Rebekah Currer

Rebekah Currer, ‘Dissent, Discussion and Dissemination: The Strategies of the Kensington Society in the mid-Victorian Women’s Movement’ (PhD in History, 2020)

This thesis investigates the strategic communication of mid-nineteenth century British feminism through the activism and networking of the Kensington Society (1850–1890). Collectively and individually, the 68 members of Britain’s first female-only discussion society practised a range of intellectual communication strategies to reform the position of women in society. In combining literary historical and communication approaches, it also aims to readdress the intellectual heritage of the Kensington Society, asking why it was established, and how it was utilised to spark a wider discussion on women’s rights in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. To do so, the thesis investigates the political and religious dissenting heritage of the 68 members; their English Woman’s Journal; discussion through private letters and publications, and their involvement in founding Britain’s first women’s tertiary college, Girton College, Cambridge. Through a historicist examination of the communication of the Kensington Society, it specifically examines the pivotal role the Society played in the individual reforms of its members, and the wider women’s movement of Victorian England. The first chapter argues that the Kensington Society was in debt to the ‘intellectual culture’ of their heritage. The second chapter examines the purpose behind their unified work in the earlier English Woman’s Journal, their initial attempt to enter the public press and the moderate success this allowed. The third chapter explores their subsequent decision to embrace the private realm open to them and establish a discussion society. To illustrate the fulfilment of this decision, the fourth and fifth chapters articulate the flexibility of intentions achieved, and the broad range of discursive communication traversed through nineteenth-century women’s activism. The final chapter considers the impact of the Kensington Society: women empowered by functional and informative discussion who utilised the skills and tools they learnt to bring about change in Victorian society.

Supervisors: Professor Andrew May and Professor Deidre Coleman (SCC)