Ruth Watts gained a BA (Hons) in History from the University of London in 1964, staying on to take a PGCE the following year. After six years as a secondary school teacher of history in two schools, she gave up paid work for many years while bringing up a family. During those years, apart from examining for the Oxford Board, she gained an external Diploma in Education in 1977, an MA with distinction and then a PhD at the University of Leicester . Both degrees were in history of education with a particular interest in women’s education. This interest in gender and women’s history increasingly became the focal point of her research in education.
Three years back in teaching in the period when GCSE, TVEI and the National Curriculum were introduced qualified Watts to apply for a post as PGCE history tutor at the University of Birmingham School of Education since she had been deeply involved in all these. She enjoyed being history tutor from 1989 to 2004, seeing the subject through two successful Ofsted inspections. During those years she published articles and a co-edited book on the teaching of history, was a founder member of the Standing Conference of History Teacher Educators in the UK (subsequently HTEN) and its secretary for ten years. She was also external examiner in PGCE history, education and research degrees (history education, history of education, women’s history) at a number of universities.
The larger part of Watts’s publications, conference papers and review and research activities, however, have been in gender and women’s history of education (see below). She has served on the editorial board of three history of education journals. From 1999-2004 she was part of a European funded group setting up an international website on the teaching of history of education and childhood at Master’s level. In July 2006 she was visiting lecturer at the University of Hamburg as part of a Socrates Exchange.
From September 1997 to July 2003 Watts was on the executive committee of the International Standing Conference of History of Education (ISCHE) and has been a regular contributor at its conferences since 1994. A member of the reconstituted gender group at ISCHE from 1994, she was twice part of the group representing ISCHE at the quinquennial International Congress of Historical Sciences (Montreal, 1995 and Oslo, 2000). In 2010 she was given the honour of life membership of ISCHE, the first woman to receive this.
After being a committee member for many years, from January 2002 to January 2005, Watts was President of the History of Education Society, the first ever woman elected to the post. In 2009 she was given the honour of being made a life member of the Society. In 2010 she won the Anne Bloomfield triennial book prize.
Watts has been an active member of the Women’s History Network conferences since its inception in 1991 and involved in various other women’s history networks. She is a member of and has been Chair of the Martineau Society since 2009.
Current research and writing is on: girls and women’s access and contribution to learning and education. This has focussed on three different aspects:
The relationships between the state, education and females c.1870-1940; reassessing women’s contribution to education in the light of current research.
Biographical approaches to history, for example on Harriet Martineau. (Watts has written five biographies of women headteachers for the ODNB)
Rational Dissenting women and the travel of ideas.
My previous research in the last decade both covered these areas and principally concentrated on the social and cultural history of women in science, an aspect which still is a part of all my research.
My early research was on the Unitarian contribution to education from 1760 to 1900 with a particular focus on the education of girls and women. This too has reoccurred in subsequent research and forthcoming work includes an Ebibliography on the Unitarians for Oxford University Press.
Watts, R. (2010) Collecting women’s lives in ‘National’ history: opportunities and challenges in writing for the ODNB, Women’s History Review, (February) vol.19, no.1,109-24
Watts, R. (2010) Scientific women: their contributions to culture in England in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in Jean Spence, Sarah Jane Aiston, Maureen M. Meikle eds., Women, Education and Agency, 1600-2000 London: Routledge, 49-65
Watts, R. (2010) Rational Dissenting women and the travel of ideas’, Enlightenment and Dissent Intellectual Exchanges: Women and Rational Dissent, No. 26, 1-27
Watts, R. (2009) Education, empire and social change, Paedagogica Historica, December, vol.XLV, no. VI, pp.773-86
Watts, R. (2008) A gendered journey: travel of ideas in England c.1750-1800, History of Education vol. 37, no. 4, pp.513-530
Watt, R. (2007) Women in Science: a Social and Cultural History, Routledge
Watts, R. (2007) Gender and policy in Birmingham 1902-44 in Crook David and Gary McCulloch (eds.), History, Politics and Policy-Making, Institute of Education, University of London
Watts, R. (2000) Breaking the boundaries of Victorian imperialism or extending a reformed 'paternalism'? Mary Carpenter and India, History of Education (Sept.) Vol. 29, No. 5, 443-56
Watts, R. (1998) Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760-1860, 236 pp.. London: Longman
Publications 2001 - present (PDF, opens new window)