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Celebrating Portsmouth’s inspirational women activists

A stone plaque celebrating inspiring women activists in Portsmouth has been unveiled in Guildhall Square.

The plaque, funded by Portsmouth City Council, recognises those who took part in the Women’s Community Activism project, led by the University of Portsmouth and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The project examined how women in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas were involved in local and national activism – inspired by the fight for equality for all women in all walks of life.

It was led by Dr Laurel Forster and Dr Sue Bruley, who worked in collaboration with the local library, the U3A, volunteers, schools and community groups, to unearth and record the impact of feminism and women’s activism in Portsmouth since the 1960s.

They interviewed women from a range of backgrounds and with different interests in raising feminist consciousness and in community issues – women working as teachers, city councillors, faith leaders, or to improve housing conditions for families. There are accounts of women’s pioneering work in the Royal Navy and elsewhere in local factories, offices and the university, campaigning for equal rights at work.

From these, the project developed a number of pieces of work including nearly 60 recorded oral histories, photographs and stories that were digitally preserved and transferred to the Portsmouth History Centre, a websitea project bookletstudent learning pack, and a mobile exhibition.

Dr Forster, Reader in Cultural History in the University’s Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, said:

“The city of Portsmouth, dominated by its naval dockyard, has traditionally celebrated and commemorated the achievements of men, and was often considered to be little touched by feminism.

“Many Portsmouth women who have, since the Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s, actively campaigned for women’s rights and set up practical initiatives in the Portsmouth area to improve the lives of women and their families, came forward to tell their stories. 

“Portsmouth’s own branch of the Women’s Liberation Movement was remembered by many, with its consciousness-raising meetings. The women of Portsmouth actively campaigned for peace and many stories were told of Greenham Common Peace camps and anti-nuclear demonstrations.”

Photo: University of Portsmouth