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The Women's Library

Home > London > Exhibitions | Books and Writing | Literary
by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published September 3rd 2012
Contrary to its name The Women's Library isn't merely a building full of books, but is a documentation centre that is dedicated to chronicling the past, present and future lives of women in Britain. It was established in 1926 and grew out of the women's suffrage movement. It was originally known as the Library of the London Society for Women's Service and was run by the Fawcett Society until 1977, after which time it came under London Metropolitan University. In 2002 the collections were moved to a renovated East End wash house and renamed The Women's Library.

The Library incorporates a Reading Room containing archives and museum collections, whilst the ground floor and foyer are home to exhibitions. It runs regular events and displays and is open to anybody wishing to research women's history.

The current foyer display is dedicated to Uncovering Inter-war Black Histories, and the main exhibition, which runs until 4 April 2012, is All Work and Low Pay: The Story of Women and Work.

This is an informative exposition explaining the kind of work that has been available to women over the last 150 years. The main point of this display is the constant fight for salary equality. The Equal Pay Resolution was first proposed (but not implemented) by the TUC in 1888. Since then women have fought for equality in the workplace, formed unions and held strikes. In 1954 equal pay was introduced into some areas of the Civil Service, and the Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970. However, this only applied to occupations that were common to both sexes, and it would be another 16 years before wages took account of work of equal value. Even now there is still a gap of about 10% between women and men holding the same qualifications.

It almost beggars belief to be reminded that until 1935 teachers and medical staff had to resign their posts on marriage. Thanks to the pioneering work of Agnes Dawson, the marriage bar was lifted in 1935.
The Women's Library
The Marriage Bar

The Women's Library
Women's Work

The Women's Library
Woman in a Man's Job


Accompanying the visual displays is a fascinating (black and white) film from 1950 explaining the status quo of 60 years ago. It shows the male opposition to women's fight for equal pay, the struggle maintained by women and the misogynistic fear of male wages falling if their jobs were open to women.

Another snippet from the exhibition include this certificate awarded to a woman in 1947 for forty year's service. A proportion of women have always worked and the Women's Liberation movement only worked to further that right.
The Women's Library
Forty Year's Service


Previous exhibitions include Women's Magazines and their Readers, Women's Liberation in 1970s Britain and Lone Mothers. The Women's Library is an eye opening place of information and research for females of all ages, and for the men who believe in them.
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Why? To learn more about the history of women in Britain
When: Monday - Friday 9.30am - 5.30pm, Thursday 9.30am - 8pm, Saturday 10am - 4pm. (Separate hours for the Reading Room)
Where: 25 Old Castle Streeet, London E1 7NT
Cost: Free
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