Sisterhood and After: feminist oral history archive launched

Collection established of personal accounts of Women’s Liberation Movement activists. Elizabeth Gibney reports

March 7, 2013

An oral history archive that brings to life the voices of 60 women central to the Women’s Liberation Movement will be launched this week to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March.

Sisterhood and After, a project led by the University of Sussex in partnership with the British Library and the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics, records personal accounts and present-day reflections of many of the activists, most of whom are now in their sixties and seventies.

The project’s 420 hours of interviews, which took three years to compile, provide a permanent oral history of the movement as well as highlighting topics that resonate today, said Margaretta Jolly, reader in cultural studies at Sussex, who led the project.

An impetus for producing the archive - which will be based at the British Library - was the realisation that there was no other complete and permanent account of the British movement, she said.

“One of the things we discovered was how diverse and complex this movement was,” she said. “The cliché is of activists all being these housewives, fed up with being unpaid and sexually frustrated…but probably many more were politically active in other campaigns before they came to the movement.”

The depth of the interviews - which cover everything from family backgrounds, social life, fashions and eating habits to specific campaigns and passionate personal accounts - makes the archive a useful resource, she said. Some accounts are so frank that interviewees have asked for them to become available to the public only in 30 years’ time, or, in one case, after a century.

Interviewees include high-profile campaigners Jane Hutt, originally a grass-roots activist and now finance minister for the Welsh Assembly, and Susie Orbach, psychotherapist and author of Fat is a Feminist Issue. Also in the archive are potentially lesser-known names such as Una Kroll, who campaigned for the ordination of women priests, and Pragna Patel, one of the founders of the Southall Black Sisters.

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