Dr Janet Greenlees (Glasgow Caledonian University)
The Tenuous Relationship Between Gender Health and Work in Britain and America, c.1860–1960
UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland Seminar Series, 3 March 2016
This paper looks at the intersection of public health and the working environment in Britain and America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It focuses particularly on gender and how workers, male and female, understood the perceived occupational health risks in the two countries.
In her talk, Janet explores the experiences of occupational ill-health of male and female workers when they worked alongside each other, and their responses in managing health and in seeking reforms to an unhealthy work environment. She presents a rich, multi-layered narrative involving employers, workers, politicians, social reformers, and purveyors of medicines – with these different groups of actors being important in different situations as both individuals and as groups of men and women who daily calculated the health risks associated with work and who sought to address such risks within the boundary of what they deemed acceptable working conditions. This boundary was fluid and it only sometimes corresponded with either trade union or political agendas. Workers’ agency also varied depending on the relative personal, economic, and labour market constraints at play.
Dr Janet Greenlees is a Senior Lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University and Deputy Director of the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare. Janet’s research interests extend across nineteenth and twentieth century Britain and America with a particular focus on occupational and environmental health, women’s health, and the textile industry. She has published numerous research articles in peer-reviewed journals including, Social History of Medicine, Medical History, Social History, and Urban History. Janet has also edited the collected volumes Western Maternity and Medicine (2014) and Caring for the Poor in Twentieth Century Scotland (2015). Her monograph Female Labour Power: Women Workers’ Influence on Business Practices in the British and American Cotton Industries, c. 1790-1860 was published by Ashgate in 2007. She is currently working on a book, to be published by Rutgers University Press, provisionally titled, When Air Became Important: A Social History of the Working Environment in New England and Lancashire, c. 1860-1939.