For the last ten years I’ve gradually been piecing together the story of ten days in the history of British geography—between the inauguration (on 13 November 1912) of the Geographical Circle of the women-only Lyceum Club and the balloting of the fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society, on 20 November, on the question of women’s entry. The results of this work, drawing on contemporary press coverage and archival sources, have recently been published in The Professional Geographer as part of a special focus section on “Gender and the Histories of Geography”.
I first became aware of the Geographical Circle during my PhD research on the American geographer Ellen Churchill Semple, whose visit to the Lyceum Club in 1912 coincided with the Circle’s inauguration. Among Semple’s papers I encountered a menu card from the luncheon held by the Circle in her honour. It was, I subsequently discovered, one of the very few surviving material traces of the Circle’s existence. Notwithstanding the fact that the Circle was arguably the leading forum for women travellers and geographers during the Edwardian era, it has remained almost entirely invisible in histories of the disciple. The Circle hasn’t so much been written out of the history of British geography; it’s simply never been written in. My paper (the abstract of which follows) is an attempt to rectify that omission.
“A Royal Geographical Society for ladies”: the Lyceum Club and women’s geographical frontiers in Edwardian London
This article reconstructs the history, organization, and campaigning function of the Geographical Circle of the Lyceum Club—a membership group that, under the leadership of Bessie Pullen-Burry (1858–1937), sought to promote and legitimize women’s geographical work in early twentieth-century Britain. Through an examination of archival material and contemporary press coverage, I document the Geographical Circle’s efforts to establish itself as a professional body for women geographers and to lobby for their admission to the Royal Geographical Society. Although considerable scholarly attention has been paid to women geographers’ individual contributions to the discipline, their cooperative, professionalizing endeavors have been comparatively neglected. In tracing the parallel history of the Circle as an example of women’s self-organization, and of Pullen-Burry as an independent campaigner, I argue that a nuanced account of women’s professionalization in geography demands attention to both individual and collective endeavors.
Innes M. Keighren