Women’s Library Archive visit – part one

I had visited the Women’s Library before, to see Handmade Tales: Women and Domestic Crafts, but last Thursday was my first visit to the Library and Archive so I was really looking forward to it!  I like the layout of the library, a big long readers table when you walk in, with each space having plenty of room for looking at archive boxes.  The staff were all very friendly and helpful and set me up in a room with a video recorder as my first part of research was to watch a film.  Really, it was research, honest!

The film was made in 1951 by Jill Craigie on the subject of Equal Pay. I’m dedicating a separate post to the film so for now I’ll move on to talk about the other papers I looked at whilst I was there.

Exterior of the Women's Library, image from The Women's Library website ©The Women's Library

The Women’s Library hold the personal papers of Muriel Pierotti, the General Secretary of the NUWT from 1941 until it disbanded in 1961.  I’m cataloguing letters from Muriel Pierotti pretty much every day and she comes across as a very interesting lady so I wanted to try to find out a bit more about her.  The letters I’ve catalogued have so far been letters sent out in her capacity as General Secretary, and include standard letters sent out to individuals and organisations but also more personal letters discussing mutual friends, areas of interest, events and the general chat of letters that makes them so interesting. 

I didn’t get a chance to look at all her papers at the Women’s Library – I’d have needed much longer than the half day I’d set aside for that!  However what I did look at was really worthwhile.  I got some great personal anecdotes that filled in her background.  For example one file had some really interesting correspondence between Muriel Pierotti and Renate Kohler, a journalist at the Daily Mail.  Kohler was writing a piece on Pierotti for the Daily Mail in 1978.   This was fascinating as it included a draft of the piece with Pierotti reminiscing about growing up.  She recounts that she was 12 years old when her mother joined the Woman’s Freedom League and her and her sister were taken along on marches and demonstrations.   She remembers her sister chalking pavements to advertise a meeting and spelling meeting with only one ‘e’ because a policeman came and she had to run away.

The draft of the article goes on to say that she is now 80 and lives in retirement in a bungalow in Oxfordshire.  Then Muriel Pierotti must have been showing the journalist some of her favourite belongings and showed her a ‘priceless document’ – a menu from the victory breakfast on 2nd July 2 1928 when women gained equal franchise.  The menu contains the signatures of the luminaries present on that day.  I thought this was such a strange coincidence as only the day before I had catalogued a menu for a Victory dinner from September 1928 at which she was also present.

Something else which has come across in the NUWT Archive in relation to Muriel Pierotti, and indeed the NUWT’s stance in general, is an abhorrence of war.  I found it very inspiring to read of this still strong, opinionated and independent 80-year-old women still saying that ‘the one great reform I would most have liked to see is a change in the government’s attitude to peace and war.

The Muriel Pierotti papers also contained press photographs of her which I hadn’t seen before along with copies of various articles which she wrote that I haven’t seen in our collection so far.

I love getting the opportunity to go and look at other collections and see how the material relates to what we hold.  Obviously this is great form a personal point of view as it’s interesting, but also by increasing my knowledge of the collections and related collection elsewhere this is of course going to benefit researchers who make enquiries about, in this case, Muriel Pierotti or the NUWT.

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