PhD Life

Presenting PhD research to kids! — 3 tips I found helpful

Around a month ago, I was approached by my local Rainbows leader, asking if I’d be willing to come and give a talk to Rainbows about suffrage and the importance of voting (AKA my favourite topics). If you don’t know, Rainbows is a section of GirlGuiding, the UK’s largest youth organisation for girls. Rainbows are usually between the ages of 5 and 7. I know this because I used to be a Rainbow back in the day!

Image result for rainbow guide symbol

I immediately said yes, because what could be better than chatting about my PhD with future voters. But then, I felt nervous. I felt nervous because I’d only ever presented my research to adults, and although I am becoming much more confident delivering papers to my peers, the thought of speaking to a group of 5-7 year olds was a little daunting.

It was daunting for a few reasons. I wanted to explain my research and the history of suffrage in an accessible and non-jargon-y way. I also didn’t just want to talk at them, as if I were a teacher delivering a lecture. I wanted it to be fun, and I wanted to encourage debate.

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So I decided to approach this talk in a VERY different way than I would usually do. Firstly, I wanted my presentation to be visual. Usually I’d do this with a good old powerpoint presentation, but the Rainbows group meet in my local church hall, and having been there on numerous occasions during my childhood, I knew that bringing technology was a no go.

So I decided to go for the most low tech option that still provided cool visuals. I grabbed a big old flip chart, got some scissors and a glue stick, and I made (IMO) a pretty cool presentation.


Now I’m not a particularly crafty person, but I was pretty pleased with the results! I also made a RIGHT mess of my room.


The other thing that I decided to do was dress up as a suffragette.



If I’m honest I’ve been wanting to to it for AGEEES, because who doesn’t love dressing up. It was really simple too. I already had a black maxi skirt and a white long-sleeved shirt, and my summer sunhat (coz we all know that Edwardian’s LOVED headgear). I used about a billion bobby pins to do my hair, and the beautiful sash and the badge I brought from Etsy for around a tenner!

The rainbows really liked my costume, and it was a great way to open my talk with the question: can anyone tell me what I am dressed up as? The final (and probably most important because she IS adorable) was my Suffraduck:

Although I was super nervous, the talk went really well. They ESPECIALLY liked my costume and my suffraduck (DUH!), and they listened so well to what I had to say. The discussion we had about women and voting and how important it is was so lovely. Also, they gave me an advent calendar, which I definitely haven’t already opened and munched through. All in all, it was such a great experience, and I really enjoyed sharing my work with a new audience!

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So, all in all, here are my 3 tips on presenting PhD research to kids:

1 // THINK VISUAL. Catching their attention with a cool object or costume, or anything related to your research will really resonate.

2 // KEEP IT SHORT. I was aware that they probably didn’t want me to be droning on for ages, so I kept my talk snappy and I made sure I stuck to my (self-imposed) time limit.

3 // ENCOURAGE INTERACTION. This, I think, is the most crucial tip. Think of your talk as a conversation. Ask them for their opinions, and make sure your talk encourages discussion. I asked if anyone would support a law banning chocolate, and the response was (not surprisingly) NO. This really helped them understand the power and importance of voting!

Finally, here’s yet another photo of my suffragette get up. I had to answer the door to the postman in this, and he DEFINITELY thinks I’m odd now.


Suffragettes · Suffragists

The Great Suffrage Bake Off: Apple Sauce Cake

In my quest for all things suffrage related, I was alerted (cheers Amazon), to a book which compiled recipes from prominent supporters of women’s suffrage. Originally published in 1915 to help raise funds for The Cause, it has been reprinted as part of a heritage project exploring how the vote was won.

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And boy, are the recipes something. (SO. MANY. EGG. RELATED. RECIPES!)

So, in tribute to my love of the best show ever, The Great British Bake Off, and my inability to cook anything well, I decided to work my way through these vintage recipes for my PhD blog.

sue season 4 GIF by PBS

I decided to avoid the ten egg recipes to begin with, and settled on an easy-ish looking recipe for a cake I’d never heard of: Apple Sauce Cake. Here were the ingredients/instructions:

Apple Sauce Cake

1/2 cup butter

a little salt

3 cups sifted flour

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 cup nuts

1 1/2 cups apple sauce

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup seeded raisins

2 scant teaspoons soda dissolved in a little water, boiling.

Bake in a slow oven.

Yup. The entire method is ‘bake in a slow oven’.

nervous great british baking show GIF by PBS

I decided to use what little common sense I possess, measured out the ingredients and just mixed them all together.

I wasn’t that optimistic. Why? Well first of all the mixture seemed very dry, almost biscuit-y. Then, it was VERY cinnamon-y, overwhelmingly so. Finally, it just didn’t smell cakeish–instead it was more of a play dough scent.

At this point I was sort of regretting not choosing the ten egg recipe! 

Then I came to the next hurdle in my bake: what the heck does “Bake in a slow oven” mean? THANK GOODNESS FOR GOOGLE, which told me that a slow oven meant one that had a relatively low heat–I went for 150c. Obviously this gave me me no time scale, but I decided to check the oven every ten minutes.

And after about twenty minutes:

great british bake off dont ask GIF

VOILA! I had a cake. I tested it by seeing if it was springy to the touch, took it out of the oven and waited for it to cool. I have to say, it looked pretty good.


I mean, it’s not a showstopper, but it’s not the worst looking cake in the world!

you dont say paul hollywood GIF by BBC

Then it was time for the taste-test. Predictably, it tasted apple-y and cinnamon-y, which were the two main flavours. It was very autumn appropriate in my opinion, and wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be, given the play dough like smell and the dryness from earlier.

On the downside, it was nothing special. I didn’t LOVE it. It was alright, especially with custard on a cold November day, but the Apple Sauce Cake isn’t something I’ll be rushing to make again. On the plus side, though–no eggs!

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I hope you enjoyed this little foray into historical baking. I definitely had a lot of fun, and it was great to combine my love of cake based reality TV shows + first wave feminism. Now I have this fabulous book, I’m definitely going trying out the increasingly eccentric recipes it has!

PhD Life

A Newbie’s Guide to the Archive

As I come into the second year of my PhD, I know I will be spending a substantial amount of my time in various archives over the coming year. Now that I have focused my research topic, going out and collecting the primary sources for my research is the next step.

Now I love archives. A day spent in one fills me with excitement and anticipation–I mean, I could find anything! (or nothing, but I prefer to focus on the possibility). Over the  course of the last few years, during my MA and now in my PhD, I’ve spent a lot of time in them.

And to be honest, when I first started visiting archives, I felt kind of intimidated–looking at important historical documents was scary! And would archivists think me/my research topic was silly? And what if I dropped/ripped something? These worries have somewhat dissipated, so I’d though I collate the tips I’d learnt for any archive newbies out there.

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Before Your Visit

The library at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I didn’t visit the archives, but it was really lovely to see the researchers looking at their documents in such a beautiful place.
  • The most important thing you can do before you visit an archive is know that want you want is there.

Now, obviously, you can’t be 100% sure before you actually go to an archive that archive material will help your research–there are ALWAYS going to be archive visits where you find nothing helpful. However, you can mitigate this happening. Most archives today have great online search tools that let you ascertain what information they hold, and if not–you can alway email the archivist and just ask. Archivists are literally THE most helpful people, who know the collections they look after inside out.

  • Book an appointment.

Most, if not all archives require you to book an appointment or a place in their reading room. The reason why is simple: firstly, archive space sometimes fill up quickly, and secondary, the items you ordered might already be in use by someone else on that particular day.

When you book an appointment, you can sometimes order the items you want to see in advance. Some archives let you order additional items on the day, although this does vary.

  • Check the archive requirements.

When you book an appointment in an archive, the archivists will generally email you over a list of requirements for to to do/bring to the archive on your visit. First amongst these are ID. Some archives require two forms–one that has proof of address, and one that it is a photo ID. Always double check what ID you need to bring to the archive–the worst thing would be traveling to an archive, only to discover you can’t enter because of a lack of ID!

You also might need to bring signed and dated forms. These are generally for agreeing to the archive rules, on etiquette, photo-taking and copyright. Obviously, it’s really important to read these forms before signing so you know what you’re agreeing to!

Also, take note of where the archive is, and when its opening times are. Some archives open later in the day, some are only open three times a week, and some close for lunch. So factoring how long it will take to get there, and how much time you’ll be able to spent there is important in terms of how much you’ll be able to get down.

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What to Bring to the Archive:

Minus, yah know, the hot chocolate and the pen/highlighter
  • ID, and any forms that the archive requires.
  • A notebook and a pencil. (Some archives will not let you bring in loose paper, and all of the ones I’ve visited ban pens).
  • A laptop
  • A phone with a camera. (If photo taking is allowed)

Generally, you are not allowed to bring in:

  • Any food/drink (including bottled water.
  • Coats and or bags.

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How I use the Archive:


*note: these tips are based upon my experiences and preferences, and what works best for me in visiting archives, and collecting and collating archival material. They may, however, not work for everyone, so take these tips with a pinch of salt.*

  • Before I visit the archive, I create a word document that states where I am going, and the date of my visit. I also (if I know them) write down the files I had ordered, and their archival reference.
  • When I’m there, I take my laptop into the archive, and note down anything information that I maybe didn’t have before. For example, some documents within files have different reference numbers.
  • I go through the archive items in order. Sometimes this might be tricky, as some archive files aren’t organised at all. I write down what is in the file, and read the file from beginning to end.
  • If I come across any documents that are relevant to my research, dependent on how much time I have I’ll either read them thoroughly and begin to transcribe them, or I’ll take photos of them.
  • I then do this for all the archive materials, noting what file the document is in, and the archival reference number for each document.

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Archive Etiquette:

  • If in doubt, ask the archivist. You could be dealing with delicate documents that might be hundreds of years old, so it’s so important to treat them gently.
  • Make sure your hands are clean.
  • Don’t write on the archival documents.
  • There will generally be supportive pillows for delicate books spines, and weights to lay down on pages.
The National Archives at Kew

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After the Archive

  • This might be the fact that I have a disability, but I am normally utterly exhausted after an archive visit. All that close reading of documents and looking at grainy photos is hard work. This is probably more of a self-care tip rather than a archive tip: don’t force yourself to finish everything that night.
  • I type up my notes on the archive material I looked at the following day, transcribing documents and transferring the photos I took to my hard drive. I put all this information into a folder titled with the date and the archive I visited.
  • When I’m lucky in my archive visits, I find out more information that is relevant to my research topic, which might lead me to further potential sources of information. Which is basically the COOLEST thing. It makes me feel like some kind of history detective.


So, in conclusion, visiting an archive is a unique and interesting experience. The feeling of looking at and reading objects/documents that could be hundreds of years old is indescribable, and the information that we can get from these documents are revealing and integral to historical research. However, it’s important to do prepare thoroughly for a visit, and over the last year I’ve learnt some tips that I think might be helpful for others.


PhD Life

A Month in the Life of a PhD Student | #11

October is traditionally my FAVOURITE month. Like, I love it. It’s spooky, and cold, and I get to wear tights again, and it’s also my mum’s birthday. IT’S THE BEST. Unfortunately, this October wasn’t one of the best. It started off really good though…:

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WEEK #1:

  • I visited TWO archives this week. The first was Girton College, University of Cambridge. It was SO beautiful, and I got lots of work done. There was an abundance of sources for one of the women I’m researching, which, for a PhD student is the most exciting thing. To study in such beautiful surroundings, and to eat in the beautiful (and fancy) hall at lunch was something special.
  • Then I went to the Museum of London archives. The Museum of London is one of my favourite museums (seriously, if you get the chance, visit it!), and it was so great to again, get to see and interact with documents that are crucial to my thesis. ALSO, I got to visit the gift shop, which is very bad for my wallet, but very good for my burgeoning suffrage trinket collection.
I brought a hammer pin and Votes For Women shield which is now proudly pinned to my beret.
  • I spent the rest of the week writing up notes in the aftermath of my archives visit. Transcribing notes takes SO MUCH TIME. I also, of course, continued to read PhD books/journal articles, started writing up timelines so I could chart where and when the women I’m researching where. I also had an admin day where I organised my PhD folder and backed up my hard-drive.

WEEK #2:

  • I started off this week not feeling well. Because I’m silly, I brushed this off, got some antibiotics from the doctor and went on with my work. (BIG MISTAKE, Past Laura.)
  • I visited a third archive this week, the BBC Written Archives in Caversham, Reading. Again, it was FANTASTIC. I had such a fabulous day looking at very interesting things, but I couldn’t quite concentrate. Again, I brushed this feeling off. (SILLY).
Obvs took a photo of a bridge in Reading (the ONLY photo I took on this trip apart from archive photos).
  • Again, I spent the rest of the week transcribing archive documents and PhD reading. That was until Friday, when I felt AWFUL. I go to an Out of Hours Doctors, and am sent to A&E. I had a temperature and was apparently at risk of sepsis, which is very scary. I was prescribed my second round of antibiotics.

WEEK #3:

  • Unfortunately I didn’t get better. On Monday I was sent back to A&E. The rest of the week passed in a flurry of pain and painkillers. It sucked. I couldn’t do ANY work. I also got prescribed my third round of antibiotics

WEEK #4:

  • Still ill. Managed to do some online training and then was sent back to A&E for a third time. This time I was told I needed to be referred to an emergency dermatologist.
  • I was also given my fourth lot of antibiotics, and extra strong painkillers.
  • It was my mum’s birthday! I couldn’t do much except give her a gift, and we had a takeaway instead of going out for dinner.
Dad got my mum a cardboard cat instead of a card. As you can see, she was THRILLED!
  • I managed to get a little reading done.


  • But mostly, I just slept and watched Netflix. Fingers crossed I get my dermatology appointment ASAP, because I really miss my life. Hopefully, November’s wrap up, will have a happier ending!


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PhD Life

How my PhD has changed over its first year

One of the things that I love about any kind of large writing project is how it evolves over time. Ideas change, theories develop, and the more familiar you are with the project, the more you’re able to really dig in to what it is you’re trying to do.

This is me, around about a year ago:

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Back then, I had a vague idea of my research. In fact, I wrote down what it was then in my ‘About Me’ section on this very blog:

My area of interest is the relationship between the campaign for parliamentary votes for women, and early female lawyers in the UK. More specifically, I am looking at this relationship in the context of four women: Christabel Pankhurst, Helena Normanton, Eliza Orme & Chrystal MacMillan.

But, as I read more of the literature, attended conferences and began visiting archives, I realised that my thesis needed more focus. I knew that I didn’t want my thesis to be a simply narrative history of these four women. In at the beginning of 2018, I began to wonder how on earth I’d fit all four of them in. I know what you’re thinking–a PhD thesis is HUGE, thousands upon thousands of words. But I really wanted to interrogate the interaction between these women’s legal careers and suffrage activism. Could I do that when I was looking at four women?

After discussions with my supervisor. we agreed to cut two of the women from my research–Helena Normanton and Eliza Orme. The reason why we cut these two was because in terms of their legal careers, they had received more academic attention than both Chrystal Macmillan and Christabel Pankhurst.

Then, LITERALLY the day after we’d decided this, I found a woman. I was very excited, as this tweet illustrates:

This woman was fascinating. She had almost nothing written on her, and her personal papers were preserved. Her name was Elsie Bowerman. Luckily for me, my supervisor was fully on board with my research incorporating Elsie.



So, now I had three women, when I’d only just gone down to two. I decided to focus on Elsie Bowerman and Chrystal Macmillan. I did this for a couple of reasons. First of all, Christabel had just had a full length biography written about her, and secondly, whilst both Chrystal and Elsie participated heavily in the campaign for votes for women and were likewise called to the Bar and practising barristers, they each held diverse political perspectives. Chrystal was a committed Liberal, a suffragist’—she was a member of the National Union of Womens Suffrage Societiesand a prominent pacifist during World War One. In contrast, Elsie was a member of the militant Womens Social and Political Union and her political beliefs were more conservative.

Also, both continued their political activism AFTER the partial enfranchisement of women in 1918. This was another area in which my research evolved. The focus on suffrage became more broad, and instead became a focus on political activism as a whole. SO, when I begun my research, my thesis title was: Inspirational Lawyers: The Fight for Women’s Votes and the Role of Early Female Lawyers in the UK. And now, it is: Chrystal MacMillan and Elsie Bowerman: first women barristers’ negotiation of professional and political identities.

Personally, I think this is a pretty big change. Over the last year I’ve definitely become more confident in myself and in my work, and I’m really excited to see how my research develops further.

With the idea of development in mind, I thought The Portia Post itself needed a little makeover. Thankfully, I have an UBER talented friend, Lia. Lia is a fantastic artist who has drawn me an awesome new logo/blog header image:


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On This Day · Suffragists

On This Day: The Women’s Suffrage March in New York


On this day (October 23rd) in 1915, an estimated 25000 women marched in the name of women’s suffrage in New York. It was the largest suffrage demonstration in 1915, and saw women walk down fifth avenue.

The march was led by Carrie Chapman Catt and Dr. Anna Shaw. Chapman Catt was a well known suffrage campaigner. She was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association AND the founder of the League of Women Voters and the International Alliance of Women. Dr. Shaw was also prominent in the suffrage campaign, and alongside this she was a physician.


Whilst women’s right to vote across the whole of the United States wouldn’t become law until the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted in 1920, New York, the setting of the march, became one of the first states to extend the franchise to women, in 1917.

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Historic Heroines

Historic Heroine: Margaret Bondfield

You’d think that a working class woman and political pioneer (Margaret was NOT only the first woman cabinet minister, but also the first woman privy councillor, AND the first woman to chair the General Council of the Trades Union Congress), would be a household name today, but Margaret Bondfield is still pretty obscure. So who is she, and why should she be remembered? Today, in the third of my series on Historic Heroines, I’m looking at Margaret Bondfield.

From Shopgirl to Activist

Margaret was the tenth of eleventh children, born in 1873 to a family of modest means. Her father, William, had radical political beliefs which he instilled in his daughter. Margaret had a limited formal education, and at the age of 14 she began an apprenticeship in a draper’s shop in Hove–far away from her family in Somerset.


Whilst working, she became acquainted with Louisa Martindale, a suffragist and women’s rights activist. Louisa lent Margaret books and supported her political development. After her apprenticeship, she moved to London, and continued to work in shops.  It was at this time that Margaret began to become heavily involved in worker’s rights. She exposed the awful conditions that shopgirls often had to work under, writing under a pseudonym, ‘Grace Dare’. She also joined a union, the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen, and Clerks (NUSAWC), and in 1898 became a Union Official. In 1899 she became the first woman delegate to the Trades Union Annual Congress.

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Adult Suffragist?

Margaret first became involved in the suffrage cause in 1904, attending the International Congress of Women in Berlin. However, her beliefs were at odds with both of the two largest suffrage groups–the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Both the WSPU and NUWSS were campaigning for a restricted women’s suffrage, on the same terms that suffrage was currently granted to men.


For Margaret, this limited franchise wasn’t enough. For a start, it excluded many of the working class. Because of this, she instead threw her support behind the Adult Suffrage Society, which campaigned for complete adult suffrage. In 1906, she became its chairman.

She also helped found the Women’s Labour League (WLL), an organisation that promoted the political representation of women and was connected to the Labour political party. At the 1909 Labour Party conference, the WLL introduced a motion arguing for the party to oppose any franchise extension that excluded women. However, Margaret was persuaded to water down her motion, something that she was heavily criticised for by suffrage societies.

Bonfield later criticised the Representation of the People Act 1918 as “mean and inadequate … creating fresh anomalies” because of its exclusion of working class women.

Member of Parliament

In December 1923, Margaret Bondfield was elected in Northampton, with a majority of 4306. She was one of three of the first Labour women MPs. No party had managed to achieve a majority, so Labour formed a minority Government under Ramsey MacDonald. Margaret was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Labour, Tom Shaw. However, the government didn’t last long–in October, MacDonald resigned, triggering a General Election. Margaret lost her seat in Northampton by 971.

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HOWEVER, our girl Margaret wasn’t one for giving up. In 1926 she won a seat in a by-election, and in 1929 she was made the Minister of Labour, the first woman to be a cabinet minister in the UK.


Now we’ve come to the crux of the reason why Margaret Bondfield is little remembered today: did she betray her political ideals? After becoming a cabinet minister, Margaret struggled with balancing the political realities with her beliefs. She supported a policy to cut unemployment benefit to some married women. This was a VERY unpopular move–Britain was struggling financially, and in the height of the Depression. But more than that, some labour voters regarded Margaret’s support of this policy as a betrayal of her earlier work for the working class, women, and workers.


In an atmosphere of rising unemployment and Margaret needed to reduce the unemployment fund deficit. This was an almost impossible task, and it led to the rupture of the cabinet. MacDonald, the Prime Minister, formed a coalition government with Liberal and Conservative MPs, and most of the Labour Party went into opposition. In the next general election, the Labour Party’s performance was catastrophic–they lost many seats, including Margaret’s. Despite attempts to get re-elected in 1935, she never returned to Parliament.

A Legacy to be Proud Of

Because of the way her political career ended, Margaret was criticised by those on the left and the right of the political spectrum. When she returned to her trade union work, she was not warmly welcomed. Despite this, she was active in her local Labour Party in her later life AND Women’s Group on Public Welfare.


Basically, despite the many hurdles and knockbacks, Margaret Bondfield NEVER gave up on working to improve lives. The holder of many ‘firsts’ for women, Margaret’s greatest achievements were her commitment to public service. Despite this, many later Labour members have failed to acknowledge her pioneering work–Barbara Castle, another prominent woman Labour MP, refused to write the preface to a book celebrating Bondfield, and then leader Tony Blair didn’t even mention her when celebrating 100 years of Labour in Parliament in 2001.

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