February is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) History Month in the UK. To celebrate this national awareness campaign, we invited Librarians from across the region to join us on a guided tour of the Hall-Carpenter Archives and the UNESCO-recognised Women’s Library collection. Our timely visit took place on the heels of a record-breaking International Women’s March and immediately followed the enactment of the Alan Turin Law .
“Yes we shall win in the end; but the road will be long and red with monstrous martyrdoms” – Oscar Wilde
The Women’s Library collection began in a converted pub in 1926 and has since been housed at a number of locations. London School of Economics (LSE) has been the custodian since 2013 and the material currently resides in the University’s Library located near the Strand. Our tour began in the Library’s Gallery and we were guided by Dr Gillian Murphy, Assistant Archivist and Curator for Equality, Rights and Citizenship.
The current exhibition Glad to be Gay: the struggle for legal equality is the 6th exhibition curated in this space and the first to raise awareness of LGBT History Month. The exhibition also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. The material is on display until 7 April and includes:
- Cross-dressing Actress, Suffragette and Women’s Reserve Volunteer Vera Jack-Holme’s jacket and love poem to her partner.
- Urania- publication promoting a genderless society. Transgender is often considered to be a recent phenomenon, however throughout history many individuals have identified with a gender that differs to their assigned sex.
- Responses to the Wolfenden Report (1957) that decriminalised homosexual behaviour between two consenting adults.
- The meeting minutes of the Homosexual Law Society
- The risqué imagery of Nova Magazine that aimed to incite debate amongst its female readers.
- Photos, badges and ephemera of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) that formed in 1970 at LSE.
- Appeals against Section 28 of the Sexual Offences Act- photos, badges and press coverage of demonstrations.
Listen to Gillian discuss the exhibition in this podcast.
On departing the gallery, we descended the Library’s central cylindrical staircase (designed by Foster + Partners) to the Women’s Library Reading Room where Gillian discussed a showcase of the Archive collections.
The complete collection comprises of 2,000 boxes of primary source material relating to LGBT rights. Material includes correspondence, photographs, legal documentation, badges, journals and ephemera. Also the photographic archive of GLF Activist John Chesterman (pictured).
Of interest for researchers of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, legislative changes, political activist groups, and lesbian history. Includes information on Anthony Grey, GLF, Peter Tatchell and Stonewall.
Emily Wilding Davison (1872 – 1913)
On 4 June 1913, the militant Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison famously stepped out in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby. She suffered fatal injuries and died four days later. Emily’s race card from this event has astonishingly been preserved (pictured). The Archive also contains the police report (pictured), a letter from her distraught mother (pictured) and hate mail addressed to Emily in hospital from disgruntled sport-enthusiasts and anti-suffrage campaigners.
Prior to this brave act of defiance, Emily had been imprisoned nine times and whilst incarcerated protested through hunger strikes. Her diaries are in the archive and they provide an emotional insight into her experiences, beliefs and response to the trauma of being force-fed.
Hugh Franklin (1889 – 1962) and Elsie Duval (unknown – 1913)
The Labour Politician Hugh Franklin and his wife Elsie Duval fought for women’s suffrage through rallying, hunger strikes and other militant acts. The Archive collection contains a file of correspondence, photos, a medal and badges.
Votes for Women
A newspaper published by the Women Social and Political Union between 1907- 1918. This poem is from the 18 February 1910 issue.
Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (1981 – 2000)
The Archive contains newspaper clippings, correspondence and hand-drawn posters from the women-only camp set up in protestation of Nuclear Weapons sited at Berkshire.
Photographs and satirical postcards
A number of photographs from this Archive have been digitised and made available to view online at Flickr.
The satirical postcards document responses to the suffragette movement and evidence efforts to suppress its progress.
Medals and Badges- a variety of designs that were thought to be of potential interest to the Fashion students supported by one of our attendees.
We were provided with ample time to peruse the collections on display in the reading room. Viewing and handling these historic documents was a privilege and CILIPinKent are grateful to Gillian for the fascinating overview.
This event was fully booked and we will schedule a repeat visit as soon as possible.
If you are interested in coming along to any of our events but are worried about the associated costs (including travel) then we may be able to help. CILIP members living or working in Kent can apply for our Professional Development Grant. Click here for more information and the application form.