“When is a Woman…?” Exploring Cultural Expectations of Women Advocated in Historical Newspapers

Montage of snippets from newspapers considering "when is a woman...?"

by Lotta Vuorio, Gale Ambassador at the University of Helsinki

When I was preparing to deliver my first presentation as a Gale Ambassador, I ran into an interesting article called “When Woman is Not Graceful” in Gale’s Nineteenth Century Collections Online. The article was published in a newspaper called The Christian Recorder in 1895, and it portrays some of the “conditions under which she (a woman) manages to look absurd” – at least in the opinion of the anonymous writer. The article appears as an opinion piece by Graphic London and it expresses outspokenly all the descriptions connected to the stereotype of women who move clumsily. It says, “Few women can enter a carriage, mount the steps of a coach or hurry into a hansom gracefully, while the spectacle of a woman getting into a boat is far from pleasing”.  The vast petticoats common in the nineteenth century and their effects on the ability of women to move are mentioned and criticised, and the writer finishes his piece by indicating the true form of grace: “A woman is only really graceful when she is at rest, lolling in a carriage or sitting in a drawing room or else dancing, when she has the genius for it.” I wanted to find this article again and began searching the Gale Primary Sources database. In doing so I came across many more newspaper articles with a heading that begins “When is a Woman…”. As I browsed through them I became intrigued, curious about the way articles in different newspapers described what was acceptable and admired in the appearance and behaviour of women. Below are some of the most fascinating examples I found.

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Harry Potter: a world of new imaginings

By Tania Chakraborti, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
Tania is a Gale student ambassador and final year English Literature and History student at Durham University. During her time at Durham she has engaged with student journalism, student theatre, and is currently President of the English Literature Society. She finds Gale’s resources invaluable to her studies and is currently using them to explore a dissertation on Winston Churchill’s rhetoric towards India.

Since 1997 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published, the Harry Potter series has sold over 500 million copies across the globe, making it the best-selling book series of all time. Of course, I don’t need to tell you this, the wide-reaching influence of Harry Potter is apparent enough for all to see: with a multi-billion-dollar film franchise, a West End Show and even a theme park at Universal Studios Florida, this magical world is clearly subsumed into a mode of popular culture. Any attempt at a brand new interpretation of Harry’s exciting venture into the world of wizardry seems old news, even impossible. Yet, through utilising Gale’s impressive wealth of resources, novel, innovative and informative interpretations of the well-known books can still provide fresh takes on the series.

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