Visible Women

The best feminist museums and libraries in the UK

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Moya Crockett
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In 2018, we’ll be visiting these museums, galleries and archives to pay tribute to the women who fought for our rights in years gone by. 

On 6 February 1918, the British government passed the Representation of the People Act, extending voting rights to all female university graduates over the age of 30 who were married and owned their own property. The law allowed 8.4 million women to vote, and paved the way for the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which enabled women to be elected to Parliament. A decade later, all women over the age of 21 were finally allowed to vote – the same right enjoyed by men of that era.

In 2018, a century after those first 8.4 million women became players in the political system, Stylist has launched the Visible Women initiative. This year-long campaign will pay tribute to pioneering women from history, raise the profiles of women making a difference today and push for greater female representation in modern politics.

If you want to learn more about the women who fought for our rights, you don’t have to limit yourself to books. The UK is dotted with fascinating museums and libraries dedicated to feminism – and we’re adding these to our travel bucket list for 2018. Because women in history shouldn’t be a mystery.

The Women’s Library, London 

A ticket to the Votes for Women march that took place in London in 1908, just one of the items held in The Women’s Library archives. 

Originally housed in a converted pub and now based at the London School of Economics, the Women’s Library first opened in 1926. Its founders wanted it to be a place where newly enfranchised women could come to learn about the history of the suffrage movement, as well as find resources to help them enter political life.

Today, the Library is the biggest resource on the women’s movement in England, containing over 60,000 books and pamphlets and over 50 suffrage campaign banners, photographs, posters, badges, textiles, ceramics and tickets.

Visitors can also view the personal archives of many prominent women’s rights activists, from Emily Davison – who famously died when she threw herself in front of King George V’s horse – to Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the subject of the first statue of a woman to be erected in London’s Parliament Square.

Membership is free to anyone who would like to use The Women’s Library collections. Material can be ordered in advance and read in the library’s special Reading Room: you can get your library ticket, book your place and request material here.

The Women’s Library, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE. Open 10:30am-5pm Monday-Friday, by appointment on Saturdays. lse.ac.uk

The Pankhurst Centre, Manchester 

This fascinating museum is housed in what was once the home of Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst. She lived in this red-brick villa near the University of Manchester with her family for eight years at the start of the 20th century, before moving to London to be closer to the action of the women’s movement.

The house was opened to the public in 1987, and for the last 30 years has served as a women’s community centre (particularly aimed at supporting women who have experienced domestic violence), as well as a record of the lives of the Pankhurst family and the Suffragette movement.

Rather thrillingly, visitors can even stand in the ‘Pankhurst Parlour’: the room where the very first meeting of the Suffragettes was held in 1903.

The Pankhurst Centre, 60-62 Nelson Street, Manchester, M13 9WP. Open 10am-4pm Thursdays, 1-4pm every second and fourth Sunday of the month. thepankhurstcentre.org.uk

Feminist Archive North and South, Leeds and Bristol 

Feminists march against an anti-abortion bill in London, 1979. 

The Suffragettes and the Suffragists were part of the first wave of feminism, but Feminist Archive North and Feminist Archive South focus instead on activism in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties (which can broadly be categorised as second- and third-wave feminism).

The collections in Leeds and Bristol house thousands of old feminist newsletters, photographs, journals, letters, pamphlets, banners and films, which illustrate how the focus of the women’s movement expanded over time. No longer concerned with securing voting rights, feminists in the late 20th century instead worked to dismantle many other social, cultural and political ideas and norms that harmed women. Topics covered in the archives include sexuality, domestic violence, health and militarism.

To make an appointment to view the collections at Feminist Archive North, contact the Special Collections staff at Leeds University. To view the collections at Feminist Archive South, contact the team at Bristol University.

Feminist Archive North, Special Collections, Brotherton Library, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS2 9JT. Opening times vary; see feministarchivenorth.org.uk for details.

Feminist Archive South, Special Collections, Arts and Social Sciences Library, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol, BS8 1TJ. Open 9:30am-4:45pm Monday-Thursday, 12-4:45pm Friday. feministarchivesouth.org.uk 

The Feminist Library, London 

The volunteers behind The Feminist Library have been proudly “archiving herstories since 1975”. The shelves are filled with thousands of novels, volumes of poetry and non-fiction books about the women’s liberation movement dating back to 1900 (although the overarching focus is on second-wave feminism).

The Library regularly hosts talks and events on literary and intersectional feminist issues, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the website for updates. And if you end up feeling so inspired by a book that you just have to have your own copy, there’s also a well-stocked feminist bookshop in which to lose yourself.

The Feminist Library, 5 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7XW. Opening times vary, see feministlibrary.co.uk for details. 

Glasgow Women’s Library, Glasgow 

A treasure trove of material created by, for and about women, the Glasgow Women’s Library is also a museum containing everything from Suffragette memorabilia to radical Seventies feminist literature. It’s divided into three easy-to-navigate areas: borrow books from the Lending Library, browse the fascinating journals and newsletters kept in the Archive Collection, or handle historical artefacts in the Museum Collection.

It’s also a bona fide women’s community centre that aims to “enable women, particularly the most vulnerable and excluded in society, to access the information, resources and services they need to make positive life choices”. This translates into a packed calendar of inclusive public events, education programmes, volunteering and employment opportunities, and a rather dazzling shop.

Glasgow Women’s Library, 23 Landressy Street, Glasgow, G40 1BP. Open 9:30am-5pm Monday-Wednesday and Friday, 9:30am-7:30pm Thursday, and 12-4pm Saturday. womenslibrary.org.uk

To find out more about the Stylist Visible Women initiative, click here.

Images: Courtesy of The Women’s Library London / Rex Features

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women's Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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