Exploring Women’s History and Social Movements at Senate House Library
Your guide to exploring special collections and online resources relating to women and social movements...
The study of women’s history globally
Senate House Library has many rare and unique items and vast resources in print and online for the study of women’s history globally.
There are treasured gems, such as the silk buttonhole in the shape of flowers worn by the suffragettes; letters and diaries written by Sophia de Morgan, advocate of the anti-slavery movement and women’s suffrage; and even a small library assembled by Caroline Elizabeth Playne, English pacifist.
There are also a large number of lesser known women activists whose singular or collective voices are brought to life in colourful and sometimes unusual ephemera publications from the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the ones painstakingly assembled and generously given to the Library by Ron Heisler.
Above all however, particularly now when decolonising collections is at the top of the agenda for libraries and museums, Senate House Library can boast of remarkable holdings by and about women as both agents and opponents of empire. Researchers in Latin American and the Commonwealth can study wealth of primary and secondary sources on how women’s movements have shaped national histories, have contributed to social reform, and have led the way in resisting political oppression.
Transnational themes represented in the Library encompass relations between colony and metropole, governance, popular culture, citizenship, employment, health and medicine, education, domestic life, intimacy and sexuality, prostitution, children, and intermarriage, to name only a few.
Online resources: Women and Social Movements
To complement our print and online collections, Senate House Library acts as a hub to provide members with access to many external e-resources. One example is the Alexander Press’ Women and Social Movements Library containing digitised primary source documents from other libraries and institutions. With over 400,000 documents and interpretive essays focusing on women’s public activism globally from 1600 to the present, easily searchable via the ProQuest platform, researchers interested in women’s voices will not be disappointed.
A landmark collection of writings, photographs, ephemera, and personal letters and diaries from women activists, documenting their struggles against gendered inequalities across time and cultures, will entice researchers to study people whose names are not well known but who are increasingly the focus of contemporary scholarship. Similarly, proceedings of conferences from pioneering women’s organisations provide an unparalleled survey of how women around the world have engaged with issues of peace, poverty, slavery, child labour, education, birth control and health.
Highlights from the Women and Social Movements International include:
Archival collection: Women's Africa Committee Records, 1958-1978
This small collection contains the records of Zelia Ruebhausen, former chair of the Women's Africa Committee, and includes publications, correspondence, reports, minutes, photographs, scrapbooks, "case histories," and clippings.
Archival collection: Dorothy Kenyon Papers, 1850-1998
Lawyer, feminist, judge, and political activist. The Kenyon collection illuminates the continuity of social activism around such issues as race, class, poverty, and gender from the 1930s-60s. Topics reflected include worldwide suffrage; abortion rights; minority legal rights; the Equal Rights Amendment; and civil rights.
Highlights from Women and Social Movements in the United States 1600-2000:
Civil Rights Movement:
A collection of texts, photos, reports, letters and campaigning literature on the Civil Rights Movement in America featuring key female activists such as Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis and Mary Church Terrell.
Transgender in the Heartland: Transitioning and Seeking Community in Middle America
This new document project, created by Jamie Wagman for the March 2020 issue, consists of oral history interviews, including both audio files and transcripts, of twenty transgender women and men who grew up or currently live in the Midwest, many in small towns and rural areas. The interviewees’ narratives, as Wagman writes, show that “there is no singular way of coming out or transitioning as transgender, just as there is no singular formula for finding support and community.
Highlights from Women and Social Movements in Modern Empires Since 1820 include a number of ‘document clusters’ to highlight items relating to themes, movements and countries.
Members of Senate House Library can access the three main databases that belong to this collection and other collections by browsing the A-Z list of databases on our website.
Also on the Proquest platform, is the Women's Magazine Archive (1846-2005) - A searchable archive of leading women’s interest magazines, dating from the 19th century through to the 21st. Consumer magazines aimed at a female readership are recognised as critical primary sources through which to interpret multiple aspects of 19th and 20th-century history and culture.
Rights for Women and London’s Pioneers
In 2018, Senate House Library opened its Rights For Women: London’s Pioneers in Their Own Words exhibition which I co-curated with Dr Maria Castrillo and worked with our exhibition designer Rebecca Simpson to create. Part of the legacy is an online gallery, guide and video exploring some of the famous and lesser-known stories of over 50 female pioneers from the late 18th century up to 2018 that used London as their platform to make their voices heard.
Senate House Library is currently involved in a large digitisation programme, which will see more pamphlets and archival material from our holdings being added to our online resources over the next few years.