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Ursula Masson (1945-2008)
After a long and most courageous battle against cancer, Honno editor Ursula Masson died peacefully on April 7th, 2008.
She was born Ursula O'Connor, a member of the Irish community of Merthyr Tydfil, whose history she was later to research for her MA thesis. After spending some time in her youth working as a journalist, in south Wales and in Australia where she lived for three years, she taught adult education classes at Swansea and in 1994 she became a lecturer (later a Senior Lecturer) in History at the University of Glamorgan. During her years at Glamorgan, she was involved in setting up and chairing the Welsh Women's Archive, chairing the Women's History Network, and co-editing Llafur, the Welsh people's history journal. The highly successful Roadshows run by the Archive, which tour Wales collecting records of women's social history, were initially Ursula's idea, and it was she too who pushed through the successful bid for a Heritage Lottery grant to support this campaign. At Glamorgan, she also set up a research project on the Women's Liberation Movement, becoming the Welsh representative on an international team of historians working on that topic, and established the Gender Studies in Wales Centre at the University. She had big ideas, and the zest and energy to carry them through, and create something new and transforming.
The word her students most often use when describing Ursula as a teacher is 'inspirational'; at undergraduate and postgraduate levels she succeeded in infecting them with her own zest for getting the records straight, asking the right questions and unearthing the answers. She nourished a strong research culture amongst her students, taking them with her to county archive offices and repositories, and introducing them to appropriate contacts from her vast network of friends and colleagues working in similar fields. That network of Ursula's was something to marvel at; it was in part what made her such an excellent chair and organiser of research groups, seminar series, one-day workshops and the like: she always knew the most likely contributors on whom to call.
And while all this teaching and organizing was proceeding so fruitfully, she was also completing major research tasks: she edited with meticulous attention to detail the papers of the Aberdare Women's Liberal Association 1891-1910, and completed a PhD thesis on late nineteenth-century women in Welsh politics, which is soon to be published as a volume in the University of Wales Press series, Gender Studies in Wales. She also edited two books in the Honno Classics series, Elizabeth Andrews, A Woman's Work is Never Done (2006) and The Very Salt of Life: Welsh Women's Political Writings from Chartism to Suffrage (2007). She brought the same qualities of precision, thoroughness and respect for her subjects, along with an acute sense of the droll, to her research work as to her teaching.
For those of us who had the privilege of knowing her, it won't be the teacher or researcher or organizer we're primarily grieving, however, but the friend who always seemed to have space for people, and warmth and humour to give them, though she was so busy and though, since 2001, she was fighting serious illness. In her final years she gave us an extraordinary example of the way in which the human spirit can with dignity and grace face up to the worst trials. It is for us now to treasure the records she has left us of her own life and work, which are every bit as valiant and inspiring as those of the Welsh heroines she researched.