Female 'Self Culture' in Edinburgh: The Ladies' Edinburgh Debating Society.
Kelman, K. (2002) Female 'Self Culture' in Edinburgh: The Ladies' Edinburgh Debating Society., no. 280.
The Ladies's Edinburgh Debating Society met on the first Saturday of each month between 1865-1936 to discuss the books they were reading and to debate prearranged issues. For the first fifteen years its members produced a magazine which carried fictive and general interest articles. This thesis will study the archive of the Society and the magazine that it produced to arrive at an understanding of the women's reading practices, their intellectual lives and their attitudes to the society in which they lived and how these experiences impacted upon them. At a time when women's societal role was limited and access to education was based on wealth or the philanthropy of others, these women were able (through their privileged place in the middle and upper classes) to construct their own canon of improving reading and to set guidelines for the education of others. Working against the hegemonic discourse of the time, yet seeking to exert some controlling influence over others, the women's attempts at self culture throw into rellief the context of their cultural experiences and the correlation between self improvement and women's emancipation. This thesis argues that prevailing ideas about Victorian women's existence in 'separate spheres' needs to be revised. It argues that the members of The Ladies' Edinburgh Debating Society make a move from the private to the public sphere through their utilisation of culture. Moreover, they are able to blend this notion of spheres to make society their concern through collective and individual action; improving themselves and the community in which they lived.