Could women influence politics in a century of gender discrimination?

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We have all read history from the perspective of men. We have witnessed men as the craftsmen of history, pulling strings, orchestrating political decisions, and dominating government affairs. However, a group of seven undergraduate history students from the University of Southampton have spent months relentlessly researching the little known significance of women in 19th century politics, hoping to pioneer new perspectives on female influence.

Lady Palmerston, the focus of the group’s research, discards all traditional views of aristocratic women in the 19th century. Her vivacity and charm were renowned and there is little doubt that her power in the political world was significant. In 1839 Emily Cowper (née Lamb) married Lord Palmerston, who wielded extensive power in government as foreign secretary and prime minister, and as Lady Palmerston she became one of the greatest political hostesses of the 19th century.

In a society which had long discriminated against women, Lady Palmerston is an excellent example of how aristocratic women still had an indirect, but very evident, impact on politics.  Historians have noted how an invitation to her ‘glittering parties’ ‘determined many a wavering vote’.

With the recent celebration of International Women’s day we can see how far women’s rights have progressed from 150 years ago. However, we must not forget that the women of Lady Palmerston’s time did find many ways of asserting their political opinions and most certainly played an important role in political society.

If you would like to further discover the eloquence and influence of Lady Palmerston, our group will be putting on an exhibition at Romsey Town Hall on Friday 13th May from 11-2pm. You are cordially invited to come and enjoy the fruits of our historical research .

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