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Women on the Home Front:Shifting relationships between women, cats and dogs

2012 March 24

I gave a paper on ‘Shifting relationships between women cats, and dogs: challenges to the ‘people’s war’ at the conference organised by the Midlands Region of the Women’s History Network on Women on the Home Front at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas in Staffordshire. The gist of the talk was as follows:

The 1939-45 war on the Home Front is often referred to as the people’s war implying particular (positive) qualities. However, this wording ignores the role played by non-human animals both as the first victims of war, being slaughtered in hundreds of thousands at the start of the war and later providing emotional and practical support to humans. The paper  discussed various contemporary accounts including those of Nella Last and Londoners Lilian Margaret Hart,  Glawdys Cox, Alice Rosman and F.Tennyson Jesse to explore the particular relationships between individual women and their companion cats or dogs. It  argued that although the massacre of some 400,000 companion animals in London alone at the start of the war divided animals and humans, the domestic circumstances of animals and humans alike drew them both closer during the war, in some ways blurring the ‘species distinctions’. It argued that even if one is not particularly interested in animals one cannot ignore the impact of the animal – human relationship at this time.

Dr Maggie Andrews and Dr Janis Lomas are planning to publish a book arising from the conference so in due course I intend to develop the presentation for an article in the proposed collection.

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