We celebrated International Women's Day this week to commemorate the achievements of women in history and in contemporary culture. It would be impossible to leave out one of this week's most exciting new titles, Before and After from Two Rivers Press, a memoir of Edith Morley, the first female professor in the UK.
Since childhood she 'hated being a girl'; understandable, considering the fact that she grew up in late Victorian era. She was aware of the restrictions put on her simply from 'being a girl' and made every effort to break through them, from defying her father's wishes and attending school rather than being educated at home, to her later life when she overcame many different obstacles as she navigated through a male-dominated environment of Edwardian academia. She was appointed Professor of English Language at Reading in 1908.
I spoke to Sally Mortimore and Barbara Morris (editor) of Two Rivers Press about the book and of the significance of Morley's achievements and what they mean today.
What stands out to you about Before and After, and what will stand out to readers?
The restrictions placed on girls and women in the early part of the 20th Century, though we read about them, are hard to take on board until you read a first hand account from an intelligent and energetic, personable woman. Edith's memoir makes you wish you could have invited her to dinner. Such was her range of knowledge and pursuits, her clear interest in others and her pragmatism, it's easy to imagine late night conversations full of laughter and name dropping! Her memoir is easy to read and resonant of a life-affirming personality. She is honest about the challenges she faced, about her own personal weaknesses and about the people she came into contact with. The result is the reader's opportunity to go back in time, experience the events that made our lives what they are today and make a commitment to future generations to live our ordinary lives as if they matter.
What makes Edith Morley an important figure, in her time and ours?
Edith Morley was an ordinary woman. Ordinary in that her circumstances and upbringing were typical of many women of her time. But she possessed extraordinary determination and energy which she used to change the course of her life and the lives of many women following in her footsteps. Although her personal achievement was tarnished by the attitude of her peers to the women in leadership positions, nevertheless, the status she did manage to attain paved the way for future female academics of all ranks to fulfill their potential.
What would you most want this book to achieve?
Huge sales! But also an understanding amongst women today that the path we tread was laid by some unassuming but determined women, many of whom are not noticed by history, but whose legacy was hugely significant. We can but aim to do likewise.