Sister act: £325,500 project records story of Women's Lib

University of Sussex cultural historian Margaretta Jolly is to interview women’s liberation activists for a unique oral history archive that charts the history of the movement through personal stories.


Dr Jolly, who researches and lectures in life history and life writing, will lead the £325,500 Leverhulme Trust-funded Sisterhood and After: the women’s liberation oral history project.


The project covers a dramatic period in the Women’s Movement, during the 60s, 70s and 80s, from the launch of feminist magazine Spare Rib to the women’s campaigns and protests of Greenham Common, Southall Black Sisters and the Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement.


The feminist legacy has been carefully tended down the years, via community archives and academic studies, while ongoing studies of feminism in Britain include important oral-history based accounts of campaigns for workplace and sexual rights.


However, there has been no well-documented, large-scale, professionally-archived oral history of the movement, through which to explore this legacy.


Dr Jolly says: “The Leverhulme Trust saw this gap in the historical record in 2007, when it funded the Women’s Liberation Movement Network, where Rachel Cohen brought together surviving ‘witnesses’, and mapped the state of the feminist archive across Britain.”


Now the Trust will fund a team including Dr Jolly, Dr Cohen and University of Sussex documentary film-maker Lizzie Thynne to interview key activists about their experiences to ensure that their stories endure. Dr Jolly says: “The generation of women who powered the Women’s Liberation Movement in its heyday are mostly now in their 60s and 70s. For many, memories of a youth in which feminism was part of everyday life are vivid. For others, those memories are difficult, or fading. It is important to record their stories for future generations, before it’s too late.”


The project is partnered with the British Library, where recordings of interviewees will be archived as part of the National Life Stories Collection. The British Library Learning Programme will also bring the WLM to life for the public.


The project is also partnered with The Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University, which will advise on whom to interview and how to share the results.


Dr Jolly adds: “This history of women’s liberation is as risky as it is timely. Ultimately, understanding feminist activism in the 1960s, 70s and 80s will identify ways to spur creative approaches to problems of gender inequity and role today.”

Notes for Editors


Dr Margaretta Jolly is a cultural critic with a particular interest in life writing and life history. Her work has focused on auto/biography and oral history, feminist theory and cultural memory. She is Senior Lecturer in Life History, in the Centre for Community Engagement, University of Sussex and joint Director of the University's Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research.

Life history and life writing research uses life story - oral history, personal narrative, autobiography or biography - as a primary source for the study of history and culture. Life stories capture the relation between the individual and society, the local and the national, the past and present and the public and private experience.

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Danïelle Treanor. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email

Last updated: Friday, 12 March 2010