Written by Holly Smith, Project Archivist for the Women’s Aid Federation of England Archive within the University of Leeds Special Collections.

The Women’s Aid Federation of England Archive documents the activism and campaigning carried out by the Women’s Aid movement from the 1970s to present day. Coming up to their 50th year, Women’s Aid as an organisation has gone from strength to strength since their formation in 1974.

National Women’s Aid Federation Newsletter, Summer 1979. Image courtesy of the Women’s Aid Federation of England.

An amazing way to track the progression of Women’s Aid through the decades is through our newsletter collection. This series stretches right back to the first newsletter, which was titled ‘First Newsletter for People Planning or Running a Refuge for Battered Women and their Children’. This simple typed document from August 1974 apologises for being “a bit dull” but includes some vital information on early funding issues and upcoming conferences and rallies. In a world before the internet and mobile phones, newsletters were the main way of connecting domestic abuse activists around the country, so the dates and locations for upcoming demonstrations were an important addition.

‘First Newsletter for People Planning or Running a Refuge for Battered Women and Their Children’.
National Women’s Aid Federation Newsletter, August 1974. Image courtesy of the Women’s Aid Federation of England.

If we jump forward just a few years, the newsletters grow from being a few typed pages to more substantial publications. The number of refuges affiliated with the National Women’s Aid Federation group rose quickly and there was a need for a comprehensive way of communicating between groups. We find front covers, contents pages, set spaces for job adverts and events, and a multitude of articles on the hot topics of the day.

An example of a contents page that shows the range of topics found in Women’s Aid newsletters.
National Women’s Aid Federation Newsletter, Summer 1979. Image courtesy of the Women’s Aid Federation of England
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Not only was there more news to share but there were also more people wanting to get involved. We start to see contributions from the women living in the refuges. These include poems, cartoons and firsthand accounts. We also have contributions from the children living in the refuges with their mothers, as well as puzzle pages to keep them entertained.

National Women’s Aid Federation Newsletter, November 1984. Image courtesy of the Women’s Aid Federation of England.

One valuable use of our newsletter collection is to trace the progression of Women’s Aid campaigns. For example, with Jo Richardson’s groundbreaking Domestic Violence Bill. Our January 1976 newsletter encourages people to reach out with evidence of flaws in the current legal system for Richardson to take to debate. In April 1976 we have an interesting insight into a meeting with representatives from the Police Federation opposing the Bill. Although initially quoted saying that “it will be an administrative burden” the meeting managed to end in agreement that there was a need for domestic abuse legislation. Summer 1976 newsletters share that the Bill will go through to the reading and committee stages, and in a summer 1977 issue we finally hear that the “the hard work paid off”. The Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act was officially passed in October 1976 – the first piece of legislation in the UK to tackle domestic abuse.

Article on the Jo Richardson Domestic Violence Bill encouraging women to get in touch with evidence.
National Women’s Aid Federation Newsletter, January 1976. Image courtesy of the Women’s Aid Federation of England
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There is a wealth of other research strands that run throughout our newsletter series just waiting to be explored. From the campaign against John Corrie’s restrictive abortion bill in the late 1970s, to the establishment of the Women’s Aid Helpline in the 1980s, to the domestic abuse storylines of Brookside in the 1990s.

Make sure you keep an eye out for the first release of our online catalogue this summer which will feature this amazing run of documents.