On 8 July, the London Group (by Crowdcast and with a large and wide international audience) returned to the theme of women written out of history with Professor Ann Oakley speaking about the ‘Forgotten Wives’ of her latest book: Mary Booth, Charlotte Shaw, Jeannette Tawney and Janet Beveridge.
Their stories and how they have been treated by history and, specifically, by their husbands’ biographers have much in common. Jeanette Tawney was a historian in her own right: of women, of unemployment and of the development of economic ideas and yet accounts of her life are dominated by her being a sister (of William Beveridge) and a wife, with her husband’s biographer calling her “undistinguished” and “a bad housewife”. Marriage held her back, her husband did not want her to work outside the home and disapproved so much of her fiction writings that she stopped telling him about them.
Janet Beveridge married later in life, at the age of 66 and after having been a director of the LSE. She fared better than her sister-in-law, with her husband being eager to acknowledge her contribution to the Report which bears his name and saying that it “would be idle to separate what came from her mind and what from his”, and yet his biographers retreated to misogyny, calling him “deluded” for not seeing his wife “as she really was”. And when she also later used fiction as a way of expressing her thoughts, her husband forbade her from signing an offered publishing deal for three novels. Of Mary Booth, there is a vast amount of archival material, she was an active contributor to “his” (Charles Booth) monumental survey Life and Labour of the People in London and yet historians place her in the background of her husband’s work.
Denied access to the professions, these late 19th and early 20th century writers, sociologists, economists, historians all lived in a world ruled by men, dominated by men and written about by men; a world seen through men’s eyes, a world in which marriage was the means by which patriarchy assured the subordination of women, a world in which no women was privileged in relation to a man of her social class.
Professor Oakley´s book arose from her study of the origins of the social sciences, what she found were people, women, wives who despite their own achievements have been relegated to footnotes in the histories of lauded men. Her book brings them to the full page where they belong.
You can watch a recording of the talk here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/perilsofwifehood