Researchers to explore Portsmouth women’s fight for change

The history of women’s activism and the struggle for social change in Portsmouth is the subject of a new project by city researchers.

The University of Portsmouth has been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £73,300 to lead the study. Made possible by National Lottery players, the project will look at how women have campaigned for and promoted a better way of life for people in the city.

Portsmouth Women’s Liberation Group had a stall at the Tricorn Centre in the early 1970s. From Celia Clarke and Robert Cook’s The Tricorn, The Life and Death of a Sixties Icon 2009

Researchers are looking for volunteers to take part in the study which will feature 50 oral history interviews from local women active in promoting positive change for women and the community in Portsmouth. The interviews will be conducted by volunteers trained in oral history techniques. Other participants will be working on the website, which will include short ‘video stories’ from some of the women’s testimony.

The project – The Hidden Heritage of a Naval Town: Women’s Community Activism in Portsmouth since 1960 – is particularly concerned with issues connected with women in the naval community  but will document the activism of women from a diverse range of backgrounds, ensuring issues of class, race and sexuality are addressed.

Dr Sue Bruley, of the University of Portsmouth, will be leading the research with senior lecturers Laurel Forster and Terese Jonsson. Dr Bruley said: “The impact of feminist movements in Britain since the 1960s has been enormous. This is an essential part of our post war social and cultural history. We need to record these changes for women and society at a local level. This is particularly so in Portsmouth with its distinct naval heritage. The Time’s Up and #MeToo movements have made us all aware that there is still much work to be done. By recording the recent history of women’s activism in the city it will help us to link the past to the present and address issues of gender inequality in the city today.”

All female staff in a typing pool in June 1960. From More Memories of Portsmouth at Portsmouth History Centre

The fight for equal pay and maternity pay and struggles against sexual harassment are among the topics to be covered. The research will also focus on the local women’s aid movement to combat domestic violence and provide refuge for women and children, anti-racist activism and the campaign for new housing.

The University will be working in partnership with Portsmouth City Council Library Service and the University of the Third Age (U3A). The project originates from work carried out by the Women’s Activism in Portsmouth group (WAP) since 2015.

The community activism study will result in a small mobile exhibition touring schools and libraries, a booklet, two public lectures and a permanent oral history database to be accommodated by the library service. The Portsdown branch of the U3A will provide some of the volunteers. The rest will be recruited via the project website and an official launch. It is hoped a significant number of young people will become involved to add an inter-generational element.

The project does not officially go live until September but there will be preparation and recruitment in the meantime. For information email

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