Category Archives: Archive

Sheba Press & worries about link rot

If you have encountered link rot on the internet, where links break or click through to the ‘file not found page,’ you will know how vulnerable web-based archives can be.

So when conducting research about Sheba Feminist Press, who published the important Black British feminist text Charting the Journey in 1988 and many others, it was a relief to find some information about them.

A book laid on a desk at a diagonal angle

What was slightly disconcerting was the nature of the web page, which appeared graphically old and was hosted by a US university site. It wasn’t being actively maintained and was the kind of link, you suspect, that would soon disappear.

In short, this is the rationale for reproducing the text below in its entirety from that web page in case it breaks, or vanishes.

For further information, the Women’s Library in London was donated records from Sheba Press (1980-1994) in 1995, but it remains uncatalogued and unaccessible to researchers.

Now there’s a funding bid that needs to happen!

ABOUT SHEBA FEMINIST PRESS

Sheba Feminist Press was established in 1980 — one of a handful of small independent publishers born of the UK women’s movement during the 70s and early 80s. The new feminist presses turned their backs on the high-modernist clique then firmly in control of the British book scene, and looked instead at what that world literally couldn’t see: the writing of women who hadn’t been to Oxford or Cambridge, and who weren’t necessarily white or heterosexual or middle-class, and who didn’t speak with the polished vowels of Bloomsbury. The new writers weren’t seduced by the pastoral English idyll of haywains and cottages and
servile, cap-doffing peasantry. They wrote instead about what it was like to live as an ordinary, non-privileged woman in post-imperial Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. The ordinary, non-privileged women who constituted a large part of the book-buying public found their own lives reflected in
these books, and responded with what can only be called devotion. The phenomenal success of women’s publishing was probably the single biggest factor in the dissemination of feminist ideas to
women in the UK.

Today, mainstream UK publishing has been persuaded of the marketability of women writers. Many large publishers have their “women’s studies” lists, and women novelists (some of them) get
reviewed on the literary pages, just like men. But old predilections die hard — particularly, in Britain, the predilections associated with intellectual and social snobbery: if more women writers are published now than in 1965, it remains true that the majority are white, heterosexual, and middle-class.

Sheba has a mission to challenge this persistent bias. We give priority to the work of women writers who continue to be marginalized. That means more than simply being ready to publish writing by women of colour, or lesbians, or working-class women; it means recognising the multiplicity of voices within these
communities — a multiplicity which is frequently overlooked by a world quick to categorize and dismiss. Sheba has built its reputation around its commitment to diversity, to difference, and to open and critical debate. One of our earliest titles was Feminist Fables — a retelling of myths, from a lesbian-feminist
viewpoint, by an Indian woman, Suniti Namjoshi. Published in 1981, when lesbian-feminists were universally assumed to be white, and Indian women universally assumed to be heterosexual, Feminist Fables called into question this cosy compartmentalization; it can be seen in retrospect as a harbinger of the coming
struggles over difference and diversity, which by the end of the decade had put paid to the myth of a unitary feminist identity.

This commitment to openness and to diversity has made Sheba a key player in the ongoing feminist debates around sexuality. In the Seventies and the early Eighties, many women had a new and pleasurable sense of ownership over their bodies and their sexuality; and this was reflected in the books being published.
For Ourselves (Anja Meulenbelt, 1981) was characteristic: written by a woman, for women to read, it rejected the marriage-guidance approach which had previously dominated the field (“Doctor, my
wife is frigid. Can you help me?”) and acknowledged women’s sexuality as a private source of pleasure and power available to all women. Joanni Blank’s The Playbook for Kids About Sex (first published in the US by Down There Press) adopted a similarly positive attitude; children were encouraged to explore their bodies and to experiment with masturbation, fantasy, and sexual play. These and other Sheba titles contributed to the growing acceptance of women as autonomous sexual agents, rather than eternal objects, and helped to undermine the cultural prescription of what Adrienne Rich described as “compulsory heterosexuality”.

As the old prescriptions crumbled, however, new ones sprang up to replace them. The ideological association of sexuality with patriarchal power, expressed through pornography and rape, made sex seem synonymous with oppression. For women, desire was taboo all over again. In 1988, Sheba challenged this new puritanism by bringing out the UK edition of Joan Nestle’s A Restricted Country (first published in the US by Firebrand). The publication of this collection of essays and stories about lesbian sexuality acted as a catalyst on the simmering dissensions over lesbian sado-masochism, butch-femme relationships, and perverse sexuality, and gave the UK proponents of sexual autonomy an important cultural reference point.

The following year, Sheba built on the success of A Restricted Country, by bringing out Serious Pleasure, a collection of lesbian erotica . Although the controversy over pornography and censorship continues, it is clear from the popularity of Serious Pleasure and its successor, More Serious Pleasure that there is a strong and growing demand from many UK lesbians for well-written, explicit, woman-centred erotic material. (N.B. Serious Pleasure and More Serious Pleasure are published in the US by Cleis Press.)

Today, Sheba continues to prioritize the work of women of colour and lesbians. A number of prominent Black U.S. writers have been published in the UK by Sheba, among them bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Jewelle Gomez. Sheba is now turning its attention to the exciting possibilities opened up by new technology, particularly multimedia and computer-mediated communications. We welcome the
new ease with which we can communicate with other women in countries all over the world; Sheba’s dedication to openness, fluidity, and the absence of boundaries finds a natural home on
the Internet.

Whatever the medium, the message remains the same: feminism, diversity, debate. If you would like to know more about Sheba, please write to us at sheba@dircon.co.uk. We’d like to hear from you, and we promise to answer all messages. Sheba titles are available in the U.S. from Inland Book Co., and in Australia from Bulldog Books.

Sheba Feminist Press is a not-for-profit workers’ co-operative.

Sistershow materials catalogued and searchable

The materials from the Heritage Lottery Funded Sistershow Revisited project, which took place from 2010-2011, have now been catalogued and are searchable on the University of Bristol’s Archive Catalogue. They bear the reference ‘DM2606 Sistershow Revisited’.

Two women sit under a giant hat, one pulls a funny face, both look mischeivous

Pat VT West & Jackie Thrupp sit together under a giant hat that was made by Jackie for the first Sistershow performance in March 1973

In the meantime, enjoy these photos that we digitised as part of the project:

A party scene in a house, women dance dressed up in clothing from the 1930s and 1940s

The figure dressed in red satin is Alison Rook, who donated a large archive for the exhibition, and was instrumental in getting the project off the ground.

Two women lay a wreath at the war memorial in the centre of Bristol in memory of women who had died from illegal abortions

Part of Helen Taylor and Brenda Jacques tape slide project that was used to raise awareness between women/ feminist groups about the activities and ideas behind women’s liberation

Two women stand either side of a person dressed in a suit, wearing a face mask

One of the few photographic documents of the Sistershow performances. This is the first show, that took place at Bower Ashton. Note the degradation of the image.

We still have catalogues from the exhibition available and you can get one for a small donation.

Ellen’s Papers available on the Special Collections Catalogue

Yes it is finally here, the moment you have been waiting for!

Ellen Malos’ archives are now searchable on the Special Collections catalogue at the University of Bristol.

They carry the classificatory mark of ‘Ellen Malos Papers, DM2123/8/112-128’ should you wish to find them.

Thanks to Sarah Cuthill, the project archivist, for her fantastic work getting all the papers organised to such a high standard!

 

Final Stop for Ellen’s Archives

The final stage of the Ellen Malos’ Archives project – a trip to Bristol University’s Special Collection store to deposit the catalogued items.

Boxes in the back of a van

Sarah, project archivist, stands in front of archive boxes on a shelf

Sarah stands in front of her handy work

Books on a shelf including titles by Susan Griffin and Janice Raymond

Two shelves of box files

Shelf of box files labelled 'Pat VT West'

A shelf of periodicals Books including Janet Frame and Zoe Fairbairns

Don’t forget, Ellen’s archives are available to consult so do get in touch if you want to see them. As always, you will need to plan your trip in advance to ensure the items you want can be retrieved from store.

Final event for Ellen Malos’ Archives – documentation

On Tuesday 24 September we held the closing event for our Heritage Lottery Funded project, Ellen Malos’ Archives.

We welcomed Cherry Ann Knott from the Heritage Lottery Fund, project archivist Sarah Cuthill presented the contents of Ellen’s archive, and Ellen provided a response.

Typewriter, multicolored background, 'What Can History Do?' collected by Feminist Archive South

The evening also launched our booklet What Can History Do? which is available for a donation through this website.

After the formal presentations, attendees had the opportunity to browse material from Ellen’s archive, as well as have good chat.

Thanks to everyone who came and participated in the wider project. We are working on some new ideas for funding bids, but will of course keep this blog updated with regular information about relevant events in Bristol and beyond.

 

Ellen’s archive is catalogued and available to view in the Feminist Archive South, so don’t forget you can pay us a visit if you are curious about its contents.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos!

Sarah & Ellen Present a selection of the archive material on display An attendee browses the archive material Banners and archive material from Ellen's collection An attendee reads the archive material displayed at the event five women chat together

Attendees converse

Attendees Browse the archive

Archiving Update – May/ June

Here is archivist Sarah Cuthill’s update for May/ June….

The archive is taking shape. Following the survey at Ellen’s, I had to weed duplicates and non-relevant material from the boxes. This takes up a lot of table and floor space! The archive shadowers came to four sessions in May and June and contributed to the next stage of the work, arranging the material into categories. With a personal archive such as this, some of the arrangement is straightforward; some can be a little less obvious.

The ‘shadows’ worked on Women’s Aid, NAFE, Women’s Liberation Movement, and History papers. For them the breadth of material seemed to be striking, and for me the opportunity to discuss the papers and to make collective decisions was definitely useful. We began to transfer the archive into more appropriate housing, using acid-free four-flap folders and records management boxes.

On June 27th there was a chance to talk briefly about the work in progress at one of the Feminist Archive South workshops. By the end of June the arranging was nearly done, and I was using my initial lists to describe the individual folders. The need for detail varies from collection to collection, but this can be revised in the next stage of the job, which will be inputting on the CALM system at Special Collections.

Next event: archiving contemporary feminist activism

Archiving contemporary feminist activism. Thursday, 27 June 7-9.30pm @ MShed.

Feminists and women’s rights activists have often made a strong connection between history and social change. Simply put, when women are written out of the history books, their culture, achievements and lives are seen as less important than men’s. Such a perspective was a motivating force in the creation of the Feminist Archive, and the Women’s (formerly Fawcett) Library in London.

Such facts beg the question: how do we archive the present? How do we ensure that online 21st century feminist activism is documented in a secure way? How do we collect records of a movement as it is happening now, what do we remember, and what do we forget?

As part of the evening we will create a timeline of 21st century Bristol feminist activism, hear from experienced archivists and conduct live oral histories.

If you have participated in feminist activism in Bristol in the 21st century and have fliers or ephemera that you would like to deposit in the Feminist Archive South, please bring it along.

Join us for this important conversation! If you want to be part of history, you gotta make it!!

All welcome, please share!

Feminist Archive South Workshops in June

June is a busy month for Feminist Archive South workshops. We have three taking place, all of which are happening at MShed in Bristol. They are free to attend, all welcome and there are participation bursaries available if you need expenses covered to come along. Hope to see you there!

Sunday 9th June – 1 to 5pm

Bristol: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement facilitated by June Hannam and Kath Holden from the  West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network.

Most women took part in ‘second wave feminism’ at a grass roots, local level. How do we find out why they became involved and what they hoped to achieve? Can we recover their voices and, if we do, how can we interpret them?

This workshop will look at different ways that historians can try to recover women’s voices. The first part will look at documentary evidence, including newsletters, pamphlets and photographs. The second part will focus on oral testimony: participants will be invited to compare  summaries, full transcripts and original recordings of interviews.  The workshop will explore memory and the ways in which participants construct different stories of the movements in which they took part.

June Hannam is an emeritus professor and Kath Holden a visiting research fellow in history at the University of the West of England. They are co-chairs of the West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network. They both have research interests in  gender history. June Hannam specialises in labour and feminist history and Kath Holden in oral history and history of the family.

Recent publications include Katherine Holden: The Shadow of Marriage: Singleness in England, 1914-1960 (2007) and June HannamFeminism (2012).

Tuesday 18th June – 7 to 9.30pm

Film Showings & collective listening to songs by women inspired by anti-nuclear activism followed by discussion.

Carry Greenham Home (1983)

‘Director Beeban Kidron was so committed to making this 1983 film – she was attending the National Film and Television School at the time – that she lived at the site herself for more than seven months.

Shot almost entirely on videoCarry Greenham Home‘s depiction of the women involved in the peace movement contrasts greatly with media portraits of the time, and the subsequent collective memory.

The film gives a fuller picture of what life was like than the fragmented news reports. It covers the processes underlying the women’s decisions, the influence of outside forces, and the verve and style with which they developed their own brand of non-violent direct action.’ Notes by Charlotte Cooper.

Don’t Trust Menwith Balls (1995)  

A film about Menwith Women’s Peace Camp.

Thursday 27th June – 7 to 9.30pm

Archiving contemporary feminist activism with the Bristol Feminist Network.

Feminists and women’s rights activists have often made a strong connection between history and social change. Simply put, when women are written out of the history books, their culture, achievements and lives are seen as less important than men’s. Such a perspective was a motivating force in the creation of the Feminist Archive, and the Women’s (formerly Fawcett) Library in London.

Such facts beg the question: how do we archive the present? How do we ensure that online 21st century feminist activism is documented in a secure way? How do we collect records of a movement as it is happening now, what do we remember, and what do we forget?

As part of the evening we will create a timeline of 21st century Bristol feminist activism, hear from experienced archivists and conduct live oral histories.

Join us for this important conversation! If you want to be part of history, you gotta make it!!

Letter from Jane Hargreaves, former FAS Trustee

In the 1990s, Jane Hargreaves was a trustee of the FAS and took great care in developing the collections. We asked her to write her memories of working with the collections, and here they are in the form of a letter….

Hi Debi,

You said that I had obviously felt very strongly about the Women’s Caravan of Peace which Dora Russell took to the communist bloc countries of East Europe at the height of the cold war in 1958. Yes I do feel awed – principally because they went at a time when women had very little autonomy. I had that same feeling of admiration when I came across a small archive of a young PE teacher called Barbara Dodds who went out to the then colonial Kenya in the 50’s to be in charge of physical education for girls country-wide. Barbara immediately interpreted this to mean for all girls regardless of ethnic group or social disadvantage. She later travelled worldwide as an activist for women’s peace groups. Both of these archives are really outside the remit of the FAS in that the origin of ‘second wave ‘ feminism is reckoned to be in the late 60’s and reform did not become revolution until the 70’s. But they chime with me.

I arrived at the FAS in the 90’s having retired from teaching. I had been deeply involved in creating a policy of equal opportunities at the school where I had taught. I had helped to institute and been part of a team delivering the highly successful Professional Development for Women Teachers course. I thought I knew what feminism was. Now I found this amazing mound of dusty papers and books and periodicals piled up in the corner of the FA room presenting whole new aspects of feminist history.

So I fell upon the books and discovered Mary Daly and Gyn/Ecology. I revelled in her use of language and her excoriation of ‘Godfather’ theology. And then I came across Fran Hosken and was shocked by her exposure of female genital mutilation and angered that in the 30 years since she wrote it so little has been done to eradicate this. On the lighter side I had a choice of the complete set of novels from Virago, the first all-woman publishing house. I laughed at Cath Tait cartoons. I revelled in the art work in the two boxes of book jackets from the earliest days of the Women’s Press. I found lovely prints by Monica Sjoo and drawers full of posters ranging from women’s theatre to political campaigns. There were striking prints by Pen Dalton. I am not likely to forget ‘Women are Revolting’ or ‘Free Castration on Demand’. We spent happy hours photographing posters and badges and putting them on our old website which was up and running as early as 1997.

There were friendships to be made. Just when I thought that nobody would ever look at the Dora Russell archive up popped a German-Portuguese researcher. Then Margaretta Jolly researched women’s letters and gave us a new computer! And when I had finally sorted out most of our Greenham Peace Camp holdings, Holger Terp, a near-blind researcher from Denmark, began a quest for songs from Greenham and for a heady time we were crisscrossing sources until his site had as complete a collection as he could make it.  Archif Menywod Cymru/Women’s Archive of Wales showed welcome sisterhood.  IIAV (the Dutch international women’s archive) in Amsterdam were practical and generous. I had a mindboggling time getting to grips with their international Women’s Thesaurus and this led to me reorganising the classification system in the FAS for the second time. That is the prosaic reason that all the labels are scrawled over and rewritten two or three times. Not neat but I hope effective!

The reclassification led me to look at the various papers scattered around under the loose heading of ‘abortion’. We managed to trace a history of abortion law reform in these papers from the 1967 Act to the discussions about embryo research in the 90’s. Together with articles in periodicals and pamphlets these are records of the steadfast campaigning of abortion law activists both locally and nationally. For me they were a reminder of the repressive atmosphere and hypocrisy of the 50’s.

Most women know of the legendary Spare Rib magazine. There is a complete set in FAS. But there is also a huge (unpublished) box of letters to the editor; not for general readership, but perhaps the time is right for restricted research. What else? There is a music collection on vinyl and an audio collection on tapes which may be disintegrating before examination. The collecting phase at FAS will largely be over when the pivotal Ellen Malos archive has been accessed. Now it all needs to be understood and interpreted by a different generation.