Papers of Sheila Rowbotham

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of correspondence and draft for books, resource material, including Women's Liberation Movement papers, socialist periodicals and campaigning papers.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sheila Rowbotham (1943-) was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire in 1943 and attended St Hilda's College at the University of Oxford and then the University of London. Upon leaving university she began her career lecturing in Liberal Studies at Chelsea College of Advanced Technology and Tower Hamlets College of Further Education. She then worked for several years as an Extra Mural Lecturer for London University. Rowbotham's political activism began with her involvement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the British Labour Party’s youth wing, the Young Socialists. Among her left-wing political activities was her work on the editorial board of the radical political paper 'Black Dwarf'. Towards the end of the 1960s she helped to start the Women’s Liberation Movement. Active in the London Women's Liberation Workshop and a member of the Arsenal Group, Rowbotham was also involved in the campaign to unionise night cleaners, in the National Abortion Campaign (NAC) and in the National Child Care Campaign. In 1969 her influential pamphlet 'Women's Liberation and the New Politics' argued that Socialist theory needed to consider the oppression of women in cultural as well as economic terms. This was a key text in the emerging women's movement and she subsequently wrote an influential series of articles and books on this and related topics, including 'Woman, Resistance and Revolution' and 'Woman's Consciousness, Man's World' (both published in 1973). Also published in 1973 was 'Hidden from History: 300 years of Women's Oppression and the Fight against it' just one of her writings that contributed to the small group of historians who pioneered women’s history. Rowbotham produced numerous books and articles expanding upon her theory, which argued that as women’s oppression was a result of both economic and cultural forces then a dualist perspective (socialist feminism), which examine both the public and private sphere, was required to work towards liberation. She was a key organiser and author of the conference and book called 'Beyond the fragments: feminism and the making of socialism' (London, Merlin Press, 1979), which attempted to draw together democratic socialist and socialist feminist currents in the UK. In 1981 she was appointed as a Visiting Professor in Women's Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Between 1983 and 1986 she worked as a research officer for the Greater London Council's Industry and Employment Department, producing a newspaper, 'Jobs for a Change', and contributing to the London Industrial Strategy. This led to an invitation to become Consultant Research Adviser for the Women's Programme, World Institute for Development Economics Research, (WIDER) at the United Nations University. She initiated a project which examined the conditions of poor women's casualised work internationally, involving activists and academics. This attracted interest among policy makers in Canada, Finland and India, and led to a project directed by Professor Swasti Mitter at UNU INTECH on women and technology. Between 1987 and 1989 she was also Course Tutor on the Women's Studies MA at the University of Kent and a Visiting Professor at the University of Paris VIII. This was followed by a Visiting Professorship in the Political Economy Department at Carleton University in 1993. Rowbotham moved to the University of Manchester as a Simon Research Fellow in 1993-1994, returning as a University Research Fellow in 1995, later becoming Professor of Gender and Labour History, Sociology. She lectured extensively in the North America, Brazil, Europe and India and her work was translated into many languages, including Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew. A symposium on Rowbotham's historical work was organised at the American Historical Association in 1994 and has been the subject of various articles, essays and theses internationally. She was given an honorary doctorate by North London University (now London Metropolitan University) and in 2004 elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. As at 2007 Rowbotham was on the Working Lives Centre Group at London Metropolitan University and the Workers' Institute Advisory Panel (Black Country Living Museum). In this period she continued to help groups involved with the organisation of home workers in Britain and internationally and supported the work of Women Working World Wide.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

Received from the author in two accessions in 1989 and 1994.

Other Finding Aids

The Women's Library Catalogue