The Mutual Admiration Society

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Niamh Coffey (BA History) shares her experiences of working on the project ‘The Mutual Admiration Society’ and the impact it’s had on shaping her future career choices.

The College of Arts and Law UG Research Scholarship programme was the highlight of my summer. Not only did it provide me with independent research skills which will help me with my dissertation, it also gave me a nod in the right direction concerning my future career and academic possibilities, which has meant that I’m getting a lot more sleep at night than I used to!

This summer I helped Dr Mo Moulton with her research into the Mutual Admiration Society, a group of women at the University of Oxford in the early 20th century who were among the first women to receive degrees in Britain. My research mainly concerned Charis Frankenburg, a midwife and childcare expert who was highly influential in the birth control movement of the 1920s. This particular topic was both intricate and personal, which made me incredibly reflective of the fact that history isn’t always about dates, figures and political events, but about real life people who moved and felt in the same way that we do today. A particularly enjoyable aspect of this research was being able to access oral history tapes that Charis recorded in her later life, which added and extra layer of her character which I probably wouldn’t have known without the access provided to me by the scholarship.

Piece in a newspaper opposing birth control.

The scholarship was also very practical and has prepared me greatly for my final year dissertation. As ridiculous as it sounds, little things like checking the delivery times of an item at an archive or applying for access at a different university library would have never crossed my mind if I hadn’t have participated in this programme. After completing my five weeks on the programme, I immediately flew to Dublin and applied for access to the National Library of Ireland and was able to complete a huge chunk of my dissertation research, which is something I would have been completely clueless about had I not participated in the programme. Moreover, the sheer independence involved in the research has given me a spectacular confidence boost. The gratification of tracking down a missing oral history tape or completing a trip to Manchester are just a few of the pleasures I was missing out on before I participated in the programme! I now feel ready to tackle my dissertation and am prepared to use archives and a greater range of sources for the rest of my modules this year.

Furthermore, the programme has been decisive in helping me to decide on a future career. Seeing as I enjoyed the programme so much and was stimulated by the research, I now feel like I am capable of continuing my study with a Master’s degree, which was something I was slightly unsure of before. I previously felt uneasy about postgraduate study and was unsure if I would enjoy it, but I feel like the scholarship has given me a nod in the right direction and currently I am in the process of applying.

I would strongly urge students to apply for this scholarship as the confidence and research skills that you gain are valuable and transferable. I have learned an extraordinary amount in such a short window of time and feel more confident in myself than ever. I could not be more thankful for this opportunity.

Niamh Coffey, BA History

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