Papers of Mary Ringsleben relating to the Committee of 100

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This is a small archive which comprises a series of files of Committee of 100 papers, arranged chronologically and covering the entire history of the Committee. Each file contains a mixture of meeting minutes, circulars, reports, policy and discussion documents, leaflets and correspondence. The files reflect Mary Ringsleben's activities and interests within the Committee, including her involvement in the trade union/industrial subcommittee.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Ringsleben was an original signatory of the Committee of 100, which was founded on the initiative of Ralph Schoenman and Bertrand Russell in October 1960. The Committee called for a mass movement of civil disobedience against British government policy on nuclear weapons. Its members saw a need for more radical methods than those used by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, especially following the defeat of the Labour Party in the 1959 general election. In this sense, the Committee of 100 was the successor of the Direct Action Committee, which disbanded in June 1961 after the Holy Loch demonstration. The Committee of 100 aimed to use non violent direct action on a mass scale, something the DAC had never managed to sustain. Bertrand Russell resigned as president of CND to take on the presidency of the Committee of 100 and Rev. Michael Scott became chairman.

Many leading DAC activists joined the Committee of 100, including Michael Randle, who returned from Ghana to become its first secretary, and April Carter, who sat with Randle on the working group. Mary Ringsleben was another of these. Based in Leeds, she was an organiser of the Northern Direct Action Committee, alongside Francis Deutsch in Hull. The Northern DAC was important for the successful demonstration at RAF Finningley V-bomber base near Doncaster which it organised in July 1960. Combining a vigil at the base with a 10-mile walk from Finningley to Doncaster, the demonstration received an unusually high level of support from the local CND group, trade unionists and labour activists, and local church ministers.

The Committee of 100 did not share the DAC's Gandhian commitment to using non violent methods to achieve a non violent society. Its focus was limited to achieving British unilateral nuclear disarmament, as described in its manifesto by Russell and Scott, 'Act or perish'. Its early campaign tactic was to organise sit-down demonstrations and these were not to be undertaken without at least 2000 volunteers pledging to take part. The first of these sit-downs took place on 18 February 1961 outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall. The high point of the Committee came on the weekend of 16-17 September 1961, with successful demonstrations in Trafalgar Square and at the Holy Loch Polaris submarine base. These were preceded by the arrest and trial of 32 members of the Committee for incitement to breach the peace.

Mary Ringsleben resigned from the Committee in March 1962, along with fellow activists from her DAC days, Pat Arrowsmith and Wendy Butlin, and four others. This was in protest against the dissolution of the original Committee of 100 and its reorganisation on a decentralised basis. All rapidly rejoined. Under this new structure, 13 regional committees became responsible for organising demonstrations, with the National Committee limited to a co-ordinating role. Of the regional committees, the London Committee of 100 was the most active and influential. A national magazine was launched by the London Committee in April 1963, published under the name Resistance from January 1964.

A number of subcommittees and groups concentrated on specific campaigns or organisational work. Mary joined the trade union/industrial subcommittee in late 1961, along with Douglas Brewood junior, Pat Arrowsmith and Inez Randall, all of whom had experience of the DAC's industrial campaign. As a leading member of the North East Committee of 100, Mary planned an occupation of Town Hall Square in Bradford in July 1962 by demonstrators acting as casualties of a nuclear attack. However activity in the region was dormant by the end of the year, reflecting the loss of momentum in the Committee of 100 and the nuclear disarmament movement as a whole.

Mary continued to be involved with the Committee of 100 until it was finally wound up in 1968. However there is no evidence in the archives indicating whether she was directly involved in any of its main activities after 1962. These included the Spies for Peace operation during 1963, and various marches and demonstrations organised under the ad hoc Save Greece Now committee, from 1963 through to the invasion of the Greek Embassy on 2 April 1967. The political initiative had passed to the anti-Vietnam War movement and nuclear disarmament shifted down the political agenda.

Arrangement

Arranged chronologically by the donor and retained in this order.

Conditions Governing Access

Available to researchers, by appointment. Access to archive material is subject to preservation requirements and must also conform to the restrictions of the Data Protection Act and any other appropriate legislation.

Acquisition Information

Donated to Commonweal by Andrew Skelhorn in November 1996.

Archivist's Note

Described by Helen Roberts, February 2010

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be supplied or produced at the discretion of Special Collections staff, subject to copyright law and the condition of the originals. Applications for permission to make published use of any material should be directed to the Special Collections Librarian in the first instance. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This archive was originally described as the papers of Andrew Skelhorn. Accompanying the Committee of 100 files, the collection included research notes and papers created and collected by Dr Skelhorn during the course of his PhD research into the direct action movement against nuclear weapons in the 1960s. This research material has now been disposed of. Leaflets and other ephemera from peace and direct action groups in the 1980s have been transferred to the Peace Ephemera collection [Eph PAC]. A set of interview transcripts with leading figures in the movement in the 1960s, compiled by Andrew Skelhorn, has been retained as a separate collection [Cwl AS]. This is currently closed to researchers due to data protection issues.

Custodial History

These papers were given to Andrew Skelhorn by Mary Ringsleben, during his PhD research at the University of Lancaster.

Accruals

None expected.

Related Material

Archives of the Committee of 100 (GB 0532 Cwl HC)

Papers of Michael Randle (GB 0532 Cwl MR)

Papers of Andrew Skelhorn (GB 0532 Cwl AS)

Papers of Richard Taylor (GB 0532 Cwl DT)

Archives of the Committee of 100, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam

Bibliography

Chapter 5 in Richard Taylor, Against the bomb: the British peace movement 1958-1965 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988)