Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Brookes historian appears on Woman's Hour to discuss recent publication

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Brookes historian appears on Woman's Hour to discuss recent publication

Oxford Brookes historian Dr Melanie Reynolds has been interviewed on Woman’s Hour (Thursday 29 Dec 2016) discussing her recently published book

Infant Mortality and Working-Class Child Care, 1850-1899.

The book focuses on working class history and in particular working class child care and the reasons behind the exceptionally high infant mortality rate.

On her desire to challenge this area of history which blamed working class mothers for the high IMR Melanie said "As a working class mother I started getting into history, but locating the historiography of working class mothers was really difficult because it is virtually non-existent, and consequently my own within it."

By looking at parliamentary papers, autobiographies and interviews of working class women, Melanie challenged the deep seated belief that mothers were ultimately to blame for the high infant mortality rate.

When asked if there had been anything that had surprised her whilst she’d been researching the topic Melanie said “It was the action and agency of the factory mothers who surprised me and their legal right to take their kids to work. In doing so, they went to great lengths to keep their kids safe and ensure their infants did not suffer as a consequence of their waged work. Factory mothers therefore weren't victims of the industrial revolution as previously thought but active agents of their own concerns.

Melanie went on to say “My book has really only touched the surface on women’s positions in the workplace, I have an article for History Workshop forthcoming which concerns an all-female Weaver's Committee which fought a strike in West Yorkshire. I’ve discovered that the male weavers voted for an all-female weavers strike committee which is unheard of and the women went on to form 'New Unionism’. It is currently thought that 'New Unionism' is attributed to men such as Ben Tillett and Will Thorne, but this is wrong. It was the women in West Yorkshire.”

Melanie Reynolds is an Associate Lecturer in the School of History, Philosophy and Culture. And you can hear a full podcast of her interview here.