Sussex oral history accounts of women’s liberation feature in national exhibition

Women's protest as featured in Spare Rib. Photo: Jill Posener

Arrest of 16-year-old suffragette Dora Thewlis in 1907

The personal stories of women activists collected, recorded and filmed by academics at the University of Sussex form part of a major new exhibition in London devoted to women’s history and the struggle for female emancipation.

Audio clips of feminist activists talking about their experiences in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and film interviews with leading campaigners will feature alongside items from The Women’s Library collection in The Long March to Equality: Treasures of the Women’s Library.

Alongside iconic objects such as an ornamental pit lamp from the Women Against Pit Closures campaign, a Miss World board game and original posters and literature from the movement, voices include:

  • Betty Cook, who remembers how campaigning as a miner’s wife and mother became part of a personal road to women’s liberation;
  • Jo Robinson, on throwing vegetables at the 1970 Miss World contest;
  • Pragna Patel, on her role in helping to found Southall Black Sisters and a feminist concept of honour and shame;
  • Mary McIntosh, about gay liberation in the early women’s movement;
  • Karen McMinn on setting up Women’s Aid in Belfast across the religious divide.

The Sussex audio clips and films are the first results of the three-year Leverhulme Trust-funded Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project, led by cultural researcher Dr Margaretta Jolly, in partnership with The British Library.

Star exhibits also include the prison diary of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison and a copy of Marie Stopes’ hugely controversial Married Love – the first leaflet to address female sexuality (1918).

The exhibition includes other recordings of work by women authors such as the 18th-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the first “domestic goddess” Mrs Beeton, read by famous names including Sophie Dahl and Sandi Toksvig.

Dr Jolly and her team – researcher Dr Rachel Cohen, film-maker Lizzie Thynne and doctoral student Freya Johnson Ross – have spent the past two years recording the memories of women who have powered the liberation movement in more recent times, so that their personal accounts can be preserved for posterity. Around 60 interviews have been completed so far.

In tandem with the interviews, the team has been researching the legacy of the crucial efforts of these women in bringing about social and political change.

The project will be the first to publicly archive a comprehensive collection of interviews with this generation of feminists and its findings will be made available for use by researchers of all ages via an interactive learning website about the Women’s Movement.

Dr Jolly says: “Treasures of The Women’s Library is a must-see exhibition that brings to life the epic story of women’s liberation. I am proud that our oral histories with some of the movement’s living legends feature so prominently.”

Notes for Editors

The Long March to Equality: Treasures of The Women's Library opens on 17 October 2012 at The Women’s Library, London Metropolitan University, London and runs to Spring 2013. Admission is free. Opening times: Tue, Weds, Fri, 9am-5pm; Thurs 9am-8.30pm.

For details on the Women’s Library contact London Metropolitan University press office: Isobel Diamond on 020 7320 1180 or

Sisterhood and After: the Women’s Liberation Oral History Project at the University of Sussex is partnered with the British Library, where recordings of interviewees will be archived as part of the National Life Stories Collection, and The Women’s Library, which has advised on whom to interview and how to share the results.

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

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Last updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2012