Working with Gwenllian Morgan

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

As a team, we have been talking a lot about work lately. In order to test out our evolving ontology for cataloguing women’s work, we’ve started to create quite detailed entries for a few women in our database. These detailed entries are based on the initial archive research we have done over the past few months, and associated desk-based research in primary and secondary source material. 

Working through the source material and figuring out how to catalogue what we are finding about women’s work most effectively has highlighted the need for us to construct a flexible and contextually relevant framework to represent what can be quite complex forms of activity into statements that work as linked data.  

We are using this framework to reflect the wide range of activities we are seeing in the records. And where possible, we are noting whether or not “positions held” – which we are deliberately separating from employment – are paid or unpaid, with salary specifics where we have them. To that end, we have decided to pull all these together by making a new item “public or professional activity”, each work-related property we create will now be united, and queryable, through the statement that it is an “instance of” a “public and professional activity”. 

Let’s take the example of Gwenllian Morgan, one of the women in our database. She was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in the 1930s, toward the end of her extremely active life. Her blue paper reflects the wide range of her activities – beginning with her name, after which are the letters J. P., indicating that she was a justice of the peace.  

The “Addition, Profession or Occupation” field on the blue paper reveals that she held the position of Mayor in Brecon, Wales, where she lived, in 1910, and that she was Governor (equivalent to a Trustee position) of the National Library of Wales.  

The “Qualification” field introduces yet more areas of “public and professional” activity that Morgan undertook: her co-founding of the Brecknock Society and Museum, her role as Correspondent (effectively local reporter) in Brecon and district for the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments, and her association with the “restoration” of the Cresset Stone in Brecon Cathedral.  

This last detail took a bit of time and research to unpack. On first glance, it might look like Morgan had a role in conserving the stone, which had been found in a nearby garden. But in fact, courtesy of the National Library of Wales’s digitised newspaper collection, the “restoration” refers to Morgan’s purchase of the stone and (presumably) her donation of it to the Cathedral. As an aside, I’d highly recommend watching this beautiful film of a specially composed piece of music played near the Cresset stone, which is illuminated with candles. 

Turning to secondary source material, we find yet more evidence of Morgan’s activities in local government beyond her positions as J. P. and Mayor as indicated in her blue paper. An article in the Review of Reviews, published to coincide with her inauguration as mayor, notes that she had further positions as a town councillor and a poor law guardian

It remains to be seen how far Morgan’s local government work fed into her antiquarian interests. But it is clear that Morgan felt very strongly about championing women’s work in local government. She outlined her thoughts on the matter at a meeting of the National Union of Women Workers, which took place in Manchester in 1895.  Her speech there was published as a pamphlet, which is now accessible through the LSE Women’s Library digital collection.  

Alongside this local work, Morgan took part in national and international campaigns for temperance, holding positions in the World Women’s Christian Temperance Association and the British Women’s Temperance Association in the 1890s. As Superintendent of Petitions and Treaties for the WWCTA, she led on the collection of signatures of Great Britain and Ireland for the Polyglot petition, which called for governments to prevent trade in opium and alcohol. The founder of the WWCTA, Frances E. Willard, noted in her announcement of Morgan’s appointment that Morgan owed the role to her friend Lady Henry Somerset – an indication both of the role of patronage in these appointments and of Morgan’s social network. 

Morgan’s public and professional activities encompass some key areas we are planning to highlight through our database, including the intersection of proto-feminist campaigning with heritage-related and philanthropic activities. We won’t be able to cover every woman in our database in this much detail, but Morgan’s active life gives us a useful template for thinking through how we represent various aspects of women’s work through time.  

References/Further Reading 

Brecon County Times, 1913. Builth Wells Naturalists At the Priory Church, Brecon, 31 July, p 6. 

Chapin, Clara, 1895. Thumb nail sketches of white ribbon women. Chicago: Women’s Temperance Publishing Association. 

Morgan, Gwenllian E. F. 1895. The Duties of Citizenship: The Proper Understanding and Use of the Municipal and Other Franchises for Women. 

Willard, Frances E. 1890. A New World’s Secretary. The Union Signal, 4 December, p. 12. 

International Women’s Day!

The Beyond Notability project is taking over the Society of Antiquaries Twitter feed for this year’s International Women’s Day!

As part of this event, we are featuring two audio recordings from the correspondence of two women who are now featured on our database: Eliza Jeffries Davis, a historian, and Margerie Venables Taylor, an archaeologist.

These recordings of letters in the Victoria County History (VCH) archive have been created by Professor Catherine Clarke (Davis) and Claire-Louise Lucas (Taylor). The project is particularly grateful to Victoria County History for permission to record the extracts and make transcriptions of them available here. We’re also very grateful to Professor Catherine Clarke and Claire-Louise Lucas for agreeing to record them.

Eliza Jeffries Davis worked for the Victoria County History as a researcher and writer in the first decade of the 20th century. She became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1929.

Margerie Venables Taylor worked for the Victoria County History at the same time as Eliza Jeffries Davis. She became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1925.

These two recordings feature letters sent to William Page, the general editor of the VCH, by Davis and Taylor respectively. They illuminate the working lives of these two women. Davis’s letter is celebratory, sent on the publication of the VCH volume on which she had worked. In it, she makes suggestions for publicity and in so doing highlights her non-VCH working life, as a London County Council teacher. Taylor’s letter, sent after she had been working for some years at VCH, reflects her continuing concerns about the rate of pay for VCH researchers. She also reveals the expansion of her research work beyond VCH, enabling her to push more effectively for a salary increase.

Eliza Jeffries Davis

VCH Archvie EJ Davis read by Catherine Clarke March 2022

Eliza Jeffries Davis letter to William Page, dated 5 Oct 1909, on London County Council Moorfields Training College, White Street, Moorfields E. C. letterhead (VCH 2/22/3)

Transcript:

Dear Mr Page,

Thank you for your note. I am glad the London volume is really coming out at last – though I shudder to think of the negligences + ignorances in my part!

I am writing to suggest that you tell the publishers to send a prospectus of it to the heads of various London schools and colleges. I think we discussed this once, + you asked me to remind you again. It would be so very useful in teaching, + luckily the board of Education is awake to the importance of local history just now, so the heads of schools might think it worth while to spend so much money on a book!

In the case of institutions under the LCC it would be well if the notices were sent as soon as possible, as the “Requisition” for new books (only allowed once a term) are made up about the beginning of November. I enclose lists which may be useful.

Yours sincerely,

EJ Davis

Margerie Venables Taylor

Extract from MV Taylor letter to William Page dated 24.IV.1910 from 48 Watton Crescent, Oxford (VCH 1/3/210)

Transcript

Dear Mr Page, 

I have been considering the question we discussed since I last saw you. I should very much like to work for the History again, but I think I ought to have more than 1/6d an hour. If you work out £2.10 a week, working 5-6 hours a day, inclusive of all holidays etc, it comes to more than that. At the present moment for Research work at the Bodley I am paid 2/- an hour + other workers-transcribers are paid 2/6 an hour, while the ordinary, not very skilled, catalogue assistant receives 1/6 an hour. So that I think I ought to have 2/- an hour, especially when it is not certain that the work will continue for more than two years. I put the facts before you so that you will understand my position. I really feel it is not fair to take research work at 1/6 an hour, after some years’ experiences. I am sorry to trouble you in this way, but I think you will understand + tell me exactly what you think.  […]

**If you would like to explore the lives of Eliza Jeffries Davis and Margerie Venables further, you will find them on our database at: https://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/wiki/Item:Q153 (Davis); https://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/wiki/Item:Q133 (Taylor).

Gertrude Rachel Levy in the Archives

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

My first guest post for the project is on Gertrude Rachel Levy (1883-1966) who was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1947, while she was working as Librarian of the Hellenic & Roman Societies in London. I focus on her work in the 1920s and 30s in Mandate Palestine and Iraq, and spent a morning in the archive of the Palestine Exploration Fund to track her down, coming across many other women in archaeology, history and heritage along the way! “Gertrude Rachel Levy in Mandate Palestine” is published on the Institute of Classical Studies blog.