Women's Library

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The Women's Library @ LSE
Country United Kingdom
Type Library
Established 1926
Location Lionel Robbins Building, The London School of Economics and Political Science, 10 Portugal Street, Westminster, London, WC2A 2HD
Collection
Items collected books, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, archives, pamphlets, drawings and manuscripts
Access and use
Access requirements Open to anyone with a need to use the collections and services and those coming to see exhibitions
Website The Women's Library @ LSE

The Women's Library @ LSE is Britain's main library and museum resource on women and the women's movement, especially concentrating on Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since 2 January 2013, the library has been under the custodianship of The London School of Economics and Political Science who will own and manage the collection as part of the British Library of Political and Economic Science in a new area to be known as The Women's Library @ LSE.

Collections overview[edit]

The printed collections at The Women's Library @ LSE contain over 60,000 books and pamphlets, over 3,500 periodical titles (series of magazines and journals), and over 500 zines. In addition to scholarly works on women's history, there are biographies, popular works, government publications, and some works of literature. There are also extensive press cutting collections.

The Library's museum collection holds over 5,000 objects including over 100 suffrage and modern campaigning banners. There are over 500 personal and organisational archives, ranging in size from one to several hundred boxes.

In February 2007, the Women's Library collections were designated by the UK Museums, Libraries and Archives Council for their "outstanding national and international importance" (the Designation Scheme is now overseen by the Arts Council).[1] In 2011, items from the women's suffrage archives held at The Women's Library were inscribed in UNESCO's UK Memory of the World Register as the 'Documentary Heritage of the Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain, 1865-1928'.[2]

History[edit]

The Women's Library @ LSE's origin derives from the London Society for Women's Suffrage, a women's suffrage organization established in 1867. The library was first formally organised in the 1920s, with the first Librarian, Vera Douie, appointed on 1 January 1926. At this time, and for many years afterward, it was called the Women's Service Library, in accordance with the name of the society which since the outbreak of World War I had been called the London Society for Women's Service. Vera Douie remained in post for 41 years, during which time she took a small but interesting society library and turned it into a major resource with an international reputation.

It was originally housed in a converted public house in Marsham Street, Westminster, which in the 1930s was developed into Women's Service House, a major women's centre within walking distance of Parliament. Members of the society and library included writers such as Vera Brittain and Virginia Woolf, as well as politicians, most notably Eleanor Rathbone. Woolf wrote about the Library to Ethel Smyth: "I think it is almost the only satisfactory deposit for stray guineas".[3]

During World War II it suffered bomb damage, and the library had no permanent home until 1957, when it moved to Wilfred Street near Victoria railway station. By this time, the society and library had changed their names to the Fawcett Society and the Fawcett Library, in commemoration of the non-militant suffrage leader Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and of her daughter, Philippa Fawcett, an influential educationist and financial supporter of the society.

In the 1970s the society found it increasingly difficult to maintain the library. In 1977 it was taken over by the City of London Polytechnic (which in 1992 became London Guildhall University). The library subsequently spent nearly 25 years in a cramped basement increasingly liable to flooding, while increasing considerably its stock, its user base and its contacts with other such resources both nationally and internationally.

It became increasingly apparent that these facilities were not adequate to store the collection, and a project was launched to improve the housing of the material and increase access to the library by members of the general public. In 1998 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant of £4.2 million to London Guildhall University for a new building to house the collections on the site of the old East End wash houses in Old Castle Street, Aldgate, London E1. Changing its name from the "Fawcett Library" to "The Women's Library", the new institution opened to the public in February 2002.[4] Its new purpose-built home by Wright & Wright Architects, encompassing a reading room, an exhibition hall, several education spaces, and specialist collection storage, was the recipient of an award from the Royal Institute of British Architects.[5] In August of the same year, London Guildhall University merged with the University of North London to become London Metropolitan University.

Under the auspices of LMU, The Women's Library hosted a changing programme of exhibitions in its museum space; topics included women's suffrage, beauty queens, office work, 1980s politics, women's liberation, women's work, and women's domestic crafts. Its exhibition and education programme on prostitution was long-listed for the 2007 Gulbenkian Prize.[6] It held public talks, showed films, ran reading groups and short courses, offered guided tours, and worked with schools and community groups.

Three individuals were recognised by the UK honours system for their work with the Library: Vera Douie OBE;[7] David Doughan MBE (Services to Women's Studies);[8] and Jean Florence Holder MBE (for voluntary service to the Women's Library).[9]

Closure threat[edit]

In Spring 2012, The Women's Library faced closure and transfer of its collections, or being reduced to operating a skeleton service. London Metropolitan University had decided to attempt to find a new home, owner or sponsor for the Library's holdings, threatening to reduce services to one day per week if such a sponsor could not be found. They argued that too much of the Library's usage comes from outside of the university, and looked to convert the building in order to house a lecture theatre.[10] A Save The Women's Library Campaign was set up by the London Met branch of UNISON. It aimed to keep The Women's Library's collections intact, retain the expertise of its staff, and remain in its dedicated building.[11] A petition opposing the curtailment or closure of the Library ultimately attracted more than 12,000 signatures. It called The Women's Library "one of the most magnificent specialist libraries in the world" and a "national asset".[12]

Transfer of ownership[edit]

London Metropolitan University invited "bids" from interested institutions; the proposal of the London School of Economics (LSE) was found the most acceptable, since it guaranteed to preserve, maintain and develop the collections as an individual entity within the British Library of Political and Economic Science, with a dedicated reading room and archival space. The LSE also offered continued employment to members of permanent staff who wished to remain with the library. However, the building would not be handed over under the arrangement, and would remain part of London Metropolitan University.

Major collections[edit]

Personal archives held at The Women's Library include those of Lesley Abdela, Adelaide Anderson, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Louisa Garrett Anderson, Margery Corbett Ashby, Lydia Becker, Helen Bentwich, Rosa May Billinghurst, Chili Bouchier, Elsie Bowerman, Josephine Butler, Barbara Cartland, Jill Craigie, Emily Wilding Davison, Charlotte Despard, Emily Faithfull, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Vida Goldstein, Teresa Billington-Greig, Elspeth Howe, Mary Lowndes (see also Artists' Suffrage League Papers), Constance Lytton, Harriet Martineau, Edith How-Martyn, Angela Mason, Hannah More, Helena Normanton, Eleanor Rathbone, Claire Rayner, Sheila Rowbotham, Maude Royden, Beatrice Seear, Baroness Seear, Elaine Showalter, William Thomas Stead, Mary Stott, Louisa Twining and Henry Wilson (British politician).

Organisation and campaign archives include Fawcett Society, Artists' Suffrage League, several sets of papers related to Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, International Alliance of Women, Miss Great Britain, London Society for Women's Suffrage, National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, National Women's Register, One Parent Families, Gingerbread (charity), campaigns for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, especially the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene, International Council of Women, Open Door Council, Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service, Six Point Group, Women's Freedom League, Women in Black UK, National Federation of Women's Institutes, Women's National Anti-Suffrage League, and Women's Tax Resistance League.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Double celebration for The Women's Library". London Metropolitan University. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  2. ^ "UNESCO recognition for Women's Library". London Metropolitan University. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  3. ^ Snaith, Anna (December 2002). "‘Stray Guineas’: Virginia Woolf and the Fawcett Library". Literature & History. Third: 16–35. 
  4. ^ "Women's Library finds home". BBC News. 1 February 2002. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  5. ^ "The Women's Library wins architecture prize". London Metropolitan University. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  6. ^ "The Women’s Library, London Metropolitan University: Prostitution: What’s Going On?". The Gulbenkian Prize. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  7. ^ "Fellowships". The Women's Library, London Metropolitan University. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  8. ^ "New year's honours". Times Higher Education. 5 January 2001. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "New Year honours list: MBEs". The Guardian. 31 December 2009. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  10. ^ Atkinson, Rebecca (10 April 2012). "Campaign to save the Women's Library". Museums Journal. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "A Vindication of the Rights of The Women's Library". Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  12. ^ Flood, Alison (11 April 2012). "Women's Library campaign gathers steam". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 

External links[edit]

  • [1] History of The Women's Library on The Women's Library website

Coordinates: 51°30′53″N 0°06′57″W / 51.514698°N 0.115818°W / 51.514698; -0.115818