Gail Braybon, 1952-2008

September 18, 2008

Gail Braybon, the pioneering feminist historian of the Great War, has died.

Born in Southampton in 1952, Ms Braybon attended Southampton School for Girls and studied history at the University of Sussex from 1970 to 1973. She then went on to do an MPhil (1974-76), looking at women workers in the First World War. Her supervisor, Stephen Yeo, suggested that she team up on a comparative volume with Penny Summerfield (now professor of modern history at the University of Manchester), whose DPhil thesis focused on the parallel experiences of women in the Second World War.

Ms Braybon was unable to obtain funding for a DPhil and had to seek employment elsewhere. She trained as a computer analyst and programmer in local government and then, in the 1980s, took a job at the School of Art and Design at Brighton Polytechnic (now the University of Brighton). She continued working there, latterly as a learning technology adviser, until illness made this impossible.

Although never employed as an academic, Ms Braybon produced a major body of work as an independent historian and served as an associate editor on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for articles on women in the armed forces in the 20th century. Like Professor Summerfield, she turned her Sussex thesis into a monograph, Women Workers in the First World War: the British Experience (1981). They then joined forces on a more popular volume, Out of the Cage: Women's Experiences in Two World Wars (1986), which long served as a key student resource.

Professor Summerfield said that as a co-author, Ms Braybon was "a joy to work with because she was a creative and critical thinker, at the same time as being efficient and always getting things done on time".

Their joint book was told from the personal testimony of women "rather than the perspective of (usually male) policymakers, government ministers, trade union leaders, etc," said Professor Summerfield.

Always forthrightly feminist in her outlook, Ms Braybon became frustrated that the insights of scholars such as Professor Summerfield and herself were "ghettoised".

Her last book, the edited collection Evidence, History and the Great War (2004), also arose out of a sense of frustration at the errors she believed were contained in much of the writing on the war. Ms Braybon's contributors attempt to cut through the myths by returning to the original oral, textual, pictorial and artistic evidence.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2001 and spent the last months of her life in a hospice, although Professor Summerfield recalls that "she never stopped reading, thinking and texting her friends". She died on 4 August 2008 and is survived by her long-term partner Alan Scott.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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