A history of feminism through 5 finds

From suffragette to women’s libber, lesbian activists to intersectional feminists, the archives at Bishopsgate Institute are full of fearless women who’ve taken up the feminist cause since 1900.

In celebration of 100 years since suffrage was extended to some women, we count down our five favourite items from the collections:

1. A Suffragette teapot

Suffragette teapot
Suffragette teapot. Dawson Family Archive

Part of a twenty-two piece set, this tea pot was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst for use at a WSPU exhibition held at the Prince’s Skating Rink at Knightsbridge in May 1909. Sylvia designed the tea set to be utilitarian and practical, shunning the fashion at the time for elaborate handles and dainty flower prints. Instead the design is strikingly clean, with straight lines and angular handles. The only adornment is the WSPU logo, complete with prison bar motif, on the front. A very suitable accompaniment to a debate about enfranchisement.

2. Greenham Common badges

Greenham Common badges
Greenham Common badges. Mavis Middleton Archive

Worn by Greenham Common camp member Mavis Middleton, this badge was one of many produced over nineteen years the peace camp remained outside the RAF base in Berkshire. The protests at Greenham were at the forefront of the anti nuclear proliferation debates of the 1980s. A women-only space, the camp saw residents subvert established stereotypes with newspapers full of stories of ‘violent women’ and those who had abandoned their ‘family duties’. But these exaggerated negative depictions didn’t deter women from joining in their thousands – at it’s height the camp attracted 70,000 protesters, forming a 14 mile chain around the base.

3. A landmark sex discrimination speech

3. Sex discrimination speech
Sex discrimination speech. Joyce and Vic Butler Archive

This speech was delivered by Joyce Butler MP for Wood Green in the House of Commons in 1968. Joyce was the first person to introduce the idea of an act outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sex. She introduced her bill four times under the Ten Minute Rule but lost the vote each time. Subsequently, Willie Hamilton won on The Ballot and Joyce suggested he should take her bill. He was successful and the bill later became the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. Joyce’s connection with the Act is frustratingly omitted from the history books, but without her dogged commitment women would have continued to be unfairly excluded from employment and education opportunities.

4. A Lesbian Strength march

Lesbian Strength March photo
Lesbian Strength March photo. Pam Isherwood/Format Photographers Agency Archive

This image of women on a Lesbian Strength March was taken by Pam Isherwood on 22 June 1985, and it paints a striking picture of intersectional female solidarity. The first Lesbian Strength March had taken place on 27 June 1981 in London (a week before the combined Lesbian and Gay Pride now known as London Pride). Lesbian activists played an enormous role in the Women’s Liberation Movement and Gay Liberation Movement, but also faced discrimination in both; the former because of their sexuality, the later because of their gender.

5. A Women’s March placard

5. Women's March placard
Women’s March placard. Women’s March on London collection

Pippa Banham created this placard for the Women’s March on London, 21 January 2017. Like the other 100,000 people who marched through the Capital that day, Pippa used the protest to highlight issues that were important to her. Here, she repurposed the coarse language used by Donald Trump to refocus attention on government policies and the need to oppose those policies which negatively or disproportionately affected women.

Bishopsgate Institute:  Women & Activism season

To mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which granted women in the UK the right to vote for the first time, in March 2018 Bishopsgate Institute is hosting a series of talks with inspirational campaigners, archives tours and courses as part of their ‘Women & Activism’ season.

Exploring activism that has taken place since this historic moment, each course and event will discuss different experiences of campaigning for equal rights and consider contemporary causes that still require action.  Visit their website to learn more.


Do you, or does someone in your family or area, have a hidden suffrage story? If you do, we’d love to hear it.
Send us your stories using the hashtag #HerStories or email us at herstories@HistoricEngland.org.uk

Further Reading

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