The origins of The Women’s Library can be traced back to the women’s suffrage movement and the 1866 women’s suffrage petition. This marked the beginning of the organised campaign for the vote which ended in 1928 when women achieved equal voting rights with men in the Equal Franchise Act.
Women’s Service Library
The Women’s Library began its life in a converted pub in Marsham Street, Westminster, as The Library of the London Society for Women’s Service in 1926. It had two aims: to preserve the history of the women’s movement, and to provide a resource for newly enfranchised women to enter public life.
The Library was renamed the Fawcett Library in 1957 and the Women’s Library in 2002. The collection has had many homes and it moved to LSE in 2013 when it became custodians of the collection.
Eight documents from the Women’s Library and the Parliamentary Archives were recognised by UNESCO on their UK Memory of the World Register in 2011.
Scope of the collection
The Women’s Library collection is a cross-domain collection containing printed material, archives and 3D objects. The majority of the material dates from the late 19th century to present day. The focus is mainly UK, but there is some international material.
Ruth Cavendish Bentinck, a suffragist and socialist, donated over 1,000 books to the Women’s Service Library in 1930. The main themes here are law, the home, fashion, education, health, work, and literature.
Overarching theme of the collection is campaigns for women’s rights and for women’s equality. The main sub-themes are:
- Women's suffrage
- Prostitution and trafficking, Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, sexual health
- Women in the workplace including equal pay, changes in working patterns
- Women in public life including campaign for more women MPs
- Women in the church
- Women’s liberation movement of the 1970s
- Peace campaigns – relating to Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (1982-2000)
Searching the collection
Use Library Search to locate the books. These can also be browsed on the 3rd floor.
Search Archives Catalogue for archives and museum objects.
How to access
Most of the material highlighted here is stored in closed access and must be consulted in The Women’s Library Reading Room. Find out how to book your place and order material on our access archives and special collections page.
If you need specific help with any of the collections mentioned here get in touch with our Curator for Equality, Rights and Citizenship, Gillian Murphy.
Explore the collection through LSE Library's Google Arts and Culture page, which includes 8 Women's Suffrage exhibits and 100s of photographs, letters and other items from the Suffrage movement. Find out about the lives of campaigners including Emily Wilding Davison, Rosa May Billinghurst and Vera 'Jack' Holme.
35 rare books and 300 items from the 16th Century to the present day are available on the Digital Library. This resource is a representative sample of the collection.
Some of the photo collections are available in high resolution and ready for download from Flickr in The Women's Library album.
Support The Women's Library
Philanthropic support has played an important role in the evolution of the collection, and The Women’s Library continues to welcome such support for the maintenance, conservation and exhibition of these collections.
Gifts made in support of The Women’s Library have a real impact, furthering a range of activities which serve to strengthen the collection, including conservation and preservation of important archival material; building and cataloguing of the collections; and increasing public access through education and outreach.
Please see the Support The Women's Library page for details on different ways in which you can help.
The Friends of The Women's Library
The Friends are an independent organisation of supporters of the Women's Library. Please see their website for further details of activities and membership.