31st August – 1st September 2018, University of Portsmouth
This summer the University of Portsmouth hosted the 27th annual Women’s History Network Conference. I was delighted to be invited to help organise the conference, alongside my University of Portsmouth colleagues Laurel Forster (Senior Lecturer, Media Studies) and June Purvis (Emeritus Professor of Women’s and Gender History and outgoing Chair of the Women’s History Network).
As 2018 is the centenary year of some women gaining the vote in Britain, the theme of the conference was national and international perspectives on the campaign for women’s suffrage. Around 120 delegates attended from around the UK and further afield, including research students, academics and independent scholars from across Europe, North America, Africa, Australia and Japan. The event was a snapshot of the wide variety of current work on women’s suffrage history, with perspectives from researchers working in the fields of legal, political and gender history, as well as the arts and media. The diverse programme of papers covered a broad range of approaches, including overviews of different aspects of suffrage campaigns, their relationships to other women’s rights activism, and biographical studies of individual women and men involved in both suffrage and anti-suffrage campaigns.
The three keynote lectures were opportunities for more in-depth consideration of aspects of the topic. On the first day, Elizabeth Crawford’s talk on Millicent Garrett Fawcett and June Purvis’s on Emmeline Pankhurst together provided a valuable overview of the two women at the heart of the constitutional and militant campaigns for suffrage in Britain. The following day, Sumita Mukherjee’s fascinating keynote on Indian suffrage campaigners and international suffrage networks in the interwar period demonstrated the importance of international and cross-cultural perspectives on the topic of suffrage.
In addition to the papers and keynotes, the conference was a great opportunity to network with other researchers in the field. It was inspiring to listen to people talking with such enthusiasm about their research and taking a keen interest in the work of others. It was also a pleasure to socialise with other delegates at the Friday evening wine reception. There we were entertained by the talented songwriter, storyteller and musician Louise Jordan, who shared some of her folk songs on the subject of women’s suffrage and encouraged everyone to sing along. Our singing skills were called upon again on Saturday lunchtime, when June Purvis led all the delegates in a cheerful rendition of the suffrage anthem ‘The March of the Women’.
The Women’s History Network is a great organisation, encouraging research and interest in all aspects of women’s history, and that supportive, friendly spirit was evident throughout the conference. At the end of the two days I had added a great deal to my knowledge of women’s suffrage campaigns; I also hope to keep in touch with some of the many inspiring people I met during the conference.