Feminist Archives, Feminist Futures is about the history and future of Feminist Archives and Women’s Libraries in America and Britain.
The first archives and libraries dedicated to the history of women were developed in Europe and the U.S. in the aftermath of women’s achieving the suffrage in the second decade of the twentieth century. In London, Amsterdam and New York City women historians, teachers, activists and politicians worked to create institutions that would ensure women’s achievements in the twentieth century were not wiped from the historical record and help shape new campaigns for women’s equality. Women’s diverse roles fighting for social justice, human rights, peace and the first welfare states were recorded in documents and artefacts that traditional archives like the Library of Congress and British Library were not inclined to collect. Women’s archival activism was given new impetus in the 1960s and 1970s as women’s liberation activists challenged the patriarchal systems (education, legal, marriage, medicine and reproductive health) that helped enforce women’s second class citizenship. Women’s Resource Centres, libraries and archives like the Feminist Archive, The Feminist Library, the Glasgow Women’s Library and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City were set up to share and produce feminist knowledge, provide safe spaces for thinking and activism and to document the history of feminism.
The histories of feminist archives and women’s libraries shape contemporary feminist practice and activism. Understanding and examining the histories of feminist archives and women’s libraries can inspire and challenge us to rethink the meaning and making of feminism. Archives can facilitate new ways to think through issues that have always promoted creative conflict within feminist communities including generational divisions between women’s liberation era activists and social media feminists; women-only spaces; political versus cultural feminism. Recent examples of this include Glasgow Women’s Library’s 21 Revolutions and Nottingham Women’s Centre’s Women’s Liberation and After in Nottingham Project. The creation of new, online, community archives of women’s experiences has been enormously important to twenty-first central feminism with projects such as the Everyday Sexism Project.