By Dr Hanita Ritchie, Local History Officer
East Lothian Council Library Service
Throughout history, women from all corners of the world have led lives very similar to their mothers and grandmothers, but equally, many women have led radically different lives from their predecessors due to various reasons and circumstances. Such is the case throughout Scottish history.
Since time immemorial, patriarchal dictates have played a major part in deciding the status of women at all levels of the social spectrum. Few if any married women worked outside the home until the First World War radically altered society. Married women’s position was also determined by their husband’s occupation and this attitude continued until the second half of the 20th century. And for the longest time, many women rarely appeared in dictionaries of biography or in history books in spite of their crucial role in building, re-building, and maintaining families, communities and society as a whole.
Hanita also generally highlighted the many often unacknowledged and unsung heroines of the socio-political and economic history of East Lothian, particularly in the agriculture, mining, and fishing industries, as well as women in war times, and the health sector. She showed pictures of the women of Fisherrow, Musselburgh carrying creels of fish, selling them from town to town from the Borders to Edinburgh whilst their men were at sea; women carrying coal from the coal face to ground level at local coal mines; women cleaning aircraft at East Fortune; and women in their roles as nurses and doctors.
Bondagers were 19th-century women farm workers who were hired by the plough men of the Scottish Borders to work alongside them. (See picture at top of page)
Hanita then invited audience members to share their knowledge and opinions of women of East Lothian.