and white were the official colours of the NUWSS and both colours can been seen in the banner. She was also often seen in suffrage processions along Northumberland Street in Newcastle. During World War One she formed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

She co-founded the Northern Women’s Hospital in 1917 and, when she retired in 1924, she left her practice to another female doctor, Dr Mona MacNaughton. By this time there were 14 female doctors practicing in Newcastle. Ethel died in 1948 and Ethel Williams’ Halls of Residence were opened in her memory in 1950 at Newcastle University.