Category: Culture

Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common

Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common

Colour photo of women outside a fence protesting
Greenham Common Women’s Protest 1982, Gathering Around the Base via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 2.0]
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BBC News, ‘The Many Faces of Greenham Common’

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘How the Greenham Common Changed Lives: “We danced on top of the nuclear silos” ‘

The Independent, ‘Greenham Common Peace Camp: Remembering One of History’s Most Famous Feminist Protests 35 Years On’

DPP v Jonathan Cape and Leopold Hill (1928)

DPP v Jonathan Cape and Leopold Hill (1928)

In offering a brief moment of visibility to relationships between “sexual inverts”, the Well trial would have a legal and cultural impact extending for decades. The notion of pseudo-inversion proved particularly dangerous. While Hall had hoped that the innate nature of congenital inversion would make it a cause for sympathy, courts judging lesbian women saw themselves as protecting pseudo-lesbians who might choose heterosexual relationships if not corrupted. These notions of corruption fed into such diverse legal areas as the sentencing of women in the criminal courts and custody debates in the family courts.
Caroline Derry

Black and white portrait photo of Radclyffe Hall and her dog
Radclyffe Hall (NPG x136620) via [Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain Mark 1.0(]

In November 1928, Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness was found to be criminally obscene: liable to ‘deprave and corrupt’ those likely to read it. What makes the case significant is that the ‘obscenity’ of the book resided in its subject-matter, lesbianism. For the Chief Magistrate, its harm lay not in graphic sexual depictions of ‘sexual inversion’ (there were none), but in its plea for tolerance of ‘inverts’.

This was not the first mention of lesbianism in the legal context, although overt discussion was a rare and recent phenomenon. However, the 1928 trial marked a high point of legal and social visibility, with discussion extending beyond the courtroom into daily newspapers. The specific version of lesbian relationships described in the book, with its reliance on sexological discourses, would thus colour public perceptions within and beyond the legal system for much of the twentieth century.

The Well was not published in paperback in Britain until the 1950s. By the 1970s, it was both recognized as a milestone and criticised for the way in which it treated the subject. It has been described as ‘the lesbian novel, a title familiar to most readers of fiction, either a bible or a horror story for any lesbian who reads at all.’ (Jane Rule ‘Radclyffe Hall’ (1975), reproduced in Doan and Prosser, Palatable Poison, pp 77-88 at p 78).

The full version of this landmark is written by Caroline Derry.


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The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘Lesbian Novel Was ‘Danger to Nation’ ‘

Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Obscene Publications Act’

A Pageant of Great Women

A Pageant of Great Women

A Pageant of Great Women, written by Cicely Hamilton, was one of the most successful plays of the British women’s suffrage movement. The play foregrounded the legal arguments for the vote by creating a court setting in which ‘Woman’ and ‘Prejudice’ presented the case for and against women’s enfranchisement before ‘Justice’. This dramatization of the political arguments for legislative change was a landmark in empowering female political activists to create their own court at a time when women were excluded from the legal profession.

Written at a time of heightened intensity in the suffrage campaign, the play rehearsed the principal arguments on the topic of women’s enfranchisement and gave women practice in public speaking and debate. The spectacular dramatization of these arguments raised awareness about women’s history.



By gathering over fifty ‘great women’ of the past from many countries on stage as evidence that women deserved the vote, the play had a visually stunning impact and a didactic function. It created opportunities for local women’s suffrage activists and supporters to perform as these ‘great women’ alongside leading figures of the movement, such as Lady Constance Lytton. All of those assembled, the performers and the audience, effectively acted as witnesses to the successful prosecution of the case before ‘Justice’.

A Pageant of Great Women successfully used theatrical performance to raise awareness of a political campaign, to empower and educate. … The use of performance, especially before a live audience, and on tour to promote a political position, inform an audience, build a community and empower women … [continues to be] demonstrated in the women’s theatre – Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and V-day are the inheritors of the women’s suffrage theatre legacy

Katharine Cockin

A Pageant of Great Women was staged a number of times in London as well as in Swansea, Eastbourne, Beckenham, Sunderland, Sheffield, Ipswich, Cambridge, Bristol, Nottingham, Middlesbrough and Liverpool, the USA, South Africa and Ireland.

The full version of this landmark was written by Katharine Cockin.

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GlasgowWomen’s Library, ‘March of Women’

Glasgow Women’s Library, March

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is significant for women’s legal history in two important respects. First, the ideas contained within the book constitute an eloquent and passionate articulation of women’s equality and their need for civil and political rights. Second, those ideas have remained relevant over the course of the next two centuries and more, not just for feminist thought, but more broadly. The issues that Wollstonecraft tackles were – and continue to be – central to women’s social, economic, legal and political emancipation.

Anna Jobe


Colour painting of Mary Wollstonecraft holding a book
John Opie, Mary Wollstonecraft (Mrs William Godwin), 1790-1791 from Tate [CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) (]
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is a pioneering call for equality and for the extension of civil and political rights to women. Vindication argued that women could reason as well as men, if they were educated and in which cases there would be no justification for their exclusion. Women’s oppression was directly linked with their lack of education. It was also was critical of a number of other issues, including the lack of job opportunities, representation in government, and an independent civil existence outside of marriage for women.

The full version of this landmark is written by Anna Jobe.

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman;

Charlotte Gordon, Mary Wollstonecraft was the original ‘bad feminist’

A Brief Summary of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women (1854)

A Brief Summary of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women (1854)

In simple terms, Barbara Bodichon launched the modern women’s movement.

Joanne Conaghan

A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women Together with a Few Observations Thereon is an 18-page pamphlet published anonymously in 1854 and written by Barbara Leigh Smith [later Bodichon] (1827-1891).

Sketch of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon
Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon by Samuel Laurence Dolt from the National Portrait Gallery [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 (]

Bodichon had no legal training, nor was she a high profile author or commentator. Her pamphlet offered a concise, unadulterated account of the main provisions governing the legal status of women. It proved both popular and provocative, running to a second edition in 1856 and a third, expanded edition in 1869.

After publication Bodichon, encouraged by the Law Amendment Society, drew together a group of interested women, forming a committee to campaign for legislative reform of marriage laws leading ultimately to the Married Women’s Property Act 1882.

Without doubt, the Summary was instrumental in bringing the issue of women’s legal status to the forefront in mid-nineteenth century England. Yet, what followed is of equal importance, the campaign for married women’s property reform which Bodichon led, can be seen as the first organised campaign of the nascent women’s movement. Indeed, looking at her life as a whole, and the many and diverse projects she initiated, what strikes Conaghan is her ability to engender collective feminist engagement in the social and political affairs of the day. In simple terms, Barbara Bodichon launched the modern women’s movement.

The full version of this landmark is written by Joanne Conaghan.


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Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: British Activist (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, ‘A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women Together with a Few Observations Thereon’ (Indiana University: Victorian Women Writers Project

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, ‘A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women Together with a Few Observations Thereon’ (Internet Archive,  Boston Public Library, 1856)

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Women and Work (British Library, Bosworth and Harrison, 1857)

Find out more about the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project

Project leaders, Rosemary Auchmuty and Erika Rackley, talk to Elizabeth Woodcraft about the aims, methodology and ambitions for the Project for PodAcademy

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The landmarks that appear on this website were chosen by participants in the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project.

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