Norena Shopland highlights lack of representation of LGBTQ+ women in Welsh history

Norena Shopland highlights lack of representation of LGBTQ+ women in Welsh history

Norena Shopland, a leading historian and author of Forbidden Lives, has highlighted the lack of representation of LGBTQ+ women in Welsh history.

In general, women’s histories are largely underrepresented, with only 19.48% of biographies on Wikipedia being about women.

Norena notes that the gender imbalance is even worse when looking at Welsh biographies on the online platform.

LGBTQ+ women in Welsh history are particularly difficult to research as there is a little public record of them.

Homosexuality was not criminalised for women like it was for men, and they often lived together, pretending to be housemates or sisters.

Norena has learned to read between the lines, using terms like “close companion” and “romantic friendships” as tell-tale signs that someone from the past might be considered today as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Norena has been careful with the terminology she uses, trying not to label people with terms that did not apply to them. In her book, Norena has featured Cranogwen, a sailor, teacher, poet, writer, editor, and lay preacher who did “an enormous amount for the advancement of Welsh women writers, but today is little known.”

Born in Llangranog in 1839, Cranogwen was soon to be immortalised with a statue in the centre of Llangranog in June 2023.

She was the first ever woman to win a poetry prize at the National Eisteddfod in 1865 with her poem ‘Y Fodrwy Briodasal’ (The Wedding Ring), became an editor of a monthly Welsh language women’s journal in 1878, and toured America lecturing on women’s issues and temperance.

After leaving the journal, she co-founded the South Wales Women’s Temperance Union and preached in branches across Wales. Cranogwen was unmarried and lived with her parent’s next door to a woman named Jane Thomas.

When her parents died, Cranogwen sold the house and moved in with Jane, and they lived together for 25 years until Cranogwen died in 1916.

She was previously in a relationship with Fanny, a female writer from Troedyraur, who died in Cranogwen’s arms after contracting tuberculosis.

Norena has worked tirelessly to ensure that many important figures in LGBTQ+ Welsh history, including Cranogwen, are remembered.

She has also recently helped launch the LGBTQ+ timelines of Wales project, which aims to diversify the histories we tell by focusing on local LGBTQ+ people rather than celebrities.

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