2020 applicants
News

Exploring the experiences of women in post-war Britain

  • Date

    Fri 18 Aug 17

Two women talking outside a house

Dr Tracey Loughran from our Department of History has been awarded Wellcome Trust funding for a three-year research project that will explore women’s health experiences during the post-war period.

From 1960 to 1990, the pattern of women’s lives changed almost beyond recognition, with mass entry into the workforce, second-wave feminism, declining marriage and birth rates, rising divorce rates, and the development of new contraceptive and reproductive technologies. However, little is known about their everyday health experiences during this time.

Dr Tracey Loughran
"...it can be difficult for historians to access the experiences of ‘ordinary’ women..."
Dr Tracey Loughran Department of History

"Even today, women are still often the providers of 'everyday healthcare' to their children and, increasingly, to their ageing parents," said Dr Loughran.

"But despite the mass of material on health and medicine, it can be difficult for historians to access the experiences of 'ordinary' women, particularly their feelings about very private matters, or those aspects of life that are taken for granted and so rarely recorded.

"It's also relatively unusual for historians to look at the lives of different groups of women – straight and gay, black and white, young and old – alongside each other."

The Wellcome Trust award will fund Dr Loughran, two postdoctoral research assistants, and a PhD studentship. Dr Loughran’s team will conduct 50 oral history interviews and consult little-used oral history archives. They will also look at mass-market and feminist publications and archival material on feminist, gay and black activism.

"In this project, we will try to understand intersecting experiences of sexuality, ethnicity, class, and age, by looking at a really diverse range of evidence."

Dr Loughran aims to answer questions such as:

  • How were sweeping social and cultural shifts experienced by individuals?
  • In what ways did these shifts alter women’s emotional wellbeing and their relationships to their bodies?
  • How did these experiences differ by age, class, ethnicity and sexuality?
Dr Tracey Loughran
"I wanted to write the history of these women, and in doing this, help young girls like my nieces realise how much power they have to resist rigid ideas about gender."
Dr Tracey Loughran Department of History

Dr Loughran's inspirations for the project came from her own family experiences.

"After my first niece was born in 2005, and again when her sister followed in 2009, I witnessed how quickly the behaviour of even very young children is interpreted in terms of gendered attributes. When I realised the extent to which restrictive ideas about what girls could and couldn't do would shape their lives, the emotional force of feminism, which up till then had been more of an intellectual idea, really hit me.

"At the same time, I saw how pregnancy and childbirth affected my sister, and how her life changed on becoming a mother. As a historian, this set me thinking about my mother and grandmother, and how their experiences as individuals and within families intersected with all the big changes in women's lives in the post-war years.

"I wanted to write the history of these women, and in doing this, help young girls like my nieces realise how much power they have to resist rigid ideas about gender. I wanted to write a book for them."

Header image: Wellcome Images