Intellectual portraits: politics, professions and identity in twentieth-century EnglandHistory of Education


Jane Martin
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Intellectual portraits: politics, professions and identity in twentiethcentury England

Jane Martina a University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Published online: 12 Dec 2014.

To cite this article: Jane Martin (2014) Intellectual portraits: politics, professions and identity in twentieth-century England, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, 43:6, 740-767, DOI: 10.1080/0046760X.2014.964019

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Intellectual portraits: politics, professions and identity in twentieth-century England

Jane Martin*

University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

This article brings together six talented women historians in twentieth-century

England whose scholarly productions helped shape modern historical practice but who are little known in the canonical accounts of history-writing in the period. The author is looking to map and describe historical communities from a grounded and qualitative perspective using a biographical approach pioneered by

Olive Banks, showing the sequencing of connections located in time and space, social history and social geography. The crux of the argument is that these intellectual portraits tell us something about the ‘career’ chances for scholarly women that are significant to debates over politics, professions and identity, and women’s position in higher education today. The key objective is to provide a historically situated account of their contribution to developments within the field, attending not simply to their ideas but to their social status in relation to the university-based discipline of history.

Keywords: gender; identity; intellectual; politics; professions


Though I spend all my time with a crammer

I never can rise above gamma

While that girl over there

With the flaming red hair

Gets Alpha Plus easily, damn her!


The student, privileged among Victorian women, whose brains provided the inspiration for this limerick was Barbara Hammond (née Bradby 1873–1961).1 She was the first woman in the history of Oxford University to attain a double First in classics and the first woman to cycle to lectures. Twenty-five years after higher education for *Email: 1Barbara’s success was commemorated in a picture postcard obtainable in Oxford shops showing a dishevelled and distraught male, coping with an examination paper, along with a young woman shown writing with easy nonchalance above the rhyme, which is remembered in slightly varying forms. This version is from Anne Ridler, A Victorian Family Postbag (Oxford: Perpetua Press, 1988), 121. © 2014 Taylor & Francis

History of Education, 2014

Vol. 43, No. 6, 740–767,

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D ec em be r 2 01 4 women was created and established in England her outstanding academic success was transformed into part of the women’s cause. Upon return home, Barbara took part in a distinct ‘women’s tradition’ in urban social investigation that was also developing in the 1890s. She married historian and journalist Lawrence Hammond in 1901 but the turning point in her public life was the result of illness. She developed tuberculosis in 1905 and the couple moved to the country. The Hammond household ended up as a literary workshop and their public identities merged: ‘One flesh and one author’, as historian G.M. Trevelyan put it.2 But it was she who completed the work that formed the bedrock of their academic reputation. The Town

Labourer (1917) was the second of their volumes on the labourers that made the

Hammonds famous as interpreters of the English Industrial Revolution. Remembered long after at Oxford first for her beautifully abundant red hair, then for her athletic prowess, third for her cycling and last for her brains, Barbara contributed more to their intellectual collaboration than people have given her credit for.

This article represents one outcome of a larger project that revisits the historical connections between university-based research and reformist efforts in the expanding and partially overlapping worlds of social studies and social action in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.3 This project, it is hoped, will help to redefine the political and cultural map of the period in and across the interconnected domains of work, education and family, working from the perspective and experience of women. Here I combine an intellectual portrait of six talented women whose work shaped modern historical practice with an exploration of the place of historians in a wider political and cultural milieu. Besides Barbara Hammond (1873–1961) my subjects are Olive Banks (née Davies, 1923–2006), Lilian Knowles (née Tomn, 1870–1926), Dorothy Marshall (1900–1994), Eileen Power (1889–1940), and Joan