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Women in the National Archives (UK)

Just over a hundred years ago, a few British women began to demand voting rights through peaceful or sometimes, even violent means. The suffragettes or suffragists were often arrested and sometimes force fed in prison when they refused to eat during hunger strikes. One activist died when she threw herself under the king’s horse at an event in 1913. Another attempted arson.

The stories of these women and government reactions to their efforts form the history of women’s right to vote movement in the United Kingdom. The primary sources for this history are now available online in Women in the National Archives, a recent addition to the library’s database collections. Secret police reports on suffragist meetings, prison letters, medical reports, and bills and acts of Parliament are just some of the many varied types of documents available. The documents also cover the extension of voting rights to the British “empire and colonial territories.” Altogether, the database contains fifty document collections of primary sources. An overview of the suffragist history is included, along with many interesting images and a chronology of the movement.

In addition to the documents, the database also contains a “finding aid” to all records relating to women in the national archives of the United Kingdom. The extensive Finding Aid took about five years to compile and provides a detailed analysis of the archive holdings, covering c1559 to 1995. Researchers in any area of women’s studies can determine in advance what resources are available at the famous Kew home of UK historical documents.

This remarkable database was made possible through the Roger H. and Nancy Brown endowed Library Fund. Dr. Roger Brown is a Professor Emeritus of History at American University.