Fashion, Fury and Feminism: The origins of the RSPB with Tessa Boase

Date: Thu 4 Mar 2021.

Online Zoom Event

Victorian campaigner Emily Williamson was so incensed by the millinery trade’s use of plumage that she invited her friends to tea ⁠— and persuaded them to sign a pledge to wear no feathers. The all-female group called itself the Society for the Protection of Birds ⁠— “a very ambitious title,” noted The Times, under the headline “Birds and Bonnets.” The year was 1889, and the fashion for feathers was reaching a terrible crescendo. 
The story of the RSPB’s unstoppable growth (its ‘R’ for Royal Charter granted in 1904) is, of course, history. 
Except that it isn’t. Because the writers of history then chose to ignore, or suppress, or even reinvent the remarkable fact that the British bird conservation movement had female founders. The ladies behind this society got none of the credit. Emily (along with the other ladies who contributed) survives in the annals as a faceless name, and that is all. 
When social historian Tessa Boase told the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds she wanted to write their early story, they refused to let her visit their archives. To a former investigative journalist, this was a challenge she could not resist . . . This lecture shines a light on the intriguing story of women’s love affair with plumage – and of the brave eco feminists who fought back on behalf of the birds. Moving from a polite Victorian tea party to an egret hunt in a Florida swamp; from a suffragette ‘monster rally’ to a milliner’s dusty workshop, you’ll be taken back in time to a world where every woman, of every class wore a hat.   

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