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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Suffragette history under threat

Women's Library endangered

The Women's Library is part of the London Metropolitan University, which I must admit I had never heard of before.  Well, it seems it was formed in 2002, when the historic London Guildhall (established 1848) amalgamated with the University of North London.

It appears it is famous for two things.  One is the abundance of student-tempting pubs in the area. The other is the Women's Library, which houses the archives of the Fawcett Society, which is material devoted to the history of feminism.

Among the mass of books, magazines, pamphlets, posters and exquisitely stitched banners that pull together the threads of the rich narrative of British women's lives over the past four centuries, perhaps one of the smallest items in the collection is the most intriguing.

The return portion of a train ticket from Victoria station in London to Epsom was among the personal effects found on Emily Wilding Davison, the 41-year-old suffragette martyred under the hooves of George V's horse at the 1913 Derby. It raises the question: did she really intend to die at the Surrey racecourse that day?

"There's something about the strength of that story, the physicality of seeing the ticket and her tiny purse, that makes it so emotional," said the library's collections manager, Teresa Doherty. "It is probably the most popular item here."

The purse and ticket are part of the oldest and most extensive collection of women's history in Europe which, to use the words of Mary Stott founder editor of the Guardian Women's pages, "keeps alive the history of [women's] long march to equality, which is so often forgotten or ignored".

But now the library, for the past 10 years part of the London Metropolitan University and attracting around 30,000 visitors annually, faces drastically reduced opening hours unless a new home, owner, or sponsor can be found by December. The university is seeking to save £1m a year, and without new funding, the library's opening hours will be cut from five days to just one.

A bevy of literary celebrities and an online petition are rushing to the rescue.  The full story by Caroline Davies can be read in  The Guardian.

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