Rebel Women – Women’s Liberation Movement in the Aien
Next week the University Library will have on display a selection of items from our Special Collections (in facsimile) celebrating the women who have opposed the norms of their day and pioneered change in society. The theme of this display is ‘Rebel Women’ – the Library’s contribution to Book Week Scotland’s theme of ‘Rebel’. A selection of essential texts for the history of feminism and activism will also be available for students and staff to borrow.
On display will be photographs of some of the pioneering women at St Andrews who have been featured on this blog previously: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Frances Helen Melville and Franki Raffles. The display will also highlight the work of St Andrews students in the Women’s Liberation Movement during the 1970s, as illustrated in the student newspaper of the time, the Aien (StA LF1119.A2S23).
On the 21st of November the Early Career Women’s Network (ECWN) and StAIGS (the St Andrews Institute for Gender Studies) are co-hosting an event to celebrate the history of feminism in St Andrews at which some of the members of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s in St Andrews will share their experiences. You can book your place at this event here.
The Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) was driven by women in the 1960s-1980s who advocated for women’s rights in several different campaigns and approaches. You can read more about the movement on the British Library’s webpages Sisterhood and after and listen to interviews with some of the activists.
The St Andrews group of the Women’s Liberation Movement was active from the late 1960s. The official first meeting was advertised on the front page of the Aien (published 28 October 1970). Students were invited to a discussion on the 5th November 1970 in which there was to be:
“rational consideration of 20th century sex-roles, and their modification in a way that menas [sic] liberation for everybody.”
In a letter to the Aien dated 11th November 1970, student Charles Foster expressed his opinion of the Aien by referring to the University as an apparent “veritable hotbed of feminism”, a phrase Dr Sarah Browne, who will be one of speakers at the history of feminism event on the 21st, used as the title of her research article on the Women’s Liberation Movement in St Andrews.
The Aien is a valuable source for the history of feminism in St Andrews, both as a record of some of the attitudes and policies women students had to face and for the campaigns and activities of feminist activists. Just two examples are a report from Stevie Norris for the Aien, published on the 30 April 1969, on the decision to admit women to the beer bar in the student’s union and the reactions received from male students, referred to in a later edition of the paper as one the funniest articles ever written in the Aien. A much later article, on the 20 April 1977, advertised a Women’s festival arranged by the St Andrews WLM group which included an exhibition in the Union of ‘Women in the Media, Women in History’. A similar exhibition would be hosted in the main University Library a couple of years later, as recorded in the Library’s Annual report of 1978-1979.
If you’re in St Andrews, do take time to look at the display in the University Library and you might even come along to the history of feminism event on the 21st November at 2pm in the Buchanan Lecture theatre.
If any of our alumni readers have newsletters, papers and documents they wish to donate to the Library to be held in the University’s archive, or if they wish to share their memories of their time at the University of St Andrews and in the Women’s Liberation Movement, please get in touch with us at [email protected].
 Sarah Browne; ‘A Veritable Hotbed of Feminism’: Women’s Liberation in St Andrews, Scotland, c.1968–c.1979, Twentieth Century British History, Volume 23, Issue 1, 1 March 2012, Pages 100–123, https://doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwq058