House Of Lords Trip For Queen Anne's Head Girls

Tuesday 18th March 2014

On Wednesday 4 March, Queen Anne’s Head Girls Nilofar Samedi and Saskia Hamilton-Bowker along with Mrs McGrenary, Teacher of Geography and Careers Advisor, visited The House of Lords for an evening conference entitled “Forgotten Realities: Women and the First World War”.

Mrs McGrenary shares with us a review of the evening below.

Forgotten Realities: Women and the First World War

Having arrived early and battled our way through security into Parliament, we spent time exploring Westminster Hall, St Stephen’s Hall, and the Central Lobby, the hub of Parliament between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. A kind visitor assistant was able to arrange for us to visit the ‘Strangers Gallery’, the public gallery in the House of Lords where we listened to a debate on Immigration before finding our way to Committee Room 3.

We were very privileged to be invited to hear the range of speakers as the room was full of eminent people from many walks of life such as historians, activists, academics, senior military, one of the first women cardiologist, women’s rights campaigners, journalists, media personalities and Baronesses including Baroness Shirley Williams.

We met with Lesley Abdela, MBE, who is a British expert on women’s rights and representation, and we were then introduced to the speakers:

The programme for the evening included:

  • 6.30pm   Welcome: Baroness Fookes DBE DL
  • 6.35pm   Introduction: Lesley Abdela
  • 6.40pm   Resolute Effort and Self-Sacrifice: Sarah Paterson
  • 7.05pm   The Feminine Perspective: Hilary Roberts
  • 7.30pm  Battling on the Home Front: Judith Rowbotham and Jen Doyle
  • 7.50pm   Commentary: Lesley Abdela
  • 8.00pm   Plenary Discussion Chair: Baroness Fookes with Sarah Paterson, Hilary Roberts and Judith Rowbotham, Lesley Abdela.

The evening was a fantastic experience. The speakers were all great experts in their fields and were both entertaining and informative:

  • Sarah Paterson spoke about the artefacts that the Imperial War Museum have collected depicting record women in World War One. She acknowledged that, although women played a very important role especially after conscription, they were often forgotten. Many in fact went on to continue their work in World War Two. In 1917, The Women’s World Commission started to collect information and material.
  • Hilary Roberts was very interesting as she talked about how war photography in WW1 was a watershed as people at home could see what was happening. However, at the start of World War One, women did not have access to the battlefields to take photographs. Belgium led the way in opening up photography to women as they gave women the opportunity to access the battlefields whereas France and Britain did not. Some nurses took their cameras to the front line and were the first photographers. A women’s eye (feminine perspective) was very different from the gritty images from some of the men which were more documentary in nature. Women also photographed the dead of their own side showing the conditions at the front and keeping valuable records.
  • Battling on the Home Front by Judith Rowbotham and Jen Doyle was fascinating as we found out how important women were ‘ holding the fort at home!’ They were encouraged to tell their men to go to war. It was also continually reinforced by the government that women had a duty to continue while the men were at war by keeping themselves pretty, well-dressed, limiting rations as well as working in all the jobs that suddenly became open to them. Women were very good at committees and it was unsurprising that many of them came forward. By knitting and cooking for the troops, it was seen as being patriotic and at the same time saving the government money. Although it was important to look good, it was also important to dress appropriately as dressing extravagantly was considered bad form and unpatriotic. Women were also urged not to dwell on depression but to keep their chins up and a smile on their face! Then there was food… It was essential that women practised economy in the kitchen. Unfortunately, economic cooking usually consisted of bland food. It was unpatriotic for example to waste stale bread and women were urged to use it as stuffing in crumbles or even as a bread/jam spam! The Ministry of Defence produced the same posters but for different audiences – a working class woman in her kitchen and a middle class woman in her kitchen, showing that despite everything during the First World War, there was still a class divide. To be patriotic housewives had to fight in the kitchen on the home front, contribute to the war effort in the factories and look good when their men came home!!!
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Head Girls Saskia Hamilton-Bowker and Nilofar Samadi