I am a librarian by profession and a few weeks ago I attended a talk about The Women’s Library in east London, which I wrote about on my librarianship blog. I found the talk really interesting so decided to pay a visit to the Library on Old Castle Street. The Library has been going through something of a crisis recently: it is currently supported by London Metropolitan University but in the last year or so the University stated that they were withdrawing support and the last few months have seen an urgent hunt for a new custodian. Recently it was announced that the London School of Economics would be taking on this role, so the collection will hopefully remain accessible though not in it’s current location.
With this in mind, I decided to visit the exhibition currently on display in the Library, called The Long March to Equality: Treasures of The Women’s Library. The exhibition explores the history of the development of women’s rights and displays many of the Library’s most precious artefacts. Arranged in roughly chronological order, the exhibition begins with a display of early printed books that were primarily by, about or for women, going on to examine the women’s rights movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the different groups which fought for increased rights, changes in the law and votes for women. One of the most intriguing items in the collection is activist Emily Davison’s return ticket to the Epsom Derby, which raises the question of whether her death under the King’s horse was suicide or a tragic accident. Why buy a return ticket unless you intend to come back?
The exhibition goes on to explore the feminist movement of the seventies and the political, social and literary aspects of this. It covers the eighties and nineties, and I was amazed to discover that some important equality laws were not put in place until after I was born in the mid eighties. The exhibition ends with the present day, exploring the role of feminism in the twenty-first century and what has been achieved, as well as how far we still have to go.
I found this free exhibition to be very interesting, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in history or women’s studies. It is open Tues-Fri from 9.30 until 5.30, and until 8pm on Thursdays.
*The information below was updated in 2015, reflecting the collection’s new location*
Address: Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE
Opening Hours: Exhibition Space open 9am-7pm Mon-Fri, 11am-6pm Sat-Sun. Collections accessible by appointment.