Volunteer Kelly Webster trawls the Women’s Library archives at LSE in search of information on the Hackney Bus Girls’ strike.
I went to The Women’s library at LSE. This was my first visit but I needn’t feel nervous as everyone was very helpful, especially Gillian Murphy who gave me tips on how to search and even brought to my attention different resources.
I was searching for leads on the women’s bus strike in Hackney of 1918, and was hoping to find information regarding queer women activists and women activists of The East End.
Gillian suggested I check out Millicent Garrett Fawcett’s file, which actually contained a letter from Millicent to The Times Newspaper regarding the strike. In the letter Millicent shows support for the women and presents the true facts, that the women had given prior notice of the grievances and the plan to act if they were ignored.
Searching through the correspondence for women vehicle workers, it showed me how women had become an integral part of the labour force in war time. A letter from The Common Cause to the London Branch for Women Motor Drivers, requests help to obtain “a short letter or statement of an authoritative character from the women’s side” about the strike. This was significant because many women’s voices went unheard especially among the working class.
I didn’t use all the material I looked at but it was nevertheless fascinating and a privilege to look at. I remember browsing through the personal little note books, diaries and contact books of Amanda Sebestyen who was part of the Spare Rib Collective. They contained notes, ideas and even little doddles, the kind we all find ourselves drawing at times and it gave the items a shared human touch.
My best advice would be to do your research before you attend. You can order up to three items before your booked visit, although you can order more items on the day at specific time slots. An item can be a full box but also just one file and you are designated a desk and a key to a numbered box, one of many that creates a wall of perspex. Here you keep your orders and take one item out at a time.
I really loved going to the archives. The digital world is helpful but can be very sterile, and certainly won’t make you sneeze, yes there will be dust so bring a tissue.