Utopia Calling – Remembering Eleanor Rathbone

January 2016 sees the 70th anniversary of the death of the celebrated social reformer Eleanor Rathbone. To commemorate this event, an exhibition of items from Special Collections & Archives’ Rathbone Papers seeks to highlight her life and times.  Eleanor’s political career, social campaigning, family and legacy are examined through photographs, political manifestos, correspondence, publications and ephemera.

Eleanor Rathbone (centre) and other Liverpool suffragists campaigning in support of the pro-women’s suffrage candidate in the Kirkdale by-election, 1910. RP XIV.3.101

Eleanor Rathbone (centre) and other Liverpool suffragists campaigning in support of the pro-women’s suffrage candidate in the Kirkdale by-election, 1910. RP XIV.3.101

Born in Liverpool and educated at Kensington High School, London and Somerville College, Oxford, Eleanor was the second daughter of William Rathbone VI (1819-1902) and his second wife Emily Lyle (d.1918).  The Rathbone family were a Liverpool dynasty of non-conformist merchants and ship-owners, philanthropists, politicians and social reformers, artists and patrons of the arts.  From 1788 until 1940 the Rathbone family home in Liverpool was Greenbank Hall, which was bequeathed to the University in 1944.

In 1909 Eleanor Rathbone became the first woman elected to Liverpool City Council, standing as the independent councillor for the Granby Ward until 1935.  During this period she was a prominent campaigner for the cause of women’s suffrage, and in 1909 helped to establish the Liverpool Women’s Suffrage Society.  In the years after the First World War, Eleanor became a leading voice in the movement which saw the introduction of widows’ pensions in 1925 and the equal franchise legislation of 1928.

In 1929 Eleanor Rathbone was elected as the Independent MP for the Combined English Universities, a position she held until her death in 1946. She was one of the first politicians to realise the potential danger from the Nazi party in the 1930s, and was a relentless critic of the government policy of appeasement. Instrumental in the establishment of the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees in late 1938, Eleanor was a formidable campaigner on behalf of refugees from Francoist Spain and Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Building on her earlier social work, Eleanor was a vocal advocate for the introduction of family allowances, more commonly known as ‘child benefit’.  The Family Allowance Act was passed in 1945, with Eleanor instrumental in ensuring the benefit was paid directly to mothers.

The exhibition is open during SCA opening hours (Monday to Friday, 9.30am-4.45pm), and is also accessible at weekends during the core Sydney Jones Library opening hours of 12pm to 5pm.  Please ask for access at the main Sydney Jones Library reception desk.  The exhibition runs until April 11th 2016.

Degree Days 2013

For Graduation Week 2013, Special Collections & Archives has a new display of photographs from the University Archive.

The selection in the display cases outside the reading room includes graduation day photographs from 1905 to 1952, representing graduates in subjects from History to Orthopaedic Surgery.

University Archives D732/1: History graduates and staff in 1925

University Archives D732/1: History graduates and staff in 1925

 University Archives D376/11/5: Geography graduates in 1939

University Archives D376/11/5: Geography graduates in 1939

 

Who Does She Think She Is?

To celebrate the start of Look/13/Liverpool International Photography Festival, Special Collections & Archives has an exhibition of historic photographs of Liverpool women, under the title Who Does She Think She Is?

image copyright: Marc Provins

image copyright: Marc Provins

Case One: Josephine Butler – The Beauty and the Beer

Images of Josephine Butler (1828-1906), who lived in Liverpool from 1866-1882. Josephine was an educational and social reformer, and a fierce opponent of the double standards of sexual morality in the Victorian era. She shocked her audiences by the contrast between her striking feminine appearance and the subjects she addressed.

Josephine Butler was ambivalent about images of herself, but her image and name still have resonance in Liverpool:

    • in the Anglican Cathedral’s Noble Women Windows
    • in sculptures at the Walker Art Gallery
    • in a suitcase in John King’s 1998 ‘A Case History’ on Hope Street
    • on the label for Liverpool Organic Brewery’s Elderflower Ale!

Case Two: Rathbone family albums – Curtain calls

Victorian photograph albums belonging to the prosperous Rathbone family of Liverpool, renowned philanthropists, politicians and social reformers. The albums are designed to hold carte-de-visite (visiting card) prints of celebrities, and portraits of family and friends, and showcase the Rathbones’ connections in Liverpool society.

The National Media Museum has identified the changing studio props used in these commercial portraits decade-by-decade, following the latest fashions:

1860s – balustrade, column and curtain
1870s – rustic bridge and stile
1880s – hammock, swing and railway carriage
1890s – palm trees, cockatoos (usually stuffed specimens) and bicycles
1900s – the motor car

Case Three: Women at the University – Room at the Top

Photographs of women’s sporting and fundraising events at the University of Liverpool from the 1900s to the 1930s, alongside the 1933 resolution passed by Liverpool University Council requiring female members of staff to resign if they got married.

Early University portrait albums contain pictures of only three women, but 2013 has already seen a notable step forward with the appointment of the University’s first female Professor of Physics, Tara Shears.

images of Liverpool University women students

image copyright: Marc Provins

image copyright: Marc Provins