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Oral history: women’s history

The British Library holds several collections relating to the women’s lives including home and working life, political activism and protest, feminism and gender, health and sexuality.



  • The Hallam Nursing Interviews (catalogue no: C768) document the arrival of women that came from Barbados to Britain to train as nurses in the 1950s.
  • Royal College of Nursing History Group interviews (catalogue no: C545) is a collection of 35 interviews with nurses from World War One onwards talking about their nursing careers and experiences.
  • The Kay Foster Gulf War recordings (catalogue no: C752) are the audio diaries of a major in the Royal Army Nursing Corps serving in the Gulf War 1990-91.
  • Women’s experiences of working in traditionally male industries features in a number of National Life Stories projects, including City Lives (C409), Lives in the Oil Industry (C963), Lives in Steel (C532), An Oral History of the Wine Trade (C1088) and The Fawcett Collection (C468), a National Life Stories collection of recordings funded by the Fawcett Society and the Friends of the Fawcett Library, which focuses on the lives of pioneering career women, each of whom made their mark in traditionally male-dominated areas such as politics, the law and medicine.
  • Women’s involvement in craft, art and design is reflected in the Artists' Lives (C466), Oral History of British Photography (catalogue no: C459) and Crafts Lives (C960)
  • The Women and the English Country House (catalogue no: C1008) collection comprises interviews with staff and owners from a selection of stately homes in Britain, which were conducted as part of research for ‘Woman's Domain: Women and the English Country House' by Trevor Lummis and Jan Marsh, published by Viking in conjunction with The National Trust.

Politics, protests and social movements

  • The Sound Archive contains many recordings relating to the suffrage movement, including: ‘The Blaze of the Day: The Suffragette Movement’, a published CD compilation of oral history, speeches, and songs; recorded speeches by Margaret Grace Bondfield and Christabel Pankhurst; recorded reminiscences such as those from Ada Flatman; and radio programmes, such as Woman’s Hour: Memories of the Suffragette Movement
  • ‘Daughters of Radical Suffragists’: BBC Radio 4 broadcast (catalogue no.: C1280) is a copy of a 2002 radio broadcast made by Pennine Productions, compiled from oral history interviews recorded in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • The Jean Taylor Interviews (catalogue no: C721) comprises location recordings with women protesters at Greenham Common nuclear base.
  • 'Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project' (catalogue no: C1420) is a partnership project between the University of Sussex, The British Library and the Women’s Library, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which aims to use oral history interviews to capture and analyse the memories of those women who powered the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The project comprises 60 oral history recordings with feminist activists throughout Britain who were involved in a range of women’s liberation campaigns, including women’s aid and the National Abortion Campaign. Also created were 10 short documentary films which are available for viewing on the project website. Further information is available on the University of Sussex project webpage and the detailed project description (PDF format, 133 KB).
  • The Women Conscientious Objectors (catalogue no: C880) collection comprises life story interviews with British women conscientious objectors from the Second World War, recorded by Rena Feld in 1997-8, in association with Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre with funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
  • Interviews with Animal Welfare activists (catalogue no: C894) is a collection of oral history interviews with people active in the animal welfare and animal rights movement in Britain, including the Hunt Saboteurs Association, Chickens Lib, RSPCA Reform Group, League Against Cruel Sports, Animal Liberation Front, Compassion in World Farming and other organisations campaigning against animal experimentation and maltreatment.
  • The Harman-Shephard collection of interviews with women Members of Parliament (catalogue no: C1182) comprises interviews with 83 female and 3 male Members of Parliament, most of whom entered the House of Commons at the 1997 general election.
  • Lifetimes of Commitment: interviews with British socialists (catalogue no: C820) is a collection of sixteen interviews with British socialists, including Eileen Daffern and Frida Knight, carried out between 1986 and 1988 for a book entitled 'Lifetimes of commitment: aging, politics and psychology' (CUP 1991).
  • An interview with Betty Boothroyd (the first female speaker of the House of Commons) and with Edwina Coven, first woman Chief Commoner of City of London are included in the Leaders of National Life (C408) collection

Religion and ethnicity

  • The Pascall Theatre Company: Mothers and Daughters - A Jewish Archive (catalogue no: C1242) collection comprises 50 interviews with Jewish women of various ages and cultural backgrounds recorded by the Pascal Theatre Company in collaboration with the London Jewish Cultural Centre. The recordings were made as part of a film and exhibition entitled 'Jewish mothers and daughters: a personal history of the 20th century through 50 Jewish women's lives'.
  • The Irish Women Travellers (catalogue no: C1106) is a collection of life story interviews with women from the Irish Traveller community. The recordings are part of an oral history research project undertaken by Sue Beck for an MSc in Public Health and Health Promotion at South Bank University, which explores the health of these women across generations and across the life span.
  • Nuns' Lives (catalogue no: C899) features interviews with three retired teaching nuns, conducted in 1998 as part of a research project.
  • The Wesleyan Deaconesses Interviews collection (catalogue no: C973) comprises six interviews with members of the Wesleyan Deaconess Order who had trained or served during the 1930s and 1940s.
  • The Mothers Union Recordings (catalogue no: C1424) comprises recordings made between the 1962 and 1998, and includes recordings of overseas conferences of the Mothers’ Union and teaching resources to promote discussion on issues such as teenagers and prayer.

Sexuality, reproductive health and prostitution

  • QMWC: Changes in childbirth (catalogue no: C643) is a series of recordings conducted by students at Queen Mary Westfield College during 1991-1992. The purpose of the project was to investigate changes in childbirth in East London from the late 19th century to the late 20th century.
  • QMWC: Changes in birth control (catalogue no: C644) is a collection of interviews conducted by a group of women medical students from Queen Mary Westfield College in 1993. The study investigated changing attitudes to contraception in the light of the introduction of the contraceptive pill; the impact the Pill had on women's health and life; and changes in attitudes within the medical profession to contraception.
  • The Lara Marks contraceptive pill interviews (catalogue no: C1241) is a collection of 53 recordings of interviews with (or talks by) scientists, medical practitioners and lay test participants involved in the development of the contraceptive pill, and two off-air recordings of radio broadcasts, recorded by Dr Lara Marks and her research assistants between 1994 and 1997.
  • An interview with Lady Helen Brook, advocate of birth control and founder of the Brook Organisation for sexual health advice and services to the under 25's, is included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life (C408).
  • An interview with Dame Josephine Barnes, the first female consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Charing Cross Hospital and the first female President of the British Medical Association, is included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life (C408) and can be accessed online by those within UK Higher and Further Education via the Sounds website.
  • ‘Invisible Women’: Positively Women Oral History Project (catalogue no: C1254) is a collection of 16 oral history interviews with women living with HIV; the interviews reveal how HIV has affected them socially, at work and in their family lives. The project was carried out by Positively UK as part of an HLF funded project in 2007 and 2008.
  • There are a number of collections relating to sexuality including: ‘Before Stonewall: a lesbian, gay and transgender oral history’ (catalogue no: C1159), The Rainbow Television Collection of Gay/Lesbian Videos (catalogue no: C1041) and The Hall-Carpenter Oral History archive (catalogue no: C456).  Further information can be found on the collections page Oral History: sexuality, reproductive health and prostitution.
  • An Oral History of Prostitution (catalogue no: C803) is a series of interviews with sex workers and others involved in the sex industry.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)

PDF files

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