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Women's History Review

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Challenging Masculinism: personal

history and microhistory in feminist
studies of the women's suffrage
Sandra Stanley Holton
Published online: 22 Nov 2011.

To cite this article: Sandra Stanley Holton (2011) Challenging Masculinism: personal history and
microhistory in feminist studies of the women's suffrage movement, Women's History Review, 20:5,
829-841, DOI: 10.1080/09612025.2011.622533

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Women’s History Review
Vol. 20, No. 5, November 2011, pp. 829– 841

Challenging Masculinism: personal

history and microhistory in feminist
studies of the women’s suffrage
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Sandra Stanley Holton

This article begins by discussing ‘masculinism’ in the field of history in terms of gender
blindness. It then looks at a more particular usage of the term, as a resort to the ridi-
culing and demeaning of women historical actors, not least in some influential treat-
ments of the twentieth-century campaigns in Britain for women’s suffrage. It argues
that masculinist history rests upon the use of stereotypes of women that, when they do
not mock, either marginalise or altogether refuse them a place in the larger narratives
of community, state and nation. It then looks at the adoption of various forms of ‘per-
sonal history’ in much of the ‘new women’s history’, including feminist histories of the
women’s suffrage movement, forms which generally rely on private papers: letters,
diaries, memoirs and other life-writing. Finally, it looks at the practice of ‘microhis-
tory’ and suggests that the value of such forms and methods lies especially in their
capacity to challenge the stereotypes on which masculinism rests, through a focus
on the particular that aids recognition of the varieties and differences to be found
among women within their shared subordination as a sex.

Since publication of her Suffrage Days: stories from the women’s suffrage movement (Routledge, 1996),
Sandra Holton’s work has focused on the study of women members of the Religious Society of
Friends (commonly known as ‘Quakers’) from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth
century. Here again she has adopted the approach of microhistory, to produce accounts centred
on the Priestman –Bright kinship circle of women Friends, and the archive created from their life
writings. This research has appeared in a number of journal articles and book chapters, and in
her book, Quaker Women: personal life, memory and radicalism in the lives of women Friends,
1800– 1920 (Routledge, 2007). Correspondence to: Sandra Stanley Holton, c/o June Purvis, The
Editor, Women’s History Review, School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies, University of Ports-
mouth, Portsmouth PO1 3AS, UK. Email:

ISSN 0961-2025 (print)/ISSN 1747-583X (online)/11/050829– 13 # 2011 Taylor & Francis
830 S. Stanley Holton

‘Masculinism’ in the writing of history refers generally to the gender-blindness

that may characterise the work of historians (often male), within both popular
history and history as an academic discipline.1 Such masculinism arises from
various approaches: the presence of women may simply be overlooked in mascu-
linist accounts of events or explorations of change and continuity; or such
accounts may think it adequate to subsume the history of women under that of
men; or, at the most extreme, they may deny altogether the possibility of
women having a distinct history as a sex. The following discussion will first
explore how gender blindness may operate even where women are included in
an account of a historical process or of a social interaction between the sexes. It
then argues that some of the most influential twentieth-century accounts of the
women’s suffrage movement may also be characterised as masculinist. Though
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the nature of the subject makes gender blindness impossible in any straightforward
sense—no credible account of this movement could ignore the presence of women
or the meanings attaching to the vote for women suffragists altogether—masculi-
nist histories have sought to denigrate this movement through the deployment of
female stereotypes and the misogyny that is often built into them.
Two examples of masculinism as more than simple gender blindness must
suffice here to illustrate its nature and consequences. They are taken from the
work of two leading practitioners not known for conservative or backward-
looking attitudes, and chosen from social history, a field generally occupied by
those of radical or at least progressive leanings: F. M. L. Thompson (1988), The
Rise of Respectable Society, and E. P. Thompson (1963), The Making of the
English Working Class.2 F. M. L. Thompson’s highly accomplished social history
of Victorian Britain provides a considered and generally sympathetic discussion
of the position of women, in marked contrast to many other historical surveys
for this period. But his account of prostitution is largely to be found in the
chapter entitled ‘Play’, and is nowhere discussed in the chapter entitled ‘Work’:
this even though Thompson acknowledges that class as well as sexual exploitation
shaped the Victorian sex trade, and though he elsewhere several times discusses
women’s employment.3 An account of Victorian prostitution cannot, by the
very nature of the subject, be blind to the presence of women, but it may nonethe-
less be ‘masculinist’ in its perspective, as is Thompson’s here, for he clearly treats
the topic from the perspective of men who bought the sexual services of women—
unless he means to suggests that women engaged in this trade for exactly the same
reasons as their male customers, a position that runs counter to the weight of the
historical evidence. To say that his account is ‘masculinist’ is not to say that it has
no truth or is entirely inaccurate or is capable only of being written by a man; but
it is to say that such an account ignores the meaning of prostitution for many of
the women engaged in the sex trade at this time, for whom it was an economic
activity driven by destitution and the need to make a living.
Feminist historians, by contrast, have presented findings that, while they do not
always perfectly accord with each other, provide a quite different perspective.4
They draw much of their evidence from the testimony of prostitutes themselves,
and those who sought to protect their civil rights, evidence showing that while
Women’s History Review 831

some Victorian prostitutes may have regarded their work as a means to having a
good time, most were driven to sexual labour by underemployment and poverty.
Victorian prostitution may only be analysed as a form of recreation if such evi-
dence is disregarded or discredited. So, as this comparison suggests, even when
the presence of women cannot be denied within a narrative, their testimony
may simply be set aside.
Equally, E. P. Thompson remains a powerful influence in British social history,
with his The Making of the English Working Class long ago achieving canonical
standing among radical historians. His work remains important to feminist scho-
lars for its approach to the question of class formation, but also for its absences
and silences. As Joan Scott has argued, ‘the male designation of general concepts
is literalized in the persons of the political actors’, in an account ‘crowded with
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scenes of men busily working, meeting, writing, talking, marching, breaking

machines, going to prison, bravely standing up to police, magistrates, and
prime ministers’. As a consequence, the creation of the working class is constructed
in terms of a masculine identity, even where women are included among the pol-
itical actors. For, once more, women are not absent from this account; it is rather
that ‘the organisation of the story and the master codes that structure the narrative
are gendered’, and in ways that render women marginal to that story.5 Here again is
an example of gender blindness that may include women within a historical
account without interrogating the meaning of their presence.
It is also the case that E. P. Thompson entirely leaves out of his account women
domestic servants, despite their ubiquity in the period under consideration. Caro-
line Steedman has recently sought to remedy that omission through an explora-
tion of the meaning of domestic service in her Master and Servant. By focusing
on the relationship between a particular domestic servant and her employer,
Steedman examines the nature of domestic service in terms of the conjunction
around it of religious values, changing understandings of the human subject,
employment practices, administration of the Poor Law, fiscal policy and labour
law. In so doing she offers a radically new account of the conditions for the cre-
ation of the working class in which working women play their own part.6
These examples suggest that masculinism as gender blindness may occur even
in narratives that include the presence of women. So it should come as no sur-
prise to find that it has informed some influential studies of the women’s suffrage
movement—though here again is a field in which gender blindness clearly cannot
occur in any straightforward way. A more particular meaning of masculinism is
suggested in an influential article by Marilyn Lake on Australian historiography,
one giving the term an additional resonance that is useful also when thinking
about the historiography of the women’s suffrage movement in Britain.
Marilyn Lake’s focus is the ‘masculinist cultural practices’ that created the
figure of the lone, nomadic, freewheeling bushman as cultural hero and Austra-
lian-nationalist icon in ‘the men’s press’, most notably The Bulletin.7 This journal
has long been a major source for the history of nation-building in Australia, a
narrative in which, until very recently, women were allowed only a severely
restricted place.8 Lake argues that this model of masculinity became the focus
832 S. Stanley Holton

of a sex war in which an alternative was promoted, that of the responsible,

married, male breadwinner, by women temperance advocates and suffragists.
She shows how journals such as The Bulletin resisted this alternative model of
masculinity through representations of women that deployed a range of misogy-
nist stereotypes: the dried-up spinster, the hysterical man-hater, the frigid
wowser, all bent on the emasculation of men.
Historians of the suffrage movement in Britain are not short of similar material:
in the tabloid press of the day; in magazines like Punch; in the Hansard record of
debates in parliament; and in old but still influential work by male historians
which demeans leading figures in the suffrage movement by means of ridicule.
So, this more particular usage of ‘masculinism’ helps name a powerful current
in the historiography of this field, one in which clearly misogynist attitudes are
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to be detected.9 In this context, masculinist attitudes are evident in accounts

that range from lofty denial of women’s capacity for reasoning, political debate
and any adequate understanding of affairs beyond the purely domestic, to scurri-
lous innuendo, clubroom chatter and music-hall and pantomime representations
of women. Such forms of masculinism rest upon a more active resort to sexual
stereotyping than those characterised by gender blindness. They work by allowing
women to take centre stage, but only by infantilising them or giving them roles
drawn from farce, the comic postcard and the clinic. They rely, too, of course,
on an enormous degree of generalisation.
When I first began my doctoral research in the early 1970s there were only a few
sympathetic accounts among recently published histories of the women’s suffrage
movement.10 George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England (first
published in 1935, but reprinted many times since) remained one of the most
influential works then in print, brilliantly written and argued but damning in
its mockery of the ‘militant’ suffragists for whom the term ‘suffragette’ had orig-
inally been coined. It was common then (as it still is) to refer to all twentieth-
century suffragists in Britain as ‘suffragettes’. The term was newly coined by a
tabloid journalist at the time and incorporated a patronising and demeaning
diminutive. Even so, it was taken up by militants as a way of distinguishing them-
selves from the larger movement. Yet suffragist militancy took many forms, and a
commitment to its most extreme expression was at one end of a spectrum of strat-
egies and tactics that ranged from civil disobedience to arson and bombing. More-
over, these extreme forms were contested, where they were not rejected outright,
by the majority of suffragists at this time, in the militant as well as the constitu-
tionalist societies. Dangerfield chose to focus on the 1910– 14 period, when
extreme forms of militancy were adopted, and then by just a few, and sought to
explain such tactics in terms of a more general social, psychological and sexual
pathology, part of a trinity of revolt (the other currents being Syndicalism and
Irish Unionism) that undid ‘Liberal England’. By such means he presented
women suffragists and their supporters as fundamentally irrational, exhibitionist
and violent, with suggestions too of sexual deviancy.11 A similar stance was
adopted by David Mitchell in a series of books focused on Emmeline Pankhurst,
founder of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, and
Women’s History Review 833

her daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela.12 Andrew Rosen was to publish a
more thoughtful account of the WSPU in his Rise Up Women, though even he con-
cludes that suffrage militancy was but a form of millenarianism, once again casting
it as irrational and beyond the norms of radical political debate.13
Some socialist and Marxist historians have been dismissive of the suffrage
movement in a different way, characterising it as essentially ‘bourgeois’ in terms
both of its demand (equal votes with men, at a time when a third of men in
Britain remained excluded from a suffrage based on property qualifications),
and in the domination of its leadership by middle-class women. In such accounts
the suffrage movement is seen as having threatened the class solidarity of the
socialist and labour movements in its efforts to recruit working-class women to
its ranks. So a leading organiser for the WSPU, the former mill worker, Annie
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Kenney, is characterised as little more than a mascot by R. S. Neale.14 Such a per-

spective serves to deny the particular historical situation of women of all classes in
their civil disabilities as a sex, or at the very least subsumes such disabilities under
those of men. It also runs counter to the first-hand account by the socialist and
militant, Sylvia Pankhurst, in her The Suffragette Movement, perhaps the other
most influential history alongside that of Dangerfield.15 While also dismissing
most of the nineteenth-century campaigns and twentieth-century constitutional
suffragism as unworthy of any detailed attention, Sylvia Pankhurst’s account none-
theless provides a much more complex picture of the nature of militancy, and of
the relationship between suffragism and the labour and socialist movements and
between middle-class and working-class suffragists. It also pays attention to the
tensions among militants: between advocates of civil disobedience and passive
resistance and those who supported the use of physical violence; and between
those who wished to work with the labour and socialist movements and those
who rejected any such cooperation.
Both militant and constitutional suffragists borrowed their political practices,
tactics and strategies from a range of earlier and contemporaneous radical
protest movements, including Chartism, Corn Law repeal, Contagious Diseases
repeal, Irish Home Rule and the labour and trade union movements, in which vio-
lence might play a part but which was by no means the norm.16 Moreover, those
who had earlier resorted to violence to secure the franchise for middle and
working class men have generally been seen, at the very least, as the bearers of pro-
gress or the courageous vanguard of their class, in contrast to the denigration to be
found in socialist –masculinist accounts of the women’s suffrage movements. Such
inconsistency was noted by suffragists at the time, for example, by the militant and
socialist, Mary Gawthorpe, in her historical account of the struggle for a demo-
cratic franchise.17 Contemporaneously, masculinism also found expression in
the mockery of male supporters of the vote for women in the popular press,
especially those men associated with the militant organisations. Such ridicule
might suggest effeminacy or mental imbalance, or fall back upon racist
The feminist scholarship that appeared from the 1970s began to challenge the
masculinism of conventional academic history, noting, for example, its
834 S. Stanley Holton

‘phallocentric’ character, or questioning the applicability of some existing period-

isation for the history of women.19 But in turning its back on conventional ‘male-
stream’ history, the ‘new women’s history’ might also at times serve to marginalise
women’s political movements for equal rights, choosing instead to celebrate sep-
arate ‘women’s worlds’.20 Suffragist history might appear from such a perspective
as necessarily an irrelevance to, or a diversion from, the project of the new
women’s history because suffragists themselves were taken to be atypical and
thus unable to represent the generality of their sex. Yet there was enough published
testimony from suffragists, both middle class and working class, who counted
themselves ‘ordinary’ women, and who had been drawn into the movement by
the difficulties they encountered in their everyday lives (rather than simply by
abstract ideas of justice and equality), to throw such assumptions into question.21
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Feminist historians of women’s suffrage in Britain face, then, a double task if

they are to challenge the masculinist perspectives that have created the image of
the twentieth-century suffragette as abnormal among her sex, simultaneously hys-
terical and mannish, weak in her political understanding and exhibitionist in her
search for the public spotlight. Firstly, they have to demonstrate the wider mean-
ings attaching to the suffrage demand by the early years of the twentieth century,
meanings evident, for example, in the movement’s capacity to create an increas-
ingly diverse social and political base for the demand, together with a more
complex range of political strategies, than previously. Secondly, they have to chal-
lenge notions of suffragists as altogether deviant among their sex, quite different
from and therefore entirely unrepresentative of, the generality of women. Such
approaches promise the capacity also for the better integration of suffrage
history within the new women’s history, and within social history more generally.
Feminist studies of the suffrage movement have in consequence sought to move
beyond historical ‘recovery’ of their subjects, and to establish far more complex
narratives than those that existed up to the 1970s. These new narratives acknowl-
edge the great political, social and ideological variety that existed among suppor-
ters of the vote, and the diverse understandings of the citizenship of women that
informed the demand. Jill Liddington and Jill Norris, for example, explored in
their path-breaking study the organisation of working-class suffragists among
the women textile workers of the north-west region. Similarly, Leslie Parker
Hume and I have undertaken studies of the previously neglected constitutionalist
organisation, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, formed in 1897
from the various nineteenth-century societies that had remained active through
a period when imperial adventures had largely displaced domestic reform from
the parliamentary agenda, and caused divisions among supporters of women’s
These three examples all take the form of organisational histories, following the
model, at least in the work of Liddington and Norris and myself, of a long-estab-
lished form for labour and socialist history. Subsequently, however, several new
studies of the women’s movement have shifted to what has been termed by Joan
Thirsk ‘personal history’, that is, history focused upon particular individuals.23
Noting a more general preference among women historians for personal history,
Women’s History Review 835

Joan Thirsk suggests that it may reflect the perspectives they bring from their own
gendered being. At the same time, she notes the ‘androcentric’ nature of much aca-
demic history and also suggests that the possession of such different perspectives
has meant that women have often been able to bring innovatory approaches to the
research and writing of history, pioneering, for example, the history of the family,
and of manners and morals. Such an argument is not necessarily essentialist: it
does not mean that men cannot ‘do’ women’s history, or that women cannot use-
fully contribute to larger historical studies, academic or popular. Rather, it
suggests that the gender, as well as the place in time, the cultural and social
context, and the capacity for, or lack of, reflexivity, will influence how the histor-
ian, male or female, is likely to choose their topics of research, practise their dis-
cipline, and interpret the evidence. This notion of ‘personal history’, while holding
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to the ‘science’ of history in terms of a respect for academic knowledge, methods,

sources and use of evidence, is less concerned with notions of ‘objectivity’. It is
more ready to acknowledge what Carolyn Steedman has termed ‘historical trans-
ference (and projection)’ on the part of historians who find themselves in sympa-
thy with the subjects of their work through the very body of knowledge they bring
to their task.24
So it should not then be surprising that a number of recent feminist accounts of
the suffrage movement have taken the form of personal history, based on the lives
of individuals, collections of case studies, or prosopography, the historical analysis
of sets of individuals.25 The methodological issues that surround the use of biogra-
phy and autobiography in history writing have been much discussed among
leading feminist historians and sociologists.26 Such research is often based upon
private memoirs, diaries and letters, sources of a very different nature to the
annual reports, minute books, pamphlets, journals and newspaper coverage on
which organisational and institutional histories are generally based, and ones
that raise their own set of methodological and epistemological issues.27
The turn to personal history has made possible the construction of fresh narra-
tives of the suffrage movement, for example, in Liz Stanley and Ann Morley’s
account of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragist who in 1913 died after protesting
the imprisonment of Emmeline Pankhurst by running in front of the King’s horse
at the Derby. The writing of such an account is all the more impressive because
Emily Wilding Davison left no substantial personal archive of diaries, letters, or
other life-writing. Instead, this study reconstructs the little-documented life of a
briefly celebrated militant by establishing some of her friendship networks, that
are then considered alongside the few pieces of personal testimony that she left
behind. By such means this personal history serves to refine our understanding
of militancy by establishing the existence of a band of ‘irregulars’ or ‘free
lancers’ among the rank-and-file supporters of the WSPU whose actions were
not driven by orders from above, and who understood their campaigning for
the vote in terms of the enactment of the larger ethical values and political objec-
tives that they shared.28
When I began to think about my second book on the suffrage movement in 1990,
I decided it should take the form of a collective biography. My main aim was to
836 S. Stanley Holton

create a fresh narrative to counter generalised images of the suffragist/suffragette.

To this end I explored the careers of some lesser-known individuals within the
movement in order to establish the wide range of meanings that any one suffragist
might attach to the vote. I also aimed to demonstrate the complex cross-currents
within the movement that could not be satisfactorily explored simply by adopting
the labels of ‘bourgeois’, ‘working class’, ‘liberal’, ‘radical’, ‘socialist’ or ‘conservative’,
or by a resort to the supposedly simple militant/constitutionalist dichotomy. In
choosing this form I was not only following the example of others writing in this
field, but also reflecting influences from my teaching in American Studies, and
my reading in British, French and Italian history.
My most immediate model was a textbook on American women’s history,
Nancy Woloch’s Women in the American Experience, which proceeds by providing
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a brief biography of one woman, followed by a discussion of some larger themes

relevant to that life.29 I found I had to abandon that exact model, however, for I
wanted also to construct a continuous narrative, one spanning both the nine-
teenth-century and twentieth-century phases of the movement. By such means I
sought to challenge masculinist accounts of militancy, not least by establishing
its origins in earlier phases of radical politics, including the women’s movement,
in Britain, as well as the various forms in which it was expressed. I also wanted to
explore some of the other continuities and discontinuities between these two
phases, so as to bridge the separate academic literatures that were increasingly
addressed to only one of these phases.30 I sought to create a narrative that demon-
strated the complex cross-currents within the suffrage movement. So I selected a
‘cast’ of individuals whose stories made it possible to move the narrative along
chronologically from the 1850s to the interwar period in the twentieth century,
but also to focus on particular issues raised by that narrative. Yet another aim
was to demonstrate how suffragists, in their own life-writing, had explored the
links they saw between their ‘ordinary lives’ and their careers as radical activists.
By such means I sought to demonstrate the inadequacy of masculinist accounts
that ignored the complexity and variety to be found among women suffragists.31
In this I was influenced by my reading of what was coming to be termed ‘micro-
history’, most notably in the work of Carlo Ginzburg, but evident also, for
example, in that of Natalie Zemon Davis and, latterly, of Eamon Duffy and
Carolyn Steedman.32
The growth of the Bologna school of microhistory since the 1970s reflects in
part a rejection of the preoccupation of much academic history with quantifi-
cation and deeper processes of structural change, preoccupations that produced
what Ginzburg has called ‘dead history’.33 Its manifesto adopts a quote from
Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, to his sidekick, Dr
Watson: ‘Never trust the general impression, my boy, but concentrate yourself
upon the details’. His method, Holmes explained, was ‘founded upon the obser-
vation of trifles’.34 Microhistory offers, then, an alternative to conventional histori-
cal method, largely based as it most often is upon ‘the massive accumulation of
repetitive evidence’.35 It aims instead to test the generalisations and abstractions
that have shaped much historical research by a reduction in focus to a single
Women’s History Review 837

community, family or individual, and to replace what Natalie Zemon Davis has
called ‘the cliometric preoccupation with numbers rather than persons’, and the
adoption among historians of sociological abstractions that may serve to restrict
their search for, and analysis of, historical evidence.36 Instead, microhistory has
been influenced by works of ethology, anthropology and ethnography, which
focus as much on the ways individuals may construct, manipulate and adapt
their social worlds, as on the structures within which they may do so. A focus
on the particular is central to its methodology, one that has been defended, for
example, by the palaeontologist, Stephen Jay Gould. He argues that the ‘close
observation of individual differences can be as powerful a method in science as
the quantification of predictable behaviour in a zillion identical atoms’. He also
insists that the study of individuality is what ‘the sciences of history are all
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about’ because ‘individuality matters so crucially’.37

I would argue that ‘personal history’ may serve as a form of microhistory in
terms of its aims, methods and use of sources, and that as such it is distinct
from biography. Carolyn Steedman makes a similar point in Master and
Servant, explaining that in her focus on a particular domestic servant and the
household of her clergyman master, her intent is not biographical. Instead her
interest is with a set of events involving that household, the behaviour of its
members around those events, and the cultural and legal factors forming the
meanings of those events.38 The focus of microhistory is, then, social relationships
and interactions among people who actually existed; the particular significance of
specific events in individual lives; and the cultural meanings attaching to such
relationships and events. Tracing the names of particular persons formerly
excluded from the larger narratives of mainstream academic history is central to
this method. As such, the approach of microhistory has a special value to those
who seek to write history ‘from below’, including women’s history and subaltern
history. For these reasons, too, it may be especially helpful when attempting to
counter masculinism, especially that form of it that deploys the ridicule of
women, the misogynist stereotypes on which it is based, and the generalisations
contained within such stereotypes.
Since the latter years of the twentieth century, feminist historians of women’s
suffrage in Britain have undertaken a fresh evaluation of their field, one that
has looked back at the work of the previous few decades and the effort to revise
existing historical understandings, and forward to the tasks and challenges that
still lie ahead.39 I came to see of the value of Marilyn Lake’s more particular
usage of masculinism when preparing a paper that was to open a conference
taking stock of recent suffrage history.40 There I sought to show how masculinist
histories frequently choose their material from masculinist sources, and downplay,
marginalise, ridicule and denigrate the contribution of women to processes of
social change. Such material itself reflects the gendered ordering of culture and
society, an ordering reflected not least in the academic discipline of history as it
has formed itself over the past century and a half. Such ridiculing of women
rests upon the mobilisation of misogynist stereotypes, and the task of challenging
838 S. Stanley Holton

masculinist versions of history necessarily requires the dismantling of such

I have found, too, that the identification of stereotypes offers a valuable starting
point in introducing a new topic in the teaching of history, alongside the testing of
those stereotypes against the evidence relating to particular persons relevant to the
discussion of that topic. For a concern with the particular may, by its very nature,
provide a corrective to generalisation and stereotyping. It is for this reason that
microhistory in the form of personal history offers such a powerful means for
countering masculinism, the gender blindness and gender stereotyping on
which it rests, and the instances of sexual ridicule and misogyny to which it
may at times resort.
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[1] On masculinism in history and those who have challenged it in recent decades, see
Mary Spongberg (2002) Writing Women’s History since the Renaissance (Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan). John Burrow (2007) A History of Histories: epics, chronicles,
romances and inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the twentieth century
(London: Penguin), p. 465, acknowledges, if obliquely, the gendered character of
academic history: ‘the smell of pipe smoke still clung to it in the 1950s. Its prejudices
were to be long-lasting and restrictive . . .’, and relates this characteristic to the dis-
tance between academia and the popular market for history. Women and their
history, and the debates around gender and the discipline, are otherwise largely
absent, however, from his account of late twentieth-century academic history.
[2] F. M. L. Thompson (1988) The Rise of Respectable Society: A social history of Victorian
Britain, 1830 – 1900 (London: Fontana); E. P. Thompson (1963) The Making of the
English Working Class (London: Gollancz).
[3] Thompson, Rise of Respectable Society, esp. pp. 257– 59.
[4] Compare, for example, Frances Finnegan (1979) Poverty and Prostitution: a study of
Victorian prostitutes in York (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), and Judith
R. Walkowitz (1980) Prostitution and Victorian Society: women, class and the state
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
[5] Joan Wallach Scott (1988) Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia
University Press), pp. 68 – 90, esp. p. 72.
[6] Carolyn Steedman (2007) Master and Servant: love and labour in the English indus-
trial age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), esp. pp. 21 – 25.
[7] Marilyn Lake (1986) Historical Reconsiderations IV: The Politics of Responsibility:
identifying the masculinist context, Australian Historical Studies, 22, pp. 116 – 121.
Here Lake uses the term ‘masculinist’ in two somewhat different ways: as the con-
verse of ‘feminism’ in men’s outright pursuit of their interests as a sex, versus
women’s; and as cultural practices put to that end. My interest here is in this
second meaning, as cultural practice.
[8] Patricia Grimshaw, Marilyn Lake, Ann McGrath & Marian Quartly (1994) Creating a
Nation (Melbourne: McPhee Gribble) demonstrate how a narrative of nation-build-
ing may be constructed around the lives of women.
[9] See my Reflecting on Suffrage History, in C. Eustance, Joan Ryan & Laura Ugolini
(Eds) (2000) Themes and Directions in British Suffrage History: a reader (London:
Leicester University Press), pp. 20 – 36.
[10] Roger Fulford (1957) Votes for Women: the story of a struggle (London: Faber &
Faber); Constance Rover (1967) Women’s Suffrage and Party Politics in Britain,
Women’s History Review 839

1866 – 1914 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul); Marion Ramelson (1972) Petti-
coat Rebellion: a century of struggle for women’s rights (London: Lawrence &
[11] George Dangerfield (1970 paperback reprint) The Strange Death of Liberal England
(London: Paladin), first published in 1935, and compare with David Morgan (1975)
Suffragists and Liberals: the politics of women suffrage in England (Oxford: Blackwell),
which in contrast analyses the complex parliamentary situation that confronted sup-
porters of women’s enfranchisement.
[12] Notoriously, David Mitchell (1977) Queen Christabel: a biography of Christabel Pan-
khurst (London: Macdonald & Janes).
[13] Andrew Rosen (1974) Rise Up Women! The Militant Campaign of the Women’s Social
and Political Union (London: Routledge). For a more recent and very different
approach to this topic see Laura E. Nym Mayhall (2003) The Militant Suffrage Move-
ment: citizenship and resistance in Britain, 1860 –1930 (Oxford and New York:
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Oxford University Press).

[14] R. S. Neale (1972) Class and Ideology in the Nineteenth Century (London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul).
[15] Sylvia Pankhurst (1977) The Suffragette Movement: an intimate account of persons
and ideals (London: Virago, first published by Longmans Green, 1931). Ray Strachey
(1978) The Cause: a short history of the women’s movement in Great Britain (London:
Virago reprint, first published by George Bell & Sons, 1928) was also republished in
this period. Strachey had been a leading figure in the constitutionalist National
Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in the years immediately before some
women were finally given the vote in Britain in 1918, and she is critical of militancy
while giving militants a prime place in her account of the twentieth-century cam-
paigns. I argue elsewhere that the militants and the constitutionalists were by no
means completely distinct from each other, while focusing also on the movement’s
relationship with the labour and socialist movements in the early twentieth century,
to which Sylvia Pankhurst alerts us. Sandra Stanley Holton (2002) Feminism and
Democracy: women’s suffrage and reform politics, 1900 – 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, first published in 1986).
[16] Sandra Stanley Holton (1998) ‘British Freewomen’: National identity, constitution-
alism and languages of race in early suffragist histories, in Eileen Janes Yeo (Ed.)
Radical Femininities: women’s self-representation in the public sphere (Manchester:
Manchester University Press), pp. 149 – 171.
[17] Mary Gawthorpe (1910) Votes for Men (London: Women’s Press).
[18] Sandra Stanley Holton (1997) Manliness and Militancy: the political protest of male
suffragists and the gendering of the ‘suffragette’ identity, in Angela V. John & Claire
Eustance (Eds) The Men’s Share? Masculinity, Male Support and Women’s Suffrage in
Britain 1890 – 1920 (London: Routledge), pp. 110– 134.
[19] See, Spongberg, Writing Women’s History, esp. pp. 184 – 188.
[20] See ibid., pp. 189 – 209.
[21] Sandra Stanley Holton (1992) The Suffragist and ‘the Average Woman’, Women’s
History Review, 1, pp. 9– 24.
[22] Jill Liddington & Jill Norris (2002) One Hand Tied Behind Us: the rise of the women’s
suffrage movement (London: Virago Press, first published in 1978); Leslie Parker
Hume (1982) The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, 1897 – 1914
(New York: Garland); Holton, Feminism and Democracy.
[23] Joan Thirsk (1995) The History Women, in Mary O’Dowd & Sabine Wichert (Eds)
Chattel, Servant or Citizen: women’s status in church, state and society (Belfast: Insti-
tute of Irish Studies), pp. 1– 11.
[24] Steedman, Master and Servant, p. 7. On this point see also the position of the Irish
historian, Alice Stopford Green, explored in my (2002) Gender Difference, National
840 S. Stanley Holton

Identity and Professing History: the case of Alice Stopford Green, History Workshop
Journal, 53, pp. 118– 127.
[25] For example, Olive Banks (1990) Becoming a Feminist: the social origins of first-wave
feminism (Brighton: Wheatsheaf Books); Phillipa Levine (1990) Feminist Lives in
Victorian England: private roles and public commitment (London: Women’s Press);
Barbara Caine (1992) Victorian Feminists (Oxford: Oxford University Press); June
Purvis (2002) Emmeline Pankhurst: a biography (London and New York: Routledge);
Paula Bartley (2002) Emmeline Pankhurst (London and New York: Routledge).
[26] See, for example, Mary Spongberg, Biographies and Biographical Writing, pp. 23 –
28; Mary Spongberg, Female Biography, pp. 172– 184; Barbara Caine, Feminist
Autobiography, pp. 192– 203, all in Mary Spongberg, Ann Curthoys & Barbara
Caine (Eds) (2005) Companion to Women’s History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmil-
lan); June Purvis (2003) Emmeline Pankhurst: a biographical interpretation,
Women’s History Review, 12, pp. 73 – 102; June Purvis & Maureen Wright (2005)
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Writing Suffragette History: the contending autobiographical narratives of the Pan-

khursts, Women’s History Review, 14, pp. 405– 433.
[27] On these issues, see, for example, Liz Stanley (1993) Romantic Friendship? Some
Issues in Researching Lesbian History and Biography, Women’s History Review, 2,
pp. 193– 216; Liz Stanley (2005) The Epistolarium: on theorizing letters and corre-
spondence, Auto/biography, 13, pp. 201– 235; K. Cook, Nineteenth-Century Diaries;
B. Onslow, Britain: nineteenth century letters, both these last in Margaret Jolly (Ed.)
(2001) Encyclopedia of Life Writing (London: Fitzroy Dearborn).
[28] Liz Stanley with Ann Morley (1987) The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison
(London: Women’s Press). Subsequently, Jill Liddington has researched the lives
of community suffragettes in the North of England who became militant mavericks
while Krista Cowman has looked at the careers of individual local organisers
employed by the WSPU, and discussed what may be learned through a focus on par-
ticular local branches; see Jill Liddington (2006) Rebel Girls: their fight for the vote
(London: Virago Press); Krista Cowman (2007) Women of the Right Spirit: paid
organisers of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), 1904 – 18 (Manchester:
Manchester University Press), and (2007) The Militant Suffragette Movement in York
(York: Borthwick Institute, paper no. 10). Lucy Delap (2007) The Feminist Avant-
Garde: transatlantic encounters of the early twentieth century (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press) has expanded our understanding in another direction, by mean s
of an intellectual history of a self-defined group of ‘feminists’ who came together in
the years around the First World War.
[29] Nancy Woloch (1984) Women in the American Experience (New York: A. A. Knopf),
which has several times since been reprinted, and then revised for a second edition
(2001) (New York: McGraw-Hill).
[30] This was not the case in earlier ‘popular’ accounts of the campaigns for women’s
rights; see, for example, Ramelson, Petticoat Rebellion; Strachey, The Cause.
[31] Sandra Stanley Holton (1996) Suffrage Days: stories from the women’s suffrage move-
ment (London: Routledge).
[32] Carlo Ginzburg (1980) The Cheese and the Worms: the cosmos of a sixteenth century
miller (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul), trans. John Tedeschi & Anne Tedeschi;
Natalie Zemon Davis (1985) The Return of Martin Guerre (Harmondsworth:
Penguin); Eamon Duffy (2001) The Voices of Morebath: reformation and rebellion
in an English village (New Haven: Yale University Press); Steedman, Master and
[33] For a helpful introduction to microhistory and its use of biographical material see
Burrow, History of Histories, pp. 509– 517. On the Bologna school, see Edward
Muir (1991) Introduction: observing trifles, in E. Muir & G. Ruggiero (Eds)
Women’s History Review 841

Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press), pp. vii – xxi.
[34] Muir, ‘Introduction’, p. vii.
[35] Ibid., p. ix.
[36] Natalie Zemon Davis, quoted in ibid., pp. viii – ix.
[37] Stephen Jay Gould, quoted in ibid., p. viii. For a fuller discussion of the epistemo-
logical basis of microhistory, and especially its basis in abduction, and its stance
toward theory, see Muir, in ibid. pp. xvi – xx.
[38] Steedman, Master and Servant, p. 9.
[39] See, for example, Eustance et al. (Eds), New Directions; June Purvis & Sandra Stanley
Holton (Eds) (2000) Votes for Women (London: Taylor & Francis); Maroula Joannou
& June Purvis (Eds) (1998) The Women’s Suffrage Movement: new feminist perspec-
tives (Manchester: Manchester University Press).
[40] The conference, ‘Seeing through Suffrage’, was organised by the University of Green-
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wich, following a project headed by Professor Angela John that looked at the neg-
lected topic of the role of men in the suffrage movement. The paper referred to
was subsequently published as two articles, Holton, Reflecting on Suffrage
History, in Eustance et al. (Eds), New Directions, and The Making of Suffrage
History: the early historiography of the women’s suffrage movement, in Purvis &
Holton (Eds), Votes for Women.