Hidden Voices – The Women’s Library

The Women’s Library is an archive that began back in 1866 when the movement advocating suffrage for women began and the women’s suffrage petition went public. This was the turning point for the vote and signing of the petition. Finally in 1928, women were granted suffrage and allowed to vote just like their male counterparts with the establishment of the Equal Franchise Act.

The Women’s Library first started operations in 1926 at a former pub located in Marsham Street, Westminister and was at that time known as The Library of the London Society for Women services with two central objectives. The first objective was to make sure the history of the women’s movement was protected and conserved while the second was to make a resource available which would enable enfranchised women to adapt to public life. The library name was then changed to the Fawcett Library before it was finally renamed Women’s Library in 2002. This library has moved from location to location over the years and has finally and currently settled in the London School of Economics on Houghton Street, London since 2013 who are the new curators of the library.

This archive is a conserved body of printed material and three-dimension objects. Most of the body of information in this library goes as far back as the 1900s and goes forward up till today. The origin of the information is mostly centered on the United Kingdom with a lower percentage originating from other countries.

It also contains books that are rare and were contributed to The Women’s Library Archive by Ruth Cavendish Bentinck who was a socialist and fought for the suffrage rights of women cutting across genres like law, fashion, education, finance, literature and household studies. The Women’s Library is invested in women education and enlightening women about their rights, entitlement and equality.

The material and information in the library discusses themes like suffrage in regards to women, female prostitution and human trafficking, women’s sexual health, women relations in the workplace in terms of remuneration and gender treatment, women in politics and women as a part of the clergy. It also has information on the women’s campaign on the revision of the Contagious Diseases Act, Liberation Movement in the 1970s and the peace campaigns concerning the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp from 1982 to 2000.

This explains why they were unable to shut down the Library after London Metropolitan could no longer handle the task of maintaining the Library. Women like Dr. Laura Schwartz who was an associate professor at Warwick University came together to encourage other women to stand against it and saved the library because they grasped the significance of such a peculiar library. The petition for the retaining of this library amassed over 12,000 signatures and won the support and influence of women demanding that the building, the staff and the library were kept intact.

They succeeded in achieving two out of all their goals which is keeping the staff and saving the library which was a strong victory for them. This archive is now live at LSE with a reading room, a restricted archive area and exhibition space and also access for the public.

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