Introducing the ‘Voices from the Early Days’ Blog Series

Featured Image:Alice Brown, Mary Buckley, Lynn Jamieson, Rosalind Mitchison, Liz Bondi. Tricia Jeffery and Fran Wasoff. Background soundwave image created by freepik

Radhika Govinda and Fiona Mackay


On this International Women’s Day 2021, we are delighted to launch a series of blog posts which will explore the different pathways into feminism that those teaching and researching Women, Gender and Feminist Studies (WGFS) at University of Edinburgh have had, the politics of feminist labour and the struggles to embed feminist pedagogical practices in the academy, and the history of the gender studies courses and degree programmes at the University.

This blog series emerges from the ongoing Voices from the Early Days project, which was originally launched under the auspices of GENDER.ED  (the University’s then-fledgling interdisciplinary hub for gender and sexualities studies) as we were about to complete 50 years of doing WGFS at Edinburgh in 2017. It has flourished as a collaborative endeavour of GENDER.ED and the UGC-UKIERI funded, Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives project.

The aim of Voices from the Early Days has been to reflect on the individual and collective journeys undertaken by feminist academics and to celebrate the voices and achievements of especially those who pioneered the field at the University of Edinburgh. In conversations between the two of us about the origins of WGFS at Edinburgh, we realised that the ‘early days’ of WGFS at Edinburgh had not been recorded up until now. One of us (Mackay) had a couple of decades of institutional memory but did not have the full story to share with a curious more recent colleague (Govinda). We believe important lessons are to be learned about how to sustain WGFS over the long haul by understanding our history.

So that was our impetus to begin this project to gather first-hand accounts from pioneers who introduced WFGS courses across the University, many of whom also worked to create feminist classrooms. We wanted to know their stories and career histories. What were their experiences of navigating the Academy as feminists? How did they develop and deliver WGFS courses? What dilemmas did they face?

We have started with a handful of academics mostly from the School of Social and Political Science (which kindly provided seed-corn funding). The blog series draws on interviews that Órla Murray and Marta Kowalewska conducted, and correspondence that Radhika Govinda had with some of the pioneers of the field at Edinburgh, namely, Alice Brown, Fran Wasoff, Liz Bondi, Lynn Jamieson, Mary Buckley and Patricia Jeffery, as well as Esther Breitenbach and Fiona Mackay.

We are most grateful to these wonderful pioneers of WGFS at Edinburgh for the interviews they very kindly gave to Órla and Marta. We would like to thank Órla for conducting the bulk of the interviews, Lisa Kalayji for transcribing them, and Marta for so seamlessly picking up where Órla and Lisa left off and for writing most of the blogs. Thanks are also due to Aerin Lai for her assistance with publishing the blogs.

We hope to roll out the project with the help of colleagues in different Schools across the University. Indeed, in addition to a blog by Radhika that kicks off the Voices from the Early Days blog series, Stana Nenadic from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology writes a guest blog this week on her memories of Rosalind (Rowy) Mitchison, the first female Professor of History at Edinburgh, who championed the study of women’s history and her collaborator, Leah Leneman.

In this Women’s History Month, we will release at least one blog per week. We hope you enjoy reading this blog series as much as we have enjoyed developing it. Happy Reading!

If you have memories to share of early women’s, gender and feminist studies teaching and research at University of Edinburgh, please contact gendered:

Author’s bios

Radhika Govinda is Senior Lecturer in Sociology. She is PI of the UGC-UKIERI Project, Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives and Project Lead for GENDER.ED on the Voices from the Early Days oral history project.

Fiona Mackay is Professor of Politics and Director of GENDER.ED, the University of Edinburgh’s interdisciplinary hub for gender and sexualities studies.