The Women’s Library began its life in a converted pub in Marsham Street, Westminster, as The Library of the London Society for Women’s Service in 1926. Arising from the campaign for votes for women, the fledgling library had two aims: to preserve the history of the women’s movement, and to provide a resource for newly enfranchised women to enter public life.
In 1955 the Library was renamed the Fawcett Library in honour of Dame Millicent Fawcett, who was best known as the President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1897, and a founder of Newnham College, Cambridge, one of the UK’s first university colleges for women. She led the campaign for the vote by non-violent means (she was opposed to the militancy of the Pankhursts). The Library was run by the Fawcett Society until 1977, when it moved to London Guildhall University, later to become London Metropolitan University.
In January 2013 the library relocated to the London School of Economics, and the LSE Library now manages The Women’s Library Reading Room service. There are proposals in place to ensure that the library continues to extend and grow, including plans for the digitisation of the collections to ensure they are accessible to a global audience.
The campaign for the vote, the continuing struggle for equality in social, educational, professional, political and legal spheres, medical and sexual history, cookery, fashion and the campaign for peace reflect the great diversity of topics in the collections.
Two excellent accounts of the history of the Women’s Library are to be found in the article by Jill Liddington (Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Leeds) Fawcett Saga: Remembering the Womens Library across Four Decades on the History Workshop Journal website and in Dr Jane Grant’s history of the Fawcett Society, In the Steps of Exceptional Women, Chapter 7, ‘From small beginnings to world-class status: the growth of the Women’s Library’.
Friends of the Women's Library charity no. 277165