Enterprising Women: Independence, Finance and Virago Press, c.1976–93 – 2020
Since 2018 I have been Research Fellow on a project called The Business of Women’s Words: Purpose and Profit in Feminist Publishing, based at the University of Sussex in collaboration with the British Library and University of Cambridge.
My focus has been the business histories of Virago Press and I have written an article, published in Twentieth Century British History, that draws on this research.
Abstract: Virago Press were established in 1972 and became one of the twentieth century’s most enduring publishing brands. As a women-led enterprise, articulations of independence have defined key moments in Virago’s history. This article explores two moments when the company re-structured as independent, in 1976 and 1987. To become successful, Virago had to overcome barriers that have historically hindered women’s participation in business, namely limited social capital and difficulties accessing finance. Virago founder Carmen Callil’s friendship with publisher Paul Hamlyn and printing entrepreneur Robert Gavron embedded Virago in networks of male entrepreneurial knowledge that helped shape the evolution of the company. Such networks were vital to Virago securing investment from Rothschilds Ventures Limited in 1987 who were, at that time, leading figures in the UK’s growing private equity industry. This article contributes to growing historical understanding of the synergies between financial, arts and culture industries in the 1980s. It argues that while this era offered new opportunities for women to participate in business, such participation was tempered by new forms of legal and financial discipline that re-calibrated existing gender inequalities within business cultures. Due to the time periods under consideration, this article also analyses how entrepreneurial practices and opportunities for women changed dramatically with the onset of Thatcher’s ‘Enterprise Culture’.