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Within their sphere? Women's correspondence to Aberdeen daily newspapers, 1900-1918.

Pedersen, Sarah



Myrtle Anderson Smith

Michael Head


This research provides an insight into the motivations and agenda of women correspondents to Aberdeen local newspapers during the period 1900-18. This was achieved by undertaking a content analysis of all printed letters to the editor identified as being by women correspondents to the Aberdeen Daily Journal and Aberdeen Free Press. Women correspondents were identified by their signatures, feminine noms de plume or the content of their letters. Whilst it is accepted that this method must of necessity have excluded some women correspondents who did not wish to reveal their gender, this research focused exclusively on correspondents who were willing to be identified as female in their correspondence to the newspapers. In this way, it was hoped to identify the issues which impelled women out of their domestic and private sphere and into the more public sphere of newspaper debate. The two Aberdeen newspapers were also well suited for this research because of their lack of editorial gatekeeping, with little censorship of letters discerned, even in wartime. However, a lack of editorial censorship did not mean that women correspondents faced no barriers to the publication of their opinions in the newspapers. Women correspondents had to overcome social conventions, including possibly the disapproval of friends and family, in order to enter the world of public debate. The research identified particular issues about which it was acceptable for women to correspond to the newspapers and particular women who were allowed to debate these issues. Middle-class women engaged in philanthropic and charitable work, especially that related to women and children or, during the First World War, the war effort, felt justified in writing to the newspapers in order to publicise such activities. Women also justified correspondence to the newspapers on certain matters by claiming that they came under woman's jurisdiction in the domestic sphere. Many women further justified their correspondence on such matters by using pen names which emphasised their domestic and maternal role, such as `Mother' or `Wife'. Such correspondence tended to be proactive rather than reactive to other material in the newspapers, which is in direct contrast to the findings of previous researchers into the motivation of newspaper correspondents. Interestingly, the research discovered that women correspondents' use of noms de plume increased from 1900 until the outbreak of the First World War. While some women used pen names to emphasise their familial role, others used them in a much more straightforward way - in order to protect their identity while writing on contentious subjects. Such subjects included controversial issues such as woman suffrage and the sexual double standards of early 2e century Britain. However, even the most militant suffragette justified her demand for a vote by emphasising woman's difference from man. Such correspondents preferred to enlarge the woman's sphere to include social commentary and electoral privilege rather than step outside it altogether. The research also investigated differences between the two newspapers and between pre-war and wartime correspondence. It is suggested that the Daily Journal attracted more letters from `domestic' women on issues related to a more narrowly defined `woman's sphere' while the Free Press's correspondents included more New Women. In addition, the Journal received more letters from women based in England or further afield, for example the colonies, while the Free Press tended to receive letters from women within Scotland. Women's wartime correspondence was dominated by the war effort, which swept most other topics of correspondence off the letters pages, although the later years of the war saw an increase in letters of complaint, usually aimed at increasing bureaucracy and again making use of familial pen names. Such findings contribute to the broader history of the media and women's studies in the northeast of Scotland, and indicate a broadening and nationalising of interest throughout the early 20th century, and the beginning of an accompanying weakening of local, regional links.


PEDERSEN, S. 2004. Within their sphere? Women's correspondence to Aberdeen daily newspapers, 1900-1918. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date May 23, 2011
Publicly Available Date May 23, 2011
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Award Date Jan 31, 2004


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