February 25, 2022, by Sarah Colborne
Feminist Archive East Midlands at the University of Nottingham
A team of volunteers and former members of the Nottingham Women’s Liberation Group have been working with Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham to create a feminist archive for the East Midlands.
The archive consists of material compiled by women involved in various strands of activism between the 1960s and 1990s, relating primarily to the activities of the Nottingham Women’s Liberation Group (second-wave feminist activism). Subject matter includes sexism in education, the National Abortion Campaign, the East Midlands Campaign for the Ordination of Women, Notts Women Against Pit Closures, the campaign for nurseries, work, left-wing politics and involvement in the Trade Unions. Materials include publications and newsletters published by the Nottingham Women’s Liberation Group, correspondence, papers from meetings and national conferences, and campaign materials such as badges and stickers.
The Nottingham Women’s Liberation Group (WLG), established in 1969, was one of the first provincial groups, with key members establishing a socialist Women’s committee, publishing the journal ‘Socialist Woman’ from an address in West Bridgford and helping to organise the first Women’s Liberation Conference at Ruskin in 1970. An autonomous Nottingham WLG emerged in 1972 when the Nottingham Women’s socialist committee joined the Nottingham University Women’s Freedom Group and Trent Polytechnic WLG, marked by the introduction of a new Nottingham journal, ‘Women Now’ and the establishment of the first Women’s Centre.
Consultant Katy Thornton was commissioned as part of The National Archives ‘Archives Revealed’ grants programme in 2020 to conduct a review of the materials gathered to form a feminist archive for the East Midlands, based at the University of Nottingham. Stakeholders included members of the Nottingham Women’s History Group, staff from Manuscripts and Special Collections, Dr Nick Thomas, Associate Professor of History at the University of Nottingham, and a representative from the Nottingham Women’s Centre. The scoping report highlighted the significance of the archive in representing the activities of the members of the Nottingham Women’s Liberation Group.
A group of volunteers, including former members of the Nottingham WLG, are currently cataloguing the materials which have so far been passed to Manuscripts and Special Collections, as well as researching the lives of the women involved in the various campaigns and collecting oral history interviews.
It is hoped that the collection will form a useful research resource for students, academics and researchers, and planning is underway for a number of placements to be offered during the next academic year for students to work on developing related collections already held by MSC.
The project is prompting the University to consider how feminist activities are represented in the University Archive. One interesting find is a newsletter published by the University of Nottingham Women’s Group. In February 1981 the Group was organising discussions, inviting speakers from local and national campaign groups, and organising transport to the Reclaim the Night protest in London. Unfortunately, Manuscripts and Special Collections has only two issues of the Group’s Newsletter in their collections (UoN Periodicals Not 5.G16.2 WOM).
Were you a member of ‘UoN Women’ in the 1970s/1980s/1990s? Or the earlier Nottingham University Women’s Freedom Group? There is still so much to learn about the role of women working or studying at the University of Nottingham in second-wave feminism – we would love to hear from anyone involved. We are seeking to collect further materials, testimonies or just background information about what was going on at the time. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you can help!
While work continues on cataloguing the collection (FME), the archive is not yet accessible to researchers but you can read our magazine Discover and follow us on Twitter @mssUniNott and Instagram @mssUniNott for updates on the project’s progress.
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