MERL Seminars: Women and the countryside

Experts deliver a short series of talks, which seek to explore the diverse and important role of women in the English countryside.

All of the seminars are free, and open to the public. Booking is not essential although it is advisable to register in advance as places are limited.

Click here to find out how to reserve your place 


Karen Sayer seminarElectricity and women's work in farmhouse and cottage

Dr Karen Sayer, Professor of Social and Cultural History, Leeds Trinity University

  • Tuesday 15th October
  • 4.30 to 6pm
  • Free
  • Register

The promotion of electricity during the 1920s began to stimulate demand for such power in the countryside. Advice was issued and texts produced that began to demonstrate how it might be used both on the farm and in the farmhouse. However, this activity occurred against a backdrop of limited availability and questionable reliability. In many areas electrical supply remained rare or non-existent until long after the Second World War. Set against this complex history, this talk will explore the degree to which this modern convenience came to impact on the lives of rural women during the early twentieth century.


DownsideLooking for Lavinia: An American collector in 1930s Berkshire

Dr Bridget Yates, Independent Researcher, and Dr Ollie Douglas, Assistant Curator, Museum of English Rural Life

  • Tuesday 29th October
  • 4.30 to 6pm
  • Free
  • Register

During the 1930s, an American woman called Lavinia Smith formed a museum of ‘Old Village Life’ and ‘Bygones’ in her home in the English village of East Hendred. After her death the collection passed to the local Education Authority and eventually to MERL. With the generous support of the Arts Council England and with the help of our friends at Champs Chapel Museum and in the community where she lived and collected, MERL's 'Reading Connections' project has begun to reveal for the first time how and why Lavinia Smith came to establish this collection.

To find out more about the collection at MERL, visit the Village Collections page of the Reading Connections project 


Young Lady Eve BalfourLady Eve Balfour: farmer or Bright Young Thing?

Dr Erin Gill, Writer and Researcher

  • Tuesday 12th November
  • 4.30 to 6pm
  • Free
  • Register

One of the first women to study agriculture at Reading, Eve Balfour farmed in East Suffolk during the interwar years. Today known as the founder of the Soil Association, in the 1920s and 1930s Eve combined farming with playing in a Jazz band, writing detective novels, and experimenting with Ouija boards. Was she a proper farmer? Or was she one of the era's 'Bright Young Things' who played at farming? Dr Erin Gill's doctoral thesis focuses on the career of Lady Eve Balfour and her contribution to the organic food and farming movement. She is involved in the AHRC-funded 'Histories of Environmental Change' network.

Visit Dr Erin Gill's website

Find out more about Lady Eve Balfour and the AHRC Environmental Histories network

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See also

MERL Annual Lecture, Dec 5th


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