WSG annual trip 2015: Wellcome Collection

This year, WSG’s annual trip was to the Wellcome Collection, nr Euston, London.  WSG member Marion Durnin recalls the outing:

“Passing under Anthony Gormley’s figure suspended from the ceiling of the Wellcome Collection entrance, our group met for coffee excited by the stylish surroundings.

We were warmly welcomed by Dr Christopher Hilton, Senior Archivist of the Wellcome Library who provided a potted history of the Wellcome Trust from Henry Wellcome’s upbringing in Wisconsin, to his meeting with Silas Burroughs which led to the formation of Burroughs Wellcome & Co. in 1882. First to the market in the manufacture of drugs, they led the way in medical research to become front runners of the British pharmaceutical industry. Dr Hilton’s witty and informative account revealed we owe the word ‘tabloid’ to Wellcome and Burroughs, being a combination of the words ‘tablet’ and ‘alkaloid’ used to denote the firm’s pills.

Success in business was not accompanied by happiness in Wellcome’s private life. He married Thomas Bernardo’s daughter, Gwen Maud Syrie soon after their meeting in Khartoum in 1901. But Wellcome’s passion for travelling and collecting curios, creating in effect a ‘national attic’ cost him his marriage. Following his divorce, Henry buried himself relentlessly in his work. This resulted in the amassing of a vast collection of artefacts rivalling the largest museums in Europe.  The riches of this collection have been brought to the public by the Wellcome Trust. Though primarily focused on the scientific and medical, the contents touch on all aspects of life, a boon for research in many fields.

In demonstration of this, Dr Hilton presented items from the Wellcome manuscript archive of special interest to our group. Alongside handwritten medicinal remedies (1647-1722) written by Elizabeth Sleigh and Felicia Whitfield, are their food recipes, giving precise detail of the lives of these women. The instruction on how ‘To Pull a Tooth’ alarmingly commences with ‘Seeth the brains of an hare in red wine; and anoint the tooth therewith…’ The recipe for Sack Posset required, for openers, ‘2 quarts of pure good cream’ and a guide on how ‘To Roast a Large Pike’ is but one gem among many.

We viewed the account book (1790-1804) of a medical practitioner in Northamptonshire (thought to be Timothy Watkins) containing details of the mothers, the births and inoculations along with precise accounts of income and expenditure.

WSG members inspect some drawings
WSG members inspect some drawings

The library reading rooms are open to all and the scope of works ranges far beyond science and medicine. Innovative design is all around; even the library shelves are illustrated and works of art, classic and contemporary, abound. Library Assistant Edward Bishop showed us a dramatic seventeenth century painting of ‘A Troupe of Travelling Performers including a Toothdrawer’ (after Theodor Rombouts) and a ball gown by artist Susie Freeman which on closer inspection is decorated with 6,500 wrapped contraceptive pills.

Paintings in the Wellcome collection
Paintings in the Wellcome collection

Following lunch Visitor Experience Assistant Sarah Bentley gave us a guided tour of particular items in the Permanent Exhibition which included a Mesopotamian amulet, a scold’s bridle of Brussels, with metal horns, used to publicly humiliate women (1550-1775). This proved a profoundly unsettling sight as did a brass corset with wasp waist and Chinese slippers which demanded foot binding.

We finished the day with everyone planning to return as it seemed we had only barely touched on the intriguing and rich resources housed in the Wellcome Collection and Library.  We are grateful to the staff at the Wellcome and to WSG committee member Lois Chaber for arranging such a worthwhile and fascinating outing.”

…and thanks to Marion for writing this account and taking the accompanying photos.

WSG seminars 2015-2016 announced

Anonymous, trade card, paper, c1760, collected by Sarah Sophia Banks.  BM D,2.3603.
Anonymous, trade card, paper, c1760, collected by Sarah Sophia Banks. British Museum D,2.3603. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is pleased to announce its seminar schedule for the forthcoming academic year.  Seminars will take place at the Foundling Museum, London, WC1N 1AZ, and start promptly at 1pm, finishing at about 4.  Tea and biscuits are provided.  Why not arrive early and see the Foundling’s current exhibition, or hear a gallery talk?

This year seminars organiser Dr Carolyn Williams has drawn together papers with musical themes, as well as on collecting, natural philosophy, literature, politics, and book history from across WSG’s 16th- to early 19th-century range.  Dates and speakers are as follows:

Saturday 26th  September, 2015, 1-4pm, Foundling Museum
Diana Ambache, ‘Women composers of the late 18th century’
Professor Paula Higgins, ‘Suppressing the Suppression of Fanny Hensel: Textual Ellipsis and Other Signs of Biographical Censorship’
Dr Arlene Leis, ‘Sarah Sophia Banks as a Collector’

NB Diana Ambache will have CDs of the composers profiled on sale, from £6 to £14.

Saturday 28th November, 2015, 1-4pm, Foundling Museum
Associate Professor Tita Chico, ‘Knowledge Seduction’
Dr Andrew McInnes, ‘Resistant Readers in Sarah Fielding’s The Governess’
Chrisy Dennis, ‘“We were born to grace society: but not to be its slaves”: Chivalry and Revolution in Mary Robinson’s Hubert de Sevrac, A Romance of the Eighteenth Century (1796)’

Saturday January 30, 2016, 1-4pm, Foundling Museum
Valerie Schutte, ‘Pre-accession Printed Book Dedications to Mary and Elizabeth Tudor’ (see a publication of Valerie’s here)
Brianna Elyse Robertson-Kirkland, ‘Venanzio Rauzzini (1746 – 1810) and his female operatic students’
Sarah Oliver, ‘From Rape to Desire: Mary Hays’s Revision of the Love Theme and Jane Austen’s “New” Heroines’ (see a publication of Sarah’s here)

For more information, and brief abstracts of the papers, see our current seminars page, like WSG’s facebook page, or follow @WSGUK.

Foundling Museum’s Art Happens campaign

Fallen Woman campaign material
Fallen Woman campaign material

The Foundling Museum, WSG’s kind host for this year’s seminar series, is putting on an exhibition that WSG followers can really get behind.  It falls a little bit outside WSG’s time period, but it is about the nineteenth-century idea of the “Fallen Woman” and the real Victorian women who gave up their babies to the Foundling Hospital.

To complete the exhibition, the Foundling is seeking £23,000 from the public.  It has an Art Happens fundraising page on the Art Fund website, where interested parties can donate, and learn more about the project.  It is already 65% funded at the time of this blog post, which indicates the degree of interest in the project so far.

You can follow updates from @foundlingmuseum, through their #FallenWoman hashtag, and from @artfund #arthappens.

WSG member Sara Read’s new book: Maids, Wives and Widows

Sara Read, Front cover, Maids, Wives and Widows (Pen & Sword, 2015)

Following on from Julie Peakman’s new biography of the Georgian courtesan Peg Plunkett, WSG would also like to highlight WSG member (and WSG’s chief Twitterer) Sara Read’s new book Maids, Wives and Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women’s Lives 1540-1740, which came out in May.  It is available from Pen & Sword books, and for a limited time is only £15.99 (rrp £19.99).  Maids, Wives and Widows explores the everyday lives of early modern women, from menstruation, childbirth, and bodily care, to employment, literature, and food and drink.

Sara is a Lecturer in English at Loughborough University.  She is the author of Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), and her latest project investigates female obesity in early modern England.  She co-edits the fantastic Early Modern Medicine blog with Dr Jennifer Evans.

Remembering Jane Mears

Last month long-term WSG member Jane Mears, a former teacher and a PhD student at King’s College London, died after a long and quietly fought battle with cancer.  WSG members Angela Escott and Elizabeth Eger attended Jane’s funeral at the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Hayes, Middlesex, on behalf of all members of the group.  It was a very moving occasion and Angela and Elizabeth met many of Jane’s friends.

Jane was a regular attendee of WSG seminars in London.  She never allowed her illness to get in the way of a good conversation and her curiosity and warmth will be much missed.  Jane was studying the family of the radical William Cobbett (1763-1835), especially his wife Anne, about whom not nearly enough is known.  She had conducted extensive archive work and it is hoped that her research will be published in some form, especially the article she was working on before her death.