The Women’s Library is the oldest and largest library in Britain devoted to the history of women’s campaigning and activism. It was officially inaugurated as the Library of the London Society for Women’s Service in 1926 and it had two aims: to preserve the history of the women’s suffrage movement and to provide a resource for newly-enfranchised women to take their part in public life.
The deposit of books and archives in the early decades bear witness to the activities of the London Society and to the interests of its members, both as participants in the campaigns of the women’s movement of their day, and as individuals following their own professional pursuits.
The Women’s Library has had many homes and many names. It was renamed the Fawcett Library in 1957 in memory of Millicent Garrett Fawcett and then The Women’s Library in 2002. It moved to LSE in 2013.
More on the history of The Women's Library.
The Women's Library collection
The Women’s Library is a library, archive and museum and the collection follows the history of feminism from the late 19th century to the present day. Here are some of the themes of the collection.
The history of the London Society for Women’s Service, and of its Library, can be traced back to the Women’s Suffrage Committee and the first massed women’s suffrage petition to Parliament in 1866.
More on the 1866 Women’s Suffrage Petition.
Because the struggle for the vote continued decade after decade until 1928, when women obtained the vote on equal voting terms with men, the Library gradually accumulated before and long after that date, collections on the suffrage movement in all its stages. The collection covers the constitutional, the militant and anti-suffrage campaigns.
More on our women's suffrage collections.
Many women who were involved in the suffrage movement continued campaigning for women’s rights and children’s rights beyond 1918 eg The Six Point Group, the Open Door Council, Women Citizens’ Association.
Prostitution and Trafficking
The core of this collection is a deposit made in the 1950s by the Josephine Butler Society. They transferred its own library of books, pamphlets, journals, photographs and archives on prostitution and related topics, especially Josephine Butler’s campaigns against the Contagious Diseases Acts and state-registered prostitution.
More on our prostitution and trafficking collections.
Black and Asian Women
Includes papers on Black women in the arts, material relating to Olive Morris and Brixton Black Women’s Group, Claudia Jones and West Indian Gazette, Asian Women’s Refuge and journal titles such as ‘Mukti’, ‘FOWAAD’ and ‘Speak Out’.
Women and Work
Collections cover equality in the workplace, equal opportunities, careers, professional life and more recent attempts to change working patterns.
More on our women and work collections.
Women in Public Life
Campaigns to increase women in local and national government and other public bodies.
View our exhibit 'Women of Westminster'.
Women and the Family
Campaigns for maternity rights, abortion, childcare, the rights of married women, the rights of single mothers and the rights of lesbian mothers.
Women and Religion
Such as the campaign for women's ordination in the Church of England.
View our exhibit "A Woman's Place....?".
More about the feminism and religion collections.
Women and Peace Campaigning
Includes the records of Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and peace activists such as Lyn Barlow and Ginette Leach.
View our exhibit 'Women's International League for Peace and Freedom'.
Women’s Liberation Movement
We hold the papers of activists, of campaigning groups, magazines and newsletters which chart the campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s.
More about the Women's Liberation Movement collection.
Women and the Environment
This includes Keep Britain Tidy campaign, the National Housewives Association on pesticides and recycling, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes campaign on plastic packaging reduction.
Women and Internationalism
Some of the campaigning groups have an international remit such as the International Alliance of Women, International Abolitionist Federation or the Commonwealth Countries League. Campaigning groups can also have branches in other countries such as the Girls Friendly Society. There are also journal titles such as ‘Women in China’ and ‘Soviet Women’.
The Women’s Library has a rare book collection made up of the libraries of various individuals. These include a book collection from Nancy Astor originally bought for Crosby Hall, the headquarters of the British Federation of University Women, who could no longer accommodate them.
Ruth Cavendish Bendinck, a socialist campaigner for women’s rights and member of the London Society, donated about 1000 books and pamphlets in 1931. Ruth continued to donate books to the Library until her death in 1954.
Other collections come from Edward Wright, Ada Wallas and Lina Eckenstein.
View some of the rare books.
The Sadd Brown Library
Set up in 1938 in memory of suffragette and internationalist Myra Sadd Brown, the library contains many books, pamphlets and journals relating to campaigns for and by women in the commonwealth countries.
More about the Sadd Brown Library.
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:
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.
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.