Tag Archives: Remembrance

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.

Reflections on the History of Bristol Women’s Aid workshop – 20 July 2013

On Saturday 20 July we held the last workshop in the Feminist Archive South Spring/ Summer workshop series run as part of the Ellen Malos’ Archives project.

We’ve held a range of workshops and events over the past few months, including the history of feminist print media, film showings, archiving contemporary feminist activism, and singing with Frankie Armstrong.

For the last workshop we explored the history of Bristol Women’s Aid with Ellen Malos and Jackie Barron, unfortunately Nicola Harwin was unwell so she couldn’t join us – get better soon Nicola.

Here is some personal impressions of the workshop written by me (that’s debi, by way…)

The early history of women’s aid in Bristol has been fairly well recounted on this blog – a single bed that happened to be in the Women Centre in 1973 was the seed from which Women’s Aid in Bristol grew. The centre often received calls from the police and the Samaritans to see if they could help women and children who were experiencing domestic violence, and it soon became clear that there was a real need for services to help vulnerable women in Bristol. Women and their children would take refuge in the centre for a few nights, but as the centre was a busy place they could not stay there all the time. In 1973 there was literally no support, and no understanding of the abuse women suffered, and it was commonly stated by authorities that women should just ‘go home’ to their violent partners.

As the calls to the women’s centre became more frequent, WLM activists began searching for a property where women could live safely. This became known as the ‘Women’s House Project.’ Recounting the early histories of women’s aid demonstrated how ‘women’s safe houses’ acted as spaces of mutual aid and co-operation, embodying many of the political ideals of the women’s movement as the first point on the document illustrates: ‘the house will be run on a day to day basis by the women in residence.’

List of practical arrangements for running the women's house

The workshop revealed how WLM activists invented language to describe and analyse violence against women, including the very term we use today – ‘violence against women.’ Some of this language, such as ‘battered women’ now seems out-dated, and we reflected in the workshop on how terminology has changed as more became known about the field.

Women Your Body Belongs to You

It might be worthwhile here to just pause a minute and consider: can you imagine living in a culture where there was no language to describe certain kinds of violence? As one contributor, who had been very involved in the development of women’s services in Bath commented, the analyses emerging from the WLM ‘prised open the private domain’ as an arena where women and children can experience physical and emotional violence.

A major part of the development of women’s aid and related services was research and policy reform. As Ellen was keen to state, women in the movement had no previous knowledge of law or social policy so they had to pick things up as they went along. This meant learning how the complex machinery of the state worked, negotiating dense bureaucracy and exercising immense powers of diplomacy. As Ellen jokingly reflected, she developed the skill to sit in meetings with sexist men, resist the urge to strangle them and maintain working relationships that helped them make incremental gains in attaining vital services for women.

Books and pamphlets about women's aid and violence against women research

I asked Ellen if she felt there was any tension between working so directly to reform patriarchal law and the aims of the wider movement that attempted to revolutionise the whole of society. As a socialist, Ellen personally felt there was no contradiction in pursuing such a course of action, but she did suggest there were people in the movement who were critical of these strategies. Ellen emphasised however that the women’s aid movement did not operate solely to change the law. It also aimed to change cultural perceptions and behaviour so that we can live in a world where violence against women is understood to be completely unacceptable. This is clearly an area where activism is vibrant in contemporary feminism, but there is still a very very long way to go before this aim is realised.

Women's House - image of woman's face

A revealing conversation from the afternoon focused on how the austerity measures implemented by the coalition government risk creating a situation where women’s financial independence will be curtailed, which could potentially mean women stay in relationships with violent partners. The introduction of a single payment of Universal Credit in October 2013 decrees that benefit payments can only be paid to one person per household, and does not stipulate the gender of the person money should be paid to.

Feminists have long emphasised the importance of women’s financial independence through benefit payments. Eleanor Rathbone argued for a system of family allowances paid directly to mothers as early as 1918. When threats to family allowance were tabled in the 1970s, women in the WLM mobilized to ensure that payments were still paid to the mother. The change to how benefit payments are structured in the UK may mean that payments go the man, therefore eroding what for some women is crucial access to financial autonomy.

Collection of pamphlets about Bristol Women's Aid

Such changes in welfare policies demonstrate that the struggle for equality and cultural transformation at the heart of feminist politics is a continuous one. Advances can be made but they can also be retracted, particularly in an age of austerity where women’s freedoms are surplus to financial requirements. The workshop also demonstrated to me that understanding these struggles in a wider historical context is crucial, so that we can better understand how feminist incisions can be made in political and cultural life.

Domestic Violence & Housing: Local Authorities Responses to women and children escaping violence in the home

This was one of the first pieces of research to explore how local authorities were implementing laws to protect women escaping violence in the home

I hope that the plans to write the history of Bristol Women’s Aid is realised quickly. Contemporary activists would benefit from knowing how to make policy interventions and transform the law. It is clear that the current government is unpicking just about every progressive piece of legislation made in the 20th century. Sharing such knowledge and skills across feminist generations is vital for understanding the varied strategies of committed resistance women have collectively practiced throughout history. As I said earlier, the fight for equality and cultural transformation is a continuous one, and recording and sharing what we have done is an integral part of sustaining political action.

 

 

 

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!!

Bristol Women’s History Walk Pamphlet – 1840-1920

This women’s history walk pamphlet was produced by the Bristol Women’s History Group in 1989.

Womens History Walk _1

Anyone interested in taking a trot round town to explore these sites? Get in touch and we can arrange an outing.

Womens History Walk _1 01

Within the booklet was an ‘errors and omissions’ slip:

The first sentence in line 8 should read:

‘The first guild in Bristol was formed in the winter of 1889-90’

Bottom of the back page should have:

‘Published by the Bristol Women’s History Group, 1989.’