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Diversity in Archives: Women's Voices

Guide to searching for diverse voices within archive collections at Hull History Centre including search strategies, women’s voices, ethnic minority voices, and LGBTQ+ voices.

Women's Voices


Search for records of women in the Hull History Centre collections.

Women’s voices can be a little easier to find than other marginalised groups, and Hull History Centre holds a number of collections in which women’s voices are clearly represented.

How to search

If you’re researching the women’s movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, try using keywords such as “suffragette” or “suffragist”; for later records, try “feminist” or “feminism”; and simply searching for "women" will often turn up records relating to women's rights. These terms are likely to lead you towards campaigning women or organisations.

If you're specifically researching feminism and the campaigns for women's rights, there are specialist repositories such as The Women's Library at LSE and Feminist Archive North, housed at the University of Leeds, which hold collections focused on these movements.

If you’re looking for records of women’s lives, you might want to find letters and diaries. Try searching for “letters”, “correspondence” and “diary”. Women also may have owned or created recipe books and commonplace books, so you can also search for those.

Women will also be represented in collections such as court records (Hull Quarter Sessions records, reference C CQA and C CQB, are indexed in the Hull History Centre searchroom) and Poor Law records (reference C PUH and C PUS). Women with illegitimate children could go to court to force the child's father to provide maintenance, and these were called bastardy orders; try searching the Hull History Centre catalogue for bastardy.

You can also search for specific women's names. If you're looking for the papers of a particular woman, try using the Archives Hub or The National Archives Discovery catalogue, which contain information about records held across the UK.

Papers of women's organisations at Hull History Centre

The most important women's organisation represented at Hull History Centre is the Co-operative Women's Guild (reference U DCW). Founded in 1883 as part of the co-operative movement, and under the leadership of Margaret Llewellyn Davies from 1889, the Guild campaigned on numerous issues including divorce law reform and women's health. It encouraged women to join trade unions, and lobbied for equal pay. The collection includes minutes, reports, publications and photographs.

Papers of individual women at Hull History Centre

One of the most important collections of a woman's papers at Hull History Centre is the Winifred Holtby collection (reference L WH). Winifred Holtby (1898-1935) is probably most well known now as the author of South Riding, but she was also a journalist and campaigner for women's rights, and had a particular interest in South Africa. Her papers contain thousands of letters and articles, as well as drafts of her novels.

The papers of the Forbes Adam family contain a large amount of correspondence, including letters between mothers and daughters and female friends (reference U DDFA3). The letters cover a wide range of subjects, from domestic matters to the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Download a letter (reference U DDFA3/6/1/49) written by Constance, Lady Wenlock, on 20 Dec 1920 to her daughter Irene Forbes Adam, at the bottom of the page. The letter touches on a number of subjects, from Lady Wenlock's search for a manservant to the experiences of British prisoners released from Russia.

The papers of the Hotham family contain several diaries (reference U DDHO/18) and recipe books (reference U DDHO/19) which were written or compiled by women. The recipe books date from about 1650 to 1860, the earliest (reference U DDHO/19/1) being inscribed Mary Thompson Hir Book of Reaceats (reaceats, or receipts, in this case means recipes). Download a page from U DDHO/19/1 at the bottom of the page and read several of Mary's recipes. The words in this volume are often spelt phonetically, giving us an insight into how Mary would have spoken. She was unlikely to be highly educated but could clearly read and write.

Hull History Centre holds collections of papers a number of other notable women, including Anne Kerr MP (reference U DMK); Julia Varley, a trade unionist and suffragist (reference U DJV), and Jean Hartley, one of the founders of the Marvell Press (reference U DJE).

Other collections

The papers of Liberty (reference U DCL) contain numerous files relating to women's rights in the 20th century, including equal pay, pension rights, contraception and abortion, and domestic violence. Download a leaflet (reference U DCL/16/12) from the Six Point Group, which campaigned for women's equality, at the bottom of the page.



In this section you can download copies of original archive documents. Where possible, we also provide an accessible transcript. If you require access in a different format please contact