Spotlight on the Women’s Library Collection at LSE
The story of women in the UK over the past 150 years can be explored within the Women’s Library Collection, at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The Women's Library Collection is the oldest and largest collection on suffrage in the UK, with UNESCO Memory of the World recognition
The origins of the Women’s Library Collection can be traced back to 1866 and the women’s suffrage petition of that year. Over the decades, suffrage literature was collected, which in 1926 formed the basis of the Women’s Service Library, which became the Fawcett Library in 1957 and in 2002 was re-named the Women’s Library.
Ahead of the centenary year of the Representation of the People Act (1918), which gave the vote to some women, the library looks forward to welcoming many new researchers who are hoping to find out about family members involved in the suffrage movement.
Collection highlights – the suffrage movement
The Women's Library Collection includes institutional and personal archives of suffragists, so the archives of individual women such as Millicent Garrett Fawcett can be found alongside the archive of the NUWSS and other suffragist groups around the UK. The archives of the WSPU are scattered, and there are also personal archives of suffragettes including Rosa May Billinghurst. The Collection includes:
- personal papers of suffragists and suffragettes
- records of suffrage organisations
- newspapers, journals and pamphlets published by suffrage organisations
- badges, postcards, posters, banners and other 3D objects on this subject
Among the collection highlights for anyone tracing ancestors who were involved in the suffrage movement are reference books, minutes, annual reports relating to suffrage societies, and suffrage journals.
The journals are a particularly rich source of information on the topic of the votes for women cause, with articles, notices of meetings, advertisements and conference reports, many of which contain the names of individual campaign supporters.
Each of the major suffrage societies produced its own journal to spread its message and keep members up-to-date. The titles available include The Common Cause (1909-1920) [National Union for Women’s Suffrage Societies], The Vote (1909-1933) [Women’s Freedom League], Suffragette (1912-1915) and Votes for Women (1907-1918) [Women’s Social and Political Union].
The thought of reading annual reports and minutes might not seem thrilling but they often contain a wealth of information about an organisation’s activities.
The Women’s Library collection contains annual reports of the early suffrage societies in bound volumes within the Ruth Cavendish-Bentinck collection. Most, however, are loose copies. There are also the records of the NUWSS and many of the annual reports and correspondence of affiliated societies. Annual reports can also be found scattered in personal papers of suffrage workers and might not be listed.
LSE Library, 10 Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HD; tel: 0207 955 7229; website.
(image © LSE Library. Meeting of Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) leaders, c.1906 - c.1907: Flora Drummond, Christabel Pankhurst, Annie Kenny, Emmeline Pankhurst, Charlotte Despard with two others, working round a kitchen table; printed inscription on reverse 'Barratt's Photo Press Agency, 8 Salisbury Ct, Fleet St, EC')