The opening of the first Refuge (1971)

The opening of the Chiswick Women’s Aid refuge happened almost by chance. Yet the sheer weight of the need that was revealed when its existence became known, and the events that followed, make it very significant. The refuge uncovered not only the pressing need for safe places for victims but also the wider issues detrimentally affecting women, such as financial dependence.

Felicity Kaganas

In 1971, members of the Chiswick women’s liberation group formed a new group, Women’s Aid, to offer help to women. They began with a protest against food prices and then about the withdrawal by the Goverment of free milk from schools. Five hundred mothers, children, and some fathers, marched down the High Road led by a cow. The so-called ‘Milk March’ drew more women to join the group. After meeting for some time in one another’s houses, they decided they needed a community house and acquired from the council, at a peppercorn rent, a derelict house.

It was during the group’s meetings that it emerged that some of the women were suffering violence at the hands of their male partners. The group gave them shelter. Word spread and the house, with four bedrooms and an outside toilet, was soon ‘inundated’ with women and children. It was this at this community meeting place that the first refuge for abused women in Britain and the world opened its doors.

It was here that ‘violence against women began to be defined as a problem of epic proportions … Here that the inspiration for a social movement began’.  (R Emerson Dobash and Russell P Dobash, Women, Violence and Social Change (Routledge 1992) 26)

The full version of this landmark is written by Felicity Kaganas.

 

Learn More

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘Domestic Violence: How the First Women’s Refuge Saved My Life’
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/apr/28/domestic-violence-first-womens-refuge-saved-my-life

Sisterhood and After Research Team, ‘Marriage and Civil Partnership’ (British Library, 8 March 2013) https://www.bl.uk/sisterhood/articles/marriage-and-civil-partnership

Women’s Aid, ‘Our History’ https://www.womensaid.org.uk/about-us/history/