Who we were who we are

Who we were, who we are

Although the Women’s Liberation Movement was not the first movement to call for the emancipation of women, much of the history had been forgotten by the 1960s. Find out why so much of the intellectual work of the WLM was on rediscovery and rethinking.

Ursula Owen talks about the periodic reinvention of feminism

The Women’s Liberation Movement was not the first movement concerned with the emancipation of women. Some of its predecessors include:

The suffrage movement from the 1840s to the 1920s in Britain, the USA and Europe

Early Indian campaigns against sati (self-immolation of recently widowed women) and  prohibitions on widow remarriage in the mid-19th century

The so-called ‘May Fourth Feminist Movement’ in China in the 1910s and ‘20s The Ottoman Welfare Organisation of Women founded in 1908 in Turkey, an early example of Arab women’s organising.

These campaigning histories had been mostly been forgotten by the 1960s and were little known by post-war generations, so much of the intellectual work of the WLM was of rediscovery and rethinking.

Sue Crockford recalls the first conference on Women's Liberation


In the light of these struggles, past, present and future, how can we understand connections between women’s movements across the world? In the British context (the focus of the Sisterhood and After archive) how do we make connections between today’s feminists, the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s and ‘80s, and the suffragists and suffragettes of the 19th and early 20th centuries?

Since the first National Women’s Liberation Movement Conference in the UK was held at Ruskin College, Oxford, in 1970, equal rights have become enshrined in legislation and equal opportunities are an expectation (if not always a reality) of everyday life. Women in the UK have control over their fertility, a secure presence in every area of public life, and are active in government as well as the professions and industry. So is there a need for a women’s movement today and why does the idea of feminism still create controversy?

Juliet Mitchell talks about why changes in gender relations take so long to achieve

  • Sisterhood and After Research Team
  • This article was researched and written by the Sisterhood and After Research Team, who are experts in the history of contemporary feminism and narrative life methods. The team included Abi Barber, Dr Polly Russell, Dr Margaretta Jolly, Dr Rachel Cohen, Dr Freya Johnson-Ross and Dr Lucy Delap. Further information about the team and project is available in the About the project section.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.