The Sisterhood and After website (published 2013) is part of a wider Leverhulme Trust funded project whose aim is to create an original and extensive oral history archive of the lives of feminist change-makers of the 1970s and ‘80s. The archive provides the resources for new studies of this important social movement and its legacy, capturing the voices of a unique generation before it is too late.
The project took three years. First, we researched existing studies of the movement, including identifying other oral histories. We consulted on how to select and find interviewees. We were particularly pleased to build upon the results of the Leverhulme Trust-funded Women's Liberation Movement Network at The Women's Library from 2008-09, which archived the results of six ‘witness workshops’ across Britain. Second, we undertook the long and fascinating interviews, often involving extensive negotiation with our interviewees. We asked our interviewees about their role in key campaigns and ideas, their own experiments with personal and political relationships, their experiences of adolescence, bodily life and identity, and their views on the diversity of movements across and within the four nations of the UK. We asked them how their lives compared with those of their mothers: the responses were often surprising.
The recorded interviews are, on average, seven hours long. We have followed the British Library’s methods for making interviews accessible by providing detailed summaries and transcripts. To further animate the stories, we have commissioned ten documentary films on subjects ranging from protests in Belfast to mending a roof in Todmorden. We have also drawn from another oral history project, led by Dr Lucy Delap ‘Unbecoming Men: Masculinities and the Women’s Liberation Movement, 1970-1985’. We have featured recordings from this project in Who We Were, Who We Are.
This website, and the oral history behind it, captures only a fragment of a living archive that we hope will grow at the British Library and elsewhere. We’ve aimed to represent a diverse range of voices, reflecting the multifaceted nature of the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Further details about the project outcomes, publications and partners can be found on the Sisterhood and After Projects page.
You can read more about the researchers and staff involved in this project below.
The project is directed by researchers who are expert in the history of contemporary feminism and narrative life methods. It was curated by the British Library Social Science Team.
Dr Margaretta Jolly
Margaretta Jolly is the project’s award holder and the project director. She is Reader in Cultural Studies in the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex. Margaretta’s main interests are the art and use of life narrative and feminist cultures and histories. Her book In Love and Struggle: Letters in Contemporary Feminism, was joint winner of the Feminist and Women's Studies Association UK book prize, 2008, and she co-directs the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research.
Dr Polly Russell
Polly Russell is a Lead Curator in the Social Science department at the British Library. Polly is responsible for collections relating to Human Geography and Anthropology and her research interests include feminism, oral history and food. She was the main British Library link for the project, working closely with the project team and library colleagues.
Dr Rachel Cohen
Rachel Cohen is the Research Fellow for this project. She was the Facilitator of the Women's Liberation Movement Network at The Women's Library from 2008-09. Her research focuses on the British and American women's liberation movements and cultural difference. Rachel was responsible for researching and interviewing and creating and organising the project's interviewee catalogue records.
Lizzie Thynne is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sussex. Lizzie combines film-making, teaching and writing and is the director and producer of the ten films commissioned for this project. She completed an experimental family biography, On the Border, in 2012. Her work on the surrealist photographer Claude Cahun has appeared in History of Photography, Papers of Surrealism and as a film Playing a Part (2005) which accompanied the recent touring show of the artist's work at the Jeu de Paume, Paris and La Virreina Centre De L'Image, Barcelona.
Peter Harte studied for a Masters in Creative Media Practice at the University of Sussex whilst working as the Archive Researcher and Editor on the 10 short films for Sisterhood and After. He specialises in filmmaking and digital media and has started a practice-based PhD researching the impact and empowerment potential of participatory media and the therapeutic nature of mediated practices.
Abi Barber is Web Content Developer for the British Library Learning Team. Her roles in this project have included writing and editing the web text, image research and coordinating with the wider research team.
Freya Johnson-Ross is a doctoral student at the University of Sussex. Freya is researching structure and organisation in the women's liberation movement, and feminist professional identities as they developed subsequently. She completed an MPhil at the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies in 2010.
Dr Lucy Delap
Lucy Delap is a Lecturer in Modern British History at the University of Cambridge, and fellow of Murray Edwards College. She works on the history of feminism, child sexual abuse, gender, labour and religion, and is currently working on men’s encounters with women’s liberation in the 1970s and 1980s. She published the prize-winning The Feminist Avant-Garde: Transatlantic Encounters of the early twentieth century in 2007, and Knowing Their Place: Domestic Service in Twentieth Century Britain in 2011. She directed History & Policy between 2012 and 2015.
Advisory Board and Project Support
No project of this magnitude can be accomplished without other assistance. Thanks go to the following:
A project Advisory Board provided invaluable advice on interviewee selection and recruitment. Members of the Advisory Board included: Professor Lynn Abrams, Department of History, University of Glasgow; Professor Sally Alexander, Department of History, Goldsmiths; Dr Lucy Bland, Department of History, London Metropolitan University; Dr Esther Breitenbach, Dept of History, Classics and Archeology, University of Edinburgh; Janet Browne, Anne-Marie Sandos, and Kelly Foster, Learning Managers, Black Cultural Archives; Mary Marshall Clark, Director of Columbia Oral History Research Office; Professor Kathy Davis, Senior Researcher, Institute of History and Culture, Utrecht University; Professor Heidi Mirza, Professor of Equality Studies in Education, Institute of Education, University of London; Ursula Owen, Director, The Free Word Centre; Professor Luisa Passerini, Dipartimento di Storia, Università di Torino; Dr. Rob Perks, Oral History Curator/Director of National Life Stories, British Library; Avril Rolph, Chair of Archif Menywod Cymru/Women’s Archive of Wales, former librarian at University of Swansea; Professor Barbara Taylor, Department of History, University of East London; Teresa Doherty, Special Collections Manager, The Women’s Library and Anna Towlson, Librarian, LSE; Professor Pat Thane, Leverhulme Professor of Contemporary British History, University of London; Dr Margaret Ward, Director of the Women’s Resource and Development Agency, Belfast.
Additional support from the project was provided by Susan Hutton, Susan Nicholls, Kerry Cable, Carolyn S Mumford, Claire Sissons and Bridget Lockyer.