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An Archive of the Women's Liberation Movement: a Document of Social and Legislative Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 March 2015


This paper, by Polly Russell, offers an introduction to the material available to researchers in the recently launched ‘Sisterhood & After: an Oral History of the Women's Liberation Movement’ archive at the British Library. Drawing from the archive's oral history recordings, the author demonstrates how they can be used to examine the ways that legislative changes are experienced and raise questions about the relation between legislative change, cultural change and the Women's Liberation Movement (WLM). The paper argues that these oral history recordings provide a unique opportunity to reflect on the ways that legislative and structural change were experienced by WLM activists in their everyday lives.

Law, Gender and Sexuality: Sources and Methods in Socio-Legal Research
Copyright © The Author(s) 2015. Published by British and Irish Association of Law Librarians 

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2 See, for instance, the wonderful collections at the Women's Library at LSE ( or those held by feminist archives such as Feminist Archive North (, Feminist Archive South ( or The Feminist Library (

3 For more information about Sisterhood & After: Oral History of the Women's Liberation Movement project see

4 See M. Jolly, P. Russell & R. Cohen, Sisterhood & After: Individualism, ethics and an oral history of the women's liberation movement. (2012) Social Movement Studies, 1–16.

5 In line with library policy, the British Library & University of Sussex required all interviewees to sign an interview release form stipulating how their recordings could be accessed. Interviewees were able to ‘close’ sections or the entirety of their recordings for a named number of years if desired.

6 Between 1970 and 1978 there were eight national Women's Liberation Movement conferences. At the first conference in Oxford in 1970 four demands were discussed. These were passed in Skegness in 1971. The demands were:

  1. 1:

    1: Equal pay

  2. 2:

    2: Equal educational and job opportunities

  3. 3:

    3: Free contraception and abortion on demand

  4. 4:

    4: Free 24-hour nurseries

    Three further demands were added:

  5. 5:

    5: Legal and financial independence for all women (Edinburgh, 1974)

  6. 6:

    6: The right to a self-defined sexuality. An end to discrimination against lesbians (Edinburgh, 1974)

  7. 7:

    7: Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women (Birmingham, 1978)

    At the Birmingham conference, amid some controversy, ‘the right to a self-defined sexuality’ was split off and added as a preface to all seven demands.

7 Lesley Abdela recording C1420/13; track 3; website link:

8 The extracts presented in this paper are verbatim transcripts of oral history interview extracts – they are ideally heard as sound documents where the interviewee's intonation and emphases are made clear. I encourage readers to go to the S&A website to listen to the extracts if at all possible.

10 Meehan, E.British Feminism from the 1960s to the 1980s.” In British Feminism in the Twentieth Century, edited by Smith, Harold L., 189204. Aldershot: Elgar, 1990Google Scholar.

11 We were acutely aware of the many other feminist archives and libraries, websites, blogs and histories to which ‘Sisterhood & After’ was connected and indebted. While wanting to celebrate the creation of a sustainable oral history archive of WLM recordings at the British Library, we make no claims to be the definitive account of the movement or indeed the sole repository of that history. On a page listed under the ‘About Us’ tab of the ‘Sisterhood & After’ website we have named and provided connections to many other relevant organizations and resources and we continue to add to this as we become aware of new activities. The ‘Sisterhood & After’ website is one resource among many and can contribute to ongoing discussions about feminist history, feminism and gender relations among a range of different audiences.