“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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Paradise Found: Exploring Historical Maps and Travel Writing

Harris, T. "A South Prospect of the Flourishing City of New York in the Province of New York in America 1746

│By Matthew Trenholm, Gale Ambassador at the University of Exeter│

Of all the Gale archives I’ve explored so far, my favourite is Maps and Travel Literature. Part of Nineteenth Century Collections Online, it has already been a great help to my undergraduate History dissertation on English ports. Maps have been an essential part of human development and Maps and Travel Literature allows you to examine maps from all over the world, produced for different reasons by different people and organisations. There is also a huge range of travel writing to sink your teeth into, giving insight into the human experience behind the maps and other geographical documents.

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Cultural Appropriation or Swiftian Satire? Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado

“The Mikado.” Illustrated London News, 4 Apr. 1885

| by Masaki Morisawa, Senior Product Manager, Library Reference, Tokyo |

Last year, an American high school student’s twitter account flamed up when she posted prom pictures of herself wearing a cheongsam, or Chinese dress. Some Asian Americans accused her, who is not of Chinese descent, of cultural appropriation. “My culture is NOT your [expletive] prom dress,” wrote one particularly upset commenter. Others, including many Asians living in Asia, defended her actions and dismissed such criticism as irrelevant.

While “cultural appropriation” is a fairly recent term, similar debates have arisen in the past where the borrowing of “exotic” elements from foreign cultures have been criticised as offensive or disrespectful. One such example is Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Mikado, a work that is often hailed as the duo’s masterpiece, yet at times has stirred controversy due to its use of Japanese costume and settings. In this post I would like to take a look at the history of Mikado performances and the controversies surrounding them.

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Why Use Primary Sources?

archive shelves

│by Pauli Kettunen, Gale Ambassador at the University of Helsinki│

Is the picture above what comes to mind when you think of an archive? Do you believe that, to find any useful information, you must spend weeks between the shelves without seeing daylight?! If so, I have good news for you – Gale Primary Sources has updated archival research to the twenty first century! You no longer have to plough through library catalogues or rummage in endless boxes to find material relevant to your research – you can do so in seconds by running a text search, just like when googling.

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The Peterloo Massacre, August 1819

Reform. Libel. -- Sedition. -- Treason. -- Persecution. 1819, January - 1820, November. Radical Politics and the Working Man in England: Part One: Sets 7-11, 13-32, and 34-46 Set 40; Vol 1. British Library. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CREORT076326165/GDCS?u=webdemo&sid=GDCS&xid=c5017dd3

│By Clem Delany, Associate Acquisitions Editor│

Two hundred years ago, on 16th August 1819, at least seventeen people died at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, during a peaceful protest calling for the reform of parliamentary representation.

This year, the two hundred-year anniversary, has been marked in the UK by a wealth of newspaper articles covering ‘a tragic event of minor historical significance that happens to accord with a Marxist version of Britain’s past’ 1 (The Times) or ‘the bloodiest event on English soil in the nineteenth century’ 2 (The Daily Mail). The BBC, from its new headquarters in Manchester, produced ten radio programmes and performances to mark the anniversary. You can buy a Peterloo mug or a Peterloo tea towel, and around Manchester live music, poetry readings, open-air karaoke and other family-friendly events took place over the weekend.

I dug through the Gale archives to see how the event was represented at the time, and at its centennial in 1919.

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The Evolution of Women’s Football

Rowbottom, Mike. “When Ladies of Preston ruled the world.” Independent, 27 Feb. 1997, p. 26. The Independent Digital Archive

│By Rachel Holt, Acquisitions Editor │

As the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup drew to a close and tens of thousands of fans lined the streets of New York to greet the United States’ World Cup-winning team, we decided to look at the history of women’s football. Using Gale Primary Sources we tracked the evolution of women’s involvement in the beautiful game up to this year’s Women’s World Cup which, capturing the public’s imagination, saw an all-time high in viewing figures.

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From Jeu de Paume to Strawberries and Cream: A Brief History of Tennis and the Wimbledon Championships

"Hygienic Excess." Punch, 18 Oct. 1879, p. 174. Punch Historical Archive, 1841-1992

│By Carolyn Beckford, Gale Product Trainer in the UK and Europe│

As we come to the end of the first week of Wimbledon, with the annual buzz and excitement very much in full-flow, we decided to use Gale Primary Sources to look back at the evolving history of tennis and the Wimbledon Championships.

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The History of International Women’s Day and the Origins of Women’s History Month

By Rachel Holt, Acquisitions Editor for Gale International
Rachel has worked in a variety roles across the publishing industry and joined Gale Primary Sources in 2017 where she became responsible for the Women’s Studies Archive programme.  Although women’s history is a personal passion her other area of focus is fringe-politics and Rachel is also in charge of Gale’s Political Extremism & Radicalism series.  

Happy International Women’s Day (#BalanceforBetter) and may your Women’s History Month 2019 be an enlightening one!

Every year March marks the month where several countries around the world celebrate female contributions to society by recognising their achievements throughout history. However, the origins of how both these events came into being are themselves fascinating episodes in feminist history. If “history is written by the victors” then who decides which people and events from the past deserves our attention?[1]

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Who is the Founder of Modern Singapore?

By Vanessa Tan, Editorial Assistant with Gale Asia
Hi! My name is Vanessa and I’m currently working as an Editorial Assistant in Gale’s Asia team. Prior to this, I read English Literature at the Nanyang Technological University, where I took an interest in Modernism and Asian Studies. Outside of working hours, you may catch me obsessing over a Kubrick/Linklater film while chowing down all types of ice cream to fight Singapore’s everlasting summer.

In 2019, Singapore will commemorate her bicentenary since the landing of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781–1826) on the island on 28 January 1819. Raffles’ name now stretches beyond the widely known narrative of the nation-state’s genesis. Today, the name carries pomp and prestige—Raffles City and Raffles Hotel are both prominent landmarks situated in the richest areas of Singapore, while Raffles Institution remains the highest-ranked secondary educational institution in the country, having produced many of the country’s top-performing scholars and politicians.

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Miscegenation, or ‘Fake News’ of the Civil War

(Warning: the below article contains excerpts from historical material that are explicitly racist and offensive to today’s readers. The author does not share the views of the material presented.)

Sometimes a random search can take you to unexpected places. For me it began a few months ago when I was asked to conduct a post-sale training session with a group of students at a university in Japan. I was told beforehand that the students were studying American History, including African Americans and other minorities, and I was asked to prepare an example that would match their interests.

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