New roles for women

At a time when women were beginning to find opportunities for voluntary public work under the aegis of philanthropic bodies, it became possible for them to take on leading roles in the new field of animal welfare. As well as being the foremost sponsors of charities like the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, women themselves founded the majority of animal refuges. They included the Battersea Dogs’ Home initiated by Mary Tealby, which overcame misogynistic prejudice to become a prominent state-subsidised institution – arguably by compromising its original home-making ideals. Sir Arthur Helps in Some Talk about Animals (1873) discerned the differences between male and female attitudes to animal suffering – women being much more impulsively compassionate. The book’s dedicatee, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, was the most influential of all female animal advocates in the Victorian era, as leader of the newly created RSPCA ladies’ committee, as a very generous donor to animal causes, and as a frequent letter-writer to the press. The statue of a dog, ‘Greyfriars Bobby’, which she commissioned, was a celebration of canine fidelity; it invested animals with the moral faculties that justified human solicitude for them.

in Women against cruelty
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A feminist cause?

In the 1870s, information about the growing practice of vivisection, especially in physiological research, prompted a public outcry, and led to crisis and division in the animal protection movement. Women in particular, led by Frances Power Cobbe, opposed vivisection, leading to a battle with scientific and medical opinion that took on a strongly gendered element. Cobbe as virtual leader of the Victoria Street Society, resorted to many oppositional strategies, including a notorious poster campaign, which was replicated in images published in the Illustrated Police News, and also prosecution of a scientist who infringed the terms of the 1876 Act regulating vivisection. Failing in these gambits, Cobbe went on to attack the practice at the philosophical level, raising ethical issues that were also pondered by the writer Vernon Lee (Violet Paget). Vivisection came to symbolise the materialism, misogyny and oppressive patriarchy of the age, and in this light it was anathematised by two early women doctors – Elizabeth Blackwell and Anna Kingsford – the latter a visionary who opposed vivisection as a spiritual blight on society.

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This chapter explores the relationship between the Catholic Church and ‘sexual liberation’ via the subject of female sexuality. It looks at the way female sexuality was understood in public and private discussions within the Church during the post-war decades, notably Pope Paul VI’s rejection (Humanae Vitae, 1968) of the Papal Commission for Birth Control’s suggestion to overturn the Church’s prohibition of contraception. It uses the unpublished papers of papal commission member John Marshall (the author’s grandfather) to document the covert debates and discussions that led to Humanae Vitae. It demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, HV was not simply the failing of ‘conservative’ opponents of change, but was also written into the way ‘liberal’ commission members approached female sexuality. At no point in the commission’s discussions were ‘ordinary’ Catholic women asked to speak about their sexual experiences. The chapter argues that a conceptual divide between the religious and the sexual underpinned both Humanae Vitae and the ‘liberal’ case for change.

in The Pope and the pill
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The conclusion of this book moves through the various layers of intervention that it has advanced, situating these arguments in the context of present-day discussions about sex, Catholicism and history. The material in the book suggests there was indeed a rupture in the relationship between sex and Christianity in the post-war decades, but rather than being simply about an emancipation from the confines of ‘traditional’ religious subjugation, a deeper, conceptual separation between the religious and the sexual opened up in decades after the war. This chapter considers how the changes described in the book relate to contemporary issues about sex and Catholicism within the Church and beyond. It reflects on the emergence of the child abuse scandals, and how this has been placed in a trajectory with the prohibitions of Humanae Vitae. It ultimately outlines the significance of the book for historians of sex, religion and social change.

in The Pope and the pill
Its culture and its conflicts

The RSPCA, founded in 1824, is often treated by historians as an arm of the establishment, primarily intent on reforming the disruptive behaviour of the lower orders. This chapter gives a more nuanced view of the Society’s policies. Despite its admitted social discrimination, and its failure to grapple with such moneyed-class cruelties as field sports and live cattle transit, the Society was essentially a thoughtful, idealistic and multi-vocal body, the fulcrum of the nineteenth-century animal-protection movement. It was supportive of the many new initiatives and specialised animal charities that sprang from RSPCA work – many of them led by women. However, a perceived need to keep in step with public opinion on anti-cruelty measures, and to avoid charges of ‘sentimental’ extremism, made the RSPCA itself wary of promoting women to any positions of influence, despite their record of passionate and energetic support for the cause. While women represented a significant majority of donors and grassroots workers for the Society, they were debarred from membership of its executive until 1906.

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Early life is treated as both a life-cycle stage which Catholic women lived through as well as a subject which has been debated, defined and understood by different individuals and institutions. The chapter begins with a discussion of the sexual education that was available to Catholic women in the post-war decades. The second section looks at the way ideas of gender shaped Catholic women’s experience of courtship and sexuality. It explores the way they made sense of their early sexual desires – how expectations of ‘pious femininity’ affected their thoughts and actions. The final section moves on to consider the how psychoanalytical interpretations of childhood and religion affected the interviewees’ approach to parenting. It deconstructs the infantilism hypothesis which has gained currency in the post-war decades – the idea that religious belief is merely a product of childhood indoctrination.

in The Pope and the pill
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This chapter introduces the central arguments that the book presents in relation to sex, religion and memory. It opens with an extract from an interview: an emotional account of a Catholic women explaining how ‘the sexual revolution let the cork out of the bottle’ on her beliefs about sex and contraception. This quotation is used as a springboard from which to introduce the overarching themes and issues of the study – the link between sexual and religious change in personal and collective life stories, the role of the interview in providing a space for these stories to be told and the implications these changing stories held for the way individuals made sense of their existence. The chapter traces the development of debates about sex, gender and body within the Catholic community during the twentieth century. It shows how the sex lives of Catholic women, as well as the histories of both sex and religion more broadly, have generally been interpreted through the lens of ‘power’. The interviewees’ testimonies encourage historians to look beyond traditional, top down narratives of shifting power relations. The chapter argues that sex and religion became re-categorised along material lines in the post-war decades. The final subsection of the chapter outlines how and why the book is structured as it is, with chapters reversing the chronology of the Catholic women’s lives.

in The Pope and the pill
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The introduction sketches out the existing historiography of the nineteenth-century animal protection movement, which evinces many conflicting approaches and shortcomings. In particular, historians have generally failed to appraise women’s key contributions to the movement, and, more generally, to analyse gendered differences in attitudes to animals. Traditions of thought on man’s responsibility to the ‘lower’ species were religiously inspired, but also strongly influenced by social and political factors, and by assumptions about the priority of human interests. They came under scrutiny for the first time when legislation was proposed in the early 1800s to make cruelty to animals, especially bull-baiting, a criminal offence. The resulting debates in the British parliament, dominated by William Windham’s speeches, threw up philosophical difficulties which would haunt animal protectionists for the rest of the century. They also revealed disproportionate female support for protection, and the ridicule that this already attracted.

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Sex, Catholicism and women in post-war England

On 25 July 1968, Pope Paul VI shook the world. His encyclical letter Humanae Vitae rejected widespread calls to permit use of the contraceptive pill and deemed artificial contraception ‘intrinsically evil’. The Catholic Church is now commonly identified as the antagonist in a story of sixties sexual revolution – a stubborn stone resisting the stream of sex-positive modernity. There has been little consideration of how Catholic women themselves experienced this period of cultural upheaval. This book is about the sexual and religious lives of Catholic women in post-war England. It uses original oral history material to uncover the way Catholic women negotiated spiritual and sexual demands at a moment when the two increasingly seemed at odds with one another. The book also examines the public pronouncements and secretive internal documents of the central Catholic Church, offering a ground-breaking new explanation of the Pope’s decision to prohibit the pill. The materials gathered here provide a fresh perspective on the idea that ‘sex killed God’, reframing dominant approaches to the histories of sex, religion and modernity. The memories of Catholic women help us understand why religious belief does not structure the lives of most English men and women today in the way it did at the close of the Second World War, why sex holds a place of such significance in our modern culture, and crucially, how these two developments related to one another. The book will be essential reading for not only scholars of sexuality, religion, gender and oral history, but anyone interested in post-war social change.

New insights at the fin de siècle

Sentiment and ‘the spirit of life’: new insights at the fin de siècle The 1890s were marked by a general mood of pessimism and frustration in the animal protection movement, but also by an upsurge of utopianism symbolised by Henry Salt’s Humanitarian League. The new generation of activists took their lead from vegetarian and theosophical thinking, but equally from progressive politics and feminism, for example, Katharine Glasier and Nessie Stewart-Brown. Louise Lind-af-Hageby and Mona Caird in particular situated their opposition to vivisection and other cruelties in the context of resistance to patriarchy, while the novelist Ouida saw the persecution of animals and destruction of the environment as baneful aspects of the authoritarian, industrialised and militaristic nation state. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, founded by a group women in 1889–1890, crystallised this new concern for threatened wild creatures, but even here concepts of gender were contested through the Society’s campaign against the use of birds’ feathers in ladies’ millinery. As leadership of the RSPB was gradually taken over by men, tension between male ‘rationality’ and female ‘sentiment’ once again became an issue, and the book concludes with reflections on the value judgements involved in this ancient but still operative antithesis.

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