I began my career with the Open University as an Associate Lecturer teaching French, later moving to Level 1 interdisciplinary modules in the Arts and Humanities. I am currently a member of the Module Team for our interdisciplinary Level 1 module, A113 Revolutions.
My interest in cultural history developed through researching my dissertation on the Cambridge Female Refuge for the Open University’s MA in History. I progressed to further postgraduate study at Royal Holloway, supervised by Professor Jane Hamlett. I was awarded my PhD in 2020.
I am currently working on a book to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. Based on my PhD, it will examine the material worlds of four English reform institutions for ‘fallen’ women over the period from 1838 to 1910. From the early decades of the nineteenth century, institutions known as refuges, Magdalen asylums, homes, Houses of Mercy or penitentiaries were set up through charitable action by individuals and organisations. Women entering these institutions underwent a programme of laundry, sewing, housework, religious and literacy instruction for around two years, after which they were placed in respectable domestic service. Why were such institutions thought necessary? Women who were sexually experienced but unmarried were judged to have ‘fallen’ from chastity and to represent a threat to the sanctity of respectable marriage, home and family. Mostly from the labouring classes, such women were deemed by largely middle-class society to be morally errant and in need of ‘rehabilitation’.
Going inside these institutions, my book will explore the connections between institutional purpose, material setting and reform experience. It shows how the material worlds of these corrective institutions reflected their moral purpose and were carefully constructed to discourage certain behaviours and reinforce desirable values. Inmates’ individual and collective actions in response to these environments were revealing and a more diverse picture emerges of their institutional experience. Women expressed their own agency through rebellion, complaint and subversion, but also through strategic compliance.