A selection of activists' badges

November 22, 2023, by Sarah Colborne

Introducing the Feminist Archive (East Midlands)

The Nottingham Feminist Archive Group and Manuscripts and Special Collections are delighted to announce the creation of:  

The two new research collections are the result of a collaboration between the University and local activists who have been contributing their photos, papers and memories for future generations to explore. The collections document the battles fought by second-wave feminists in the region and other women involved in activism in their own communities. 


The idea came from Val Wood and Tina Pamplin (members of the Nottingham Women’s History Group). The Women’s Liberation and After in Nottingham (WoLAN) project, which was completed in 2015, had gathered oral histories and interviews concerning, primarily, the establishment of Nottingham’s Women’s Centre. Val and Tina wanted to build on this to collect the life stories of the women activists involved in other campaigns/actions in Nottingham and the wider East Midlands region. They were aware that time was running out to document the achievements and hard work of these women as some were succumbing to age-related ill health.  

Photo of staff and feminists seated in a circle having a discussion.

Nottingham Feminist Archive Group discussing the curation of the collections with staff from Manuscripts

Val had previously volunteered with Manuscripts helping to catalogue collections and research the significance of women in the University’s collections. They approached us in 2018 knowing that Manuscripts and Special Collections already held the papers of activists such as Fred Westacott and socialist and MEP, Ken Coates. In 2018, Margaret Davies, Barbara Hewitt and Lee Harrison, who were all active in the Women’s Liberation Movement, joined Val and Tina in conducting oral history interviews. Later Jayne Muir and Linda Shaw (on retiring from her role as senior archivist at Manuscripts) were recruited and the women established themselves as the Nottingham Feminist Archive Group.  

Photograph of the Nottingham Feminist Archive Group Stall at an event in Mansfield

Photograph of the Nottingham Feminist Archive Group stall at an event in Mansfield

The Group have also been building on the Women Centre’s extensive Nottingham Women’s Library by helping to develop and preserve the Centre’s collection of rare feminist literature from the 1970s and 1980s. They negotiated for duplicate copies to be gifted to the University to form the basis of the Feminist Publications Collection (FPC). For more on the publications see this blog by a student working on summer research placement with us.  

Facts and Figures: 

  • 30 boxes of publications  
  • 32 archive boxes  
  • 25 different women contributing archive material 
  • 30 oral history interviews  
  • 10.82 GB of digital materials  
  • 2 student volunteers, 1 paid placement, 1 trainee archivist working on the collections 

The Feminist Archive (East Midlands)

Nottingham had a significant women’s liberation group membership and played a strategic part in the wider women’s liberation movement. The collection reflects where ideas began and how feminist politics were put into practice. There is evidence of the role local women played in establishing a women’s centre for the city, which has been operational since the 1970s, material demonstrating the proactive stance women in the region took in respect of militarism and peace campaigns, for example CND and Greenham Common, and the role undertaken to support striking miners and their families in the 1980s. It also demonstrates Nottingham women’s involvement at national conferences, the strategic operational role that the Nottingham group held in the National Abortion Campaign and the National Childcare Campaign, and evidences involvement in the Labour and Trade Union movement, for example in relation to the campaign for Equal Opportunities and the National Women’s Working Charter.


We are indebted to the Feminist Archive Group for their hard work and dedication in creating and curating these collections. We would also like to thank members of the initial project board and others who have advised or advocated on behalf of the collections: Helen Voce and Rebi Gilby for the support received from the Women’s Centre; Nick Thomas from the University’s Department of History; and Dr Catherine Clay and others from the Periodicals and Print Culture Research Group at Nottingham Trent University. A huge thank you also to all the women who contributed to the collections and who campaigned for women’s liberation.

Poster showing a women's protest

Poster for the exhibition dear sisters: activists’ archives, from a photo in Red Rag, no. 8, February 1975

A selection of items from the collections will be on display in the Weston Gallery at Lakeside Arts in the exhibition ‘dear sisters: activists’ archives’, which runs from 21st March to 1st September 2024. In the meantime, the collections can be accessed in the Manuscripts and Special Collections Reading Room at the King’s Meadow Campus of the University of Nottingham.  

Were you an activist in the East Midlands, campaigning for women’s rights? If you have items you would like to add to the collections or would like to tell your story, then do get in touch: mss-library@nottingham.ac.uk  

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