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Yesterday David and I made a pilgrimage to Rochdale in order to watch our friend Natalie Bradbury contribute a guest lecture to a series of talks at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum.

I had suggested we get the bus, but Transport For Greater Manchester’s journey planner was sulking when I tried to look the buses up, and Trainline revealed fares for under £10 so we got the train from Victoria instead.

Rochdale came as a bit of a shock to us upon our arrival. The powers that be are in the process of installing tramlines for the Metrolink, so a lot of the roads from the train station (and neighbouring metrolink station) through the town centre are barricaded up while the lines are layed, making an already slightly daunting prospect of finding our way over to the museum somewhat more difficult. It was also colder than it had  been in Manchester, and it’s not often we get to say that…

After a somewhat bleak and vaguely surreal trek through the town centre and out the other side to Toad Lane, where the museum is, we grabbed a much needed cup of tea before sitting down to hear Natalie’s talk.

Titled ‘Woman’s Outlook: 1919 – 1967: A surprisingly modern magazine?’, Natalie’s talk was unusual in structure in that she doesn’t get on with Powerpoint and, what with being a trained journalist, she instead made a magazine, provided paper copies of it to the audience, and used a digital version of the magazine instead of Powerpoint to structure her talk.

Woman’s Outlook was a magazine for co-operative women, published by the Co-Operative Press. Natalie describes it as having “mixed the political and the domestic”

As Natalie says in her summary, the magazine took “an often daring political stance on hot topics of the day” and appeared “ahead of its time on issues such as abortion, equal pay and divorce law” but “many of the subjects covered by Outlook would not appear out of place in a women’s magazine today.”

As Natalie explained in her talk, she grew up reading the music press, then newspapers, so she never read the girls and womens press while she was growing up. The only women’s magazine she reads now is Stylist “because it’s free” and it was interesting, and very revealing, so see a comparison of stories in Woman’s Outlook and Stylist: There are more similarities in subject matter than you might think.

Natalie took the audience on a journey from the magazine’s beginnings in the ‘Women’s Corner’ in the Co-operative News in the late nineteenth century to the founding of the Co-operative Women’s Guild, to the founding of Woman’s Outlook at the end of the First World War.

Natalie talked of some of those involved with the paper, including notable editors, columnists and contributers, and discussed the prejudice they faced. Editor Mary Stott had wanted to cover ‘hard news’ in her journalistic career, but instead found herself consigned to ‘women’s issues’, which were taken less seriously. Her 1973 memoir Forgetting’s No Excuse was a touchstone for Natalie in her research, as were interviews she conducted with some of the surviving members of the Co-operative Women’s Guild, Pat Williams and Margaret Tillotson.

Natalie is an enthusiastic speaker, and her interest in the subject and her research really came across as she spoke. It made me want to find out more about the Co-operative Women’s Guild and Woman’s Outlook.

After the talk, David and I headed back to the train station as it was getting a bit late and we needed to find some food.

As we wearily tried to remember our way back through the dark, empty barricaded streets we spotted a sign that stated encouragingly ‘Rochdale: Open as usual’ but even that didn’t console us much in the misery of the cold. David remarked that he hadn’t felt this cold since he visited his ex boyfriend in Berlin a few winters back, whereas I fervently wished I’d put more layers on. We both felt flasks of soup and sandwiches would be a good idea next time. Either that, or we will have to wait until the mythical summer arrives before venturing this way again.

It wasn’t much better once we got back to Manchester, as the storm was drawing in, but it still felt a couple of degrees warmer at least. On our way back to Piccadilly to catch our buses home we walked past the old Co-Operative building, providing a neat ending to the evenings adventure.

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