Millicent Fawcett at Hyde Park in London talking to a crowd of suffrage supporters.

The Women's Library

‘… the Library is probably dearest to my heart, for it keeps alive the history of “the long march to equality”.’ - Mary Stott, 1987

Introduction

The Women’s Library collection tells the story of the campaign for women’s rights and women’s equality from the beginnings of the suffrage movement to the present day. The collection includes UNESCO-recognised documents, rare books, and objects such as original suffrage banners. The majority of the material dates from the late 19th century to present day and the focus is mainly UK.

More than 300 items, including 35 rare books, from The Women’s Library and LSE Library are available to read on the Digital Library.

Origins of The Women’s Library

The origins of The Women’s Library can be traced back to the women’s suffrage movement and the 1866 women’s suffrage petition. The petition marked the beginning of the organised campaign for the vote.

Out of the 1866 Women’s Suffrage Committee came the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage which later became the Fawcett Society. By the 1920s the London Society had accumulated a tremendous amount of suffrage literature and it was decided that the collection should be managed on proper principles. 

Find out more about the 1866 Women’s Suffrage Petition.

Emmeline Pankhurst looking out of a train window.
Photograph of Emmeline Pankhurst, c.1910.

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 custodian of the collection.  

Emily Wilding Davison portrait
Emily Wilding Davison, c.1905.

Themes of the collection

The overarching theme of the collection is the campaign for women’s rights and women’s equality. The main sub-themes are:

Poster with drawing of TV displaying the words "Women: if what you see offends", and a list of phone numbers to the right side.
Women's Film, Television and Video Network poster, 1980s.

UNESCO-recognised collection

The collection includes UNESCO-recognised women’s suffrage archive documents. In 2011, eight documents from the Women’s Library and the Parliamentary Archives were recognised by UNESCO on their UK Memory of the World Register. These include:

Rare books

Ruth Cavendish Bentinck, a suffragist and socialist, donated over 1,000  books to the Women’s Service Library in 1930. The main themes are law, the home, fashion, education, health, work, and literature. 

Single parent march
Single parents' march. 

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.

Further information 

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.  

National Housewives Register poster
National Housewives Register poster. 

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. 

Find out more