School of History Seminar Week 9: English Women and the Late Nineteenth-Century Open Spaces Movement

During the second half of the nineteenth century, England became the most industrialised and urbanised nation on earth. It was also land-hungry, with an expanding population driving housing developments on any available space. Beginning in 1865 with the establishment of the Commons Preservation Society, social reforming groups sought to stop the sale and development of open spaces near metropolitan centres together with the creation of a network of public gardens. Over the next thirty years, the CPS along with other new national organisations worked to protect and develop open spaces around the country. In the process, participants challenged traditional land ownership, class obligations and gender roles. Little attention has been focused on these associations, their achievements and their members despite their important contribution to early preservation. My thesis focuses particularly on the many women activists who contributed to the work and philosophy of the open spaces movement. Further, it analyses the variety of motivations that prompted their ethos, as well as exploring the range of language used by supporters in their descriptions of the ‘natural’ world.
The PhD thesis, which this seminar presents, sits at the nexus of environmental, gender and social history. It utilises the wealth of archival material of four Victorian open space organisations to explore the intersections between conservation, gender and philanthropy in late nineteenth-century England, in global terms an early instance of environmental activism.

Robyn Curtis is a PhD Candidate in the School of History. She has presented papers at a range of national and international conferences, and in 2015 she received an ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences research scholarship to Indiana University to research trans-Atlantic influences in conservation. She serves as an HDR representative on the AHA Executive Committee and completed her M.A. at the University of Canterbury, where her thesis won the James Hight Memorial Prize in History.



Date & time

Wed 27 Apr 2016, 4.15–5.30pm


McDonald Room, Menzies Library ANU

Event series


School of History


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