ARCHIF MENYWOD CYMRU / WOMEN’S ARCHIVE WALES: A SHORT HISTORY
AMC/WAW was founded in 1997 to rescue and preserve records of the lives and experience of women in Wales, and to raise awareness of the history of women in Wales.
Ursula Masson of the then University of Glamorgan (now University of South Wales) received funding to document the history of the Women’s Liberation Movement in South Wales. The research was carried out by Ursula and Research Assistant Avril Rolph and demonstrated the need to collect and preserve the records of women’s history in Wales, which could so easily be lost.
In December 1997 Ursula and Avril organised a meeting of historians, archivists, library and museum professionals and other interested people.
A working group was formed and meetings held regularly from February 1998. The first Annual General Meeting (AGM) of AMC/WAW was held on 31 October 1998. A committee was appointed and Professor Deirdre Beddoe elected Chair. The original idea of obtaining premises of our own proved prohibitive. Instead, a scheme was proposed and agreed whereby we actively seek donations which we deposit in existing archives and record offices as the AMC/WAW Collection. After the AGM a half-day conference, followed by the Great Suffrage Celebration Dinner, was held in the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea. The dinner marked the 70th anniversary of one held by Swansea Suffragists on 28 October 1928 to celebrate the achievement of universal suffrage.
A small Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant paid for a worker to publicise the Archive, encourage donations and recruit members. The first issue of the AMC/WAW Newsletter was published in April 1999.Our second AGM and half-day conference was held in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. We have continued to include a conference with the AGM each year since.
AMC/WAW was accepted by the Charity Commission as a Registered Charity.
A major acquisition was the papers of the late Val Feld AM, who died in 2001.
In June we held a women’s history roadshow in Gorseinon, Swansea, to test the idea as a way to encourage people to deposit their papers into safe-keeping and raise their awareness of women’s history. At this year’s AGM Deirdre Beddoe was elected President and Ursula Masson elected Chair.
Our first website was launched this year, and another pilot roadshow held. We held stalls at both the Glamorgan Family History Society and West Glamorgan Record Service open days.
Much of this year was spent in planning a major project to build our collections and raise the profile of the Archive.
In March came the exciting news that HLF granted us £187,000 to hold 17 Women’s History Roadshows across Wales. We were able to appoint three staff members. Most of the remainder of the year was spent organising the project. A new development this year was holding our conference over a weekend. This set the pattern for our future annual conferences.
Despite her illness, our founder and Chair Ursula Masson spoke at the launch of the Wales Women’s History Roadshow project in the Senedd, Cardiff, in January. Sadly, Ursula died in April 2008. Avril Rolph was elected Chair in her stead. During the year Roadshows were also held in Llanelli, Monmouth, Dolgellau, Swansea, Newport, Caernarfon, Blaenafon, Haverfordwest, Aberystwyth, Llandrindod and Carmarthen. Due to the generosity of a member, we were able to offer a prize for the best school project which included women’s history in the Welsh Schools Heritage Initiative annual competition www.whsi.org.uk. We have continued to offer this prize each year. On 31 October a Members’ Awayday was held in Llandrindod Wells: an opportunity for members to review our achievements and plan for the future.
Roadshows continued in Mold, Pontypridd, Wrexham, Llangefni and Merthyr Tydfil. The project officially ended in July. In view of the huge number of donations received, HLF gave permission to use some under-spend from the main project to have many of the images and audio files up-loaded to the People’s Collection Wales server, ensuring wide public access to the results of the project. A major donation was the entire archive of the Llanelli YWCA. At the AGM Helen Thomas was elected Chair.
Revisiting the outcome of the Awayday and the Roadshow project, the committee decided that their first priority should be to consolidate achievements and make the collections more accessible.
Helen Thomas resigned and Jenny Sabine was elected Chair at the AGM.
A new website was launched at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. This year we started to hold our committee meetings by video-conference facilities between Bangor and Swansea universities. In August, AMC/WAW broke new ground by holding a lecture at the National Eisteddfod through the medium of Welsh with simultaneous translation in English. This has been an annual event in succeeding years.
We were successful in getting a grant of over £65,000 from HLF for an oral history project Voices from the Factory Floor, recording the memories of women who worked in light manufacturing industries after the Second World War, 1945-1975. We appointed three field officers to interview the speakers from all over Wales. We succeeded in recording over 200 women, representing c. 200 different factories.
In February Archive member Christine Chapman AM hosted a reception in the Senedd to promote reception in the Senedd to promote the project and AMC/WAW. In August the status of AMC/WAW was registered with the Charity Commission as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (About us : Constitution). Our main focus of this year was the Voices from the Factory Floor project. As part of our World War I commemorations a database of names and details of women mentioned on official war memorials was initiated.
A website, film and the Final Report of the Voices from the Factory Floor project were launched at a celebration held in Canolfan Soar, Merthyr Tydfil, on 25 March and the whole project attracted a great deal of media attention. The master tapes were deposited in the National Screen and Sound Archive. Early in the year we received funding of £8,000 from the HLF for a project, Women in World War I: the Welsh Experience. A number of significant collections were deposited during the year.
Funding for our WW I project ended this year. Despite a slow start the project has been successful, resulting in a website, and four posters, copies of which have been distributed to every secondary school in Wales and are available on the website. As a finale to the project, members held commemorative ceremonies for women killed during WWI at four points in Wales.
This is a brief account of the main events in the history of AMC/WAW thus far. The Archive has continued to liaise and work with public repositories in Wales and other like-minded organisations. We work at all times with our key purpose in mind: to discover and preserve the evidence of lives and experiences of women in Wales, and to make this history accessible to all.