In October, a new exhibition launched at the British Library called ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights’. Looking at the long and complex history of women’s rights, the exhibition covers three areas – Mind, Body and Voice – and charts the progression of women in the workplace, in the political sphere, the home and in society. With exhibits ranging from those by contemporary artists to original writings by Suffragettes, from protest banners to celebrity photographs, the exhibition covers a wide variety of topics.
Warwickshire Libraries works in partnership with the British Library through the Living Knowledge Network. As part of our membership to the Network (more about that later), we had been hoping to host a panel exhibition giving a flavour of the main exhibition but due to current circumstances, that is paused. However, that does not mean that we can’t still share with you lots of content related to the subject.
We’ve worked with our colleagues in Heritage & Culture Warwickshire and in the County Record Office to shine a light on the fight for women’s rights in Warwickshire as well as highlighting titles on our library shelves and in our BorrowBox collection that can expand your knowledge of the subject. We’re creating an ‘Unfinished Business’ page on our catalogue that you’ll be able to explore in more detail but here’s a selection of books and content to get you started.
Books for adults
Warwickshire Local History
‘Lady Under Fire: The Wartime Letters of Lady Dorothie Feilding‘ (edited by Andrew and Nicola Hallam)
Lady Dorothie Mary Evelyn Feilding spent almost three years on the Western Front in Belgium during the First World War driving ambulances for the Munro Motor Ambulance Corps, an all-volunteer unit. She wrote home almost daily. Her letters reflect the mundane, tragedy and horror of war and also the tensions of being a woman at the front. This book, along with ‘Fearless: Dorothie Feilding’s War 1914-1917‘ by Patrick Vanleene, look at the life of this extraordinary Warwickshire woman who challenged ideas about what women’s role was in wartime. You’ll also find more about Lady Feilding on ‘Our Warwickshire‘.
Mary Dormer Harris was a writer, local historian and ardent suffragist who gave lectures, published books and wrote plays. Read more about her in this article from the Leamington History Group or borrow a copy of her 1924 book ‘Unknown Warwickshire‘. Mary’s life came to a tragic end in 1936 when she died in a traffic accident while crossing the road in the dark near her home.
‘Librarian in the Land Army‘ by Dorothea Abbott
At the age of 22 and to help the war effort, librarian Dorothea Abbott left her librarian post and became a Land Girl, working on a farm to maintain the country’s food supply. Though a previously male-dominated workforce, during the Second World War, with so many young men called to fight, more and more women joined the Land Army, undertaking all the activities required of them. With long days, physical labour and new friendships, Dorothea’s memoir brings to life this period of history and how it impacted the role of women in society. You’ll find more about the Land Army and the experiences of other women who served on Our Warwickshire.
There are many books on this subject in our libraries and on BorrowBox. Keyword searches such as ‘women’s rights’, ‘women’s history’, ‘feminism’ will bring up lots of results to browse through. We’ve also created some recommended reading lists that will be on our Unfinished Business page. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started and their accompanying blurbs:
‘A History of Women in 100 Objects‘ by Maggie Andrews and Janis Lomas
The history of the world has been told in objects. But what about the objects that tell the history of women? What are the items that symbolise the journey of women from second-class citizens with no legal rights, no vote and no official status to the powerful people they are today? And what are the objects that still oppress women? From the corset to the pill, the typewriter to the first pair of women’s trousers and the invention of IVF – there are objects through history that document the developing role of women in society.
‘Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights‘ by Helen Lewis
Well-behaved women don’t make history: difficult women do. Helen Lewis argues that feminism’s success is down to complicated, contradictory, imperfect women, who fought each other as well as fighting for equal rights. Too many of these pioneers have been whitewashed or forgotten in our modern search for feel-good, inspirational heroines. It’s time to reclaim the history of feminism as a history of difficult women. In this book, you’ll meet the working-class suffragettes who advocated bombings and arson; the princess who discovered why so many women were having bad sex; the pioneer of the refuge movement who became a men’s rights activist; the ‘striker in a sari’ who terrified Margaret Thatcher; the wronged Victorian wife who definitely wasn’t sleeping with the prime minister; and the lesbian politician who outraged the country.
‘800 Years of Women’s Letters‘ edited by Olga Kenyon
Organised by subject matter, and covering a wide range of topics from politics, work and war, to childhood, love and sexual passion. ‘800 Years of Women’s Letter’ reveals the depth, breadth and diversity of women’s lives through the ages. Here Holoise writes to Abelad of her undying devotion, Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woofl correspond about life and writing, and Queen Victoria complains to Robert Peel about the neglect of Buckingham Palace. Many more women write letters that reveal the compassion, humour, love and tenacity with which they confront the often difficult circumstances of everyday life. This is an intriguing insight, and a rare opportunity to read the real words of real women, in their own intimate language.
‘Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does To Women‘ by Christina Lamb
Rape and war have a long and painful history, stretching back from Alexander the Great through the ‘comfort women’ of the Imperial Japanese Army and the rapes of German women by the Red Army during World War Two. Today, the story hasn’t changed. Rape is an insidious, growing part of war used against hundreds of thousands of women – often as part of barbaric military strategy.
This book is the first major account to address the terrible scale of sexual assault in modern conflict. It is also a biting condemnation of the way rape is accepted and ignored. Though rape was – at last – formalised as an international war crime in 1919, there has since been one single conviction. Christina Lamb has worked in war and combat zones for over thirty years. With unflinching attention and unfailing care and humanity, she tells both the global stories and the individual experiences of women within war.
‘Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines‘ by Henrietta Heald
‘Women have won their political independence. Now is the time for them to achieve their economic freedom too’. This was the great rallying cry of the pioneers who, in 1919, created the Women’s Engineering Society. Spearheaded by Katharine and Rachel Parsons, a powerful mother and daughter duo, and Caroline Haslett, whose mission was to liberate women from domestic drudgery, it was the world’s first professional organisation dedicated to the campaign for women’s rights. This book tells the stories of the women at the heart of this group.
‘Girls With Balls: The Secret History of Women’s Football‘ by Tim Tate
A comprehensive look at the history of women’s football. During World War One, most factory workers were women, and many factories had a ladies’ football team. By 1920, football was a major spectator sport, but in 1921 an FA resolution banned women’s football from all professional football grounds. It wasn’t until 1971 that the ban was lifted.
Books for Young Adults
It’s spring 1912, and 14-year-old Mollie Carberry lives in Drumcondra with her loving but distracted parents, her older sister Phyllis, her spoiled older brother Harry and her saintly little sister Julia. Mollie’s convinced that her life is boring – until she discovers that Phyllis is a secret suffragette. After attending a suffrage meeting, Mollie wants to do something for the movement too – and she soon convinces her best friend Nora to join her. At last, they have some excitement in their lives!
‘Things A Bright Girl Can Do’ by Sally Nicholls
Through rallies and marches, in polite drawing rooms and freezing prison cells and the poverty-stricken slums of the East End, three courageous young women join the fight for the vote. Evelyn is 17, and though she is rich and clever, she may never be allowed to follow her older brother to university. Enraged that she is expected to marry her childhood sweetheart rather than be educated, she joins the Suffragettes, and vows to pay the ultimate price for women’s freedom.
‘Watch Us Rise‘ by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan
Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends on a mission. Sick of the way that young women are treated at their ‘progressive’ New York City high school, they decide to start a Women’s Right’s Club. One problem – no one shows up. That won’t stop them though!
Books for Children
‘Amazing Women: 101 Lives To Inspire You‘ by Lucy Beevor and illustrated by Sarah Green
Discover the stories of 101 extraordinary women of our time. Featuring an international selection of female figures, this carefully curated collection highlights those who have achieved significantly in their fields, ranging from science and politics to sport and the arts.
‘Heroic Leaders and Activists‘ by Georgia Amson-Bradshaw and illustrated by Rita Petruccioli
In ‘Heroic Leaders and Activists’ you will meet the early feminists who first stood up for women’s rights around the world, including Mary Wollstonecraft and Qiu Jin. Read about the astonishing Helen Keller, who despite being born deaf and blind, became a political activist and writer. Discover the women who have used their art to promote social justice, such as poet Maya Angelou. These inspiring activists for peace, human rights and the environment have all, in their own ways, made their mark on history.
‘Suffragette: The Battle for Equality‘ by David Roberts
The year 2018 marks a century since the first women won the vote in the United Kingdom, and this book tells the story of their fight. This is a tale of astounding bravery, ingenuity and strength. David’s conversational style is accessible and his artwork full of rich detail, bringing to life the many vivid characters of the Suffragette movement – from the militant activist and wheelchair user Rosa May Billinghurst to the world-famous Emmeline Pankhurst.
Other content to explore
For more about the fight for women’s rights in Warwickshire, explore the Our Warwickshire website. You can find out about the part played by suffragettes from Rugby in the fight for women’s rights, who was jailed in Warwick Prison for protesting for women’s rights and lots more fascinating insights into the lives of women in Warwickshire in the past.
You can also search some of the items in the Heritage and Culture Warwickshire collection, including a sash worn by Suffragettes in the early twentieth century and why not find out about Dorothy Cadbury who mapped the flora of Warwickshire (and was a member of the Cadbury family!).
By searching the records of the County Record Office, you can likewise discover the history of women in Warwickshire. Find out even more about the Women’s National Land Service Corps here. The archives also show a darker side to the lives women have lived in the past, including records of domestic violence and some of the medical procedures they were subjected to.
There’s also lots to discover on the ‘Unfinished Business’ website from the British Library. You’ll find podcasts to listen to and fascinating articles that explore women’s history from a variety of perspectives – from the experiences of black women activists to feminism and disability and from the use of music in protest to how literature has been used to bring attention to the female experience.
On the Living Knowledge Network website, you’ll find an archive of events on a variety of topics, including recently broadcast sessions that tie in to the exhibition. Usually, these sessions would have been live screened to our libraries but as that can’t happen at the moment, you can watch them from the comfort of your home. From discussions about white supremacy to spotlights on figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Zora Neale Hurston, there are a number of events available to catch up on and watch for free. All you need to do is visit the website and explore the archive.
We hope in the future, when it is safe for us to do so, that we will be able to showcase the panel exhibition that ties into the main exhibition at the British Library in our libraries in Warwickshire. We also hope to bring you some virtual talks in 2021 so keep an eye out for more about that in the future. Until that time, we hope we’ve given lots of books, authors and resources to explore on the topic of women’s rights. As the British Library say on their website:
“The fight for women’s rights is unfinished business”.
‘Unfinished Business’ illustration credits: Margot Lombaert Studio and the British Library