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History

ARCHIF MENYWOD CYMRU / WOMEN’S ARCHIVE OF WALES :

A SHORT HISTORY


Archif Menywod Cymru / Women’s Archive of Wales was founded in 1997 to rescue and preserve the unique experience of women in Wales, and to raise awareness of the history of women in Wales.


The idea originated with historians Ursula Masson and Deirdre Beddoe, who realised that records of women’s history in Wales lagged far behind those in England, Scotland and Ireland.


In 1995, Ursula successfully applied for funding from the University of Glamorgan to document the history of the Women’s Liberation Movement in South Wales. The research, carried out by Ursula and Research Assistant Avril Rolph, involved investigating relevant material in archive collections and interviewing women who had been involved in the WLM. Inevitably, many of them brought out carrier bags full of papers, photographs, newspaper cuttings, newsletters and other material. Clearly, there was a large amount of material available, on just this one topic, which was in great danger of being lost.


Consequently, in December 1997 Ursula organised a meeting, inviting anyone she could think of who might be interested, to discuss ways of collecting and preserving the records of women’s lives and activities in Wales. This is how Archif Menywod Cymru / Women’s Archive of Wales (AMC/WAW) was created.


A working group was set up; the members were Ursula Masson, Deirdre Beddoe, Avril Rolph, Jenny Sabine, Susan Edwards (Archivist at Glamorgan Record Office), and three representatives from the former Cardiff Women’s Centre - Sheryl Chetcuti, the late Dawn Braude and Fran Rawlings. We held monthly meetings from February 1998.


Conferences and events

The first major event for the archive was a half-day conference followed by ‘The Great Suffrage Celebration Dinner’, held in the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea, on Saturday 31st October 1998. Conference speakers were Professor Deirdre Beddoe on discovering Welsh women’s history and Dr Katie Gramich on Welsh women writers and women’s suffrage. The talks were followed by a panel discussion ‘Where are we now? Where are we going?’

The dinner marked the 70th anniversary of one held by Swansea Suffragettes on 28th October 1928 to celebrate the achievement of universal suffrage. Diners were asked to propose a toast to a Welsh woman of their choice, and music was provided by Jen Wilson who gave her own stirring tribute to women in Welsh history.


The first AGM of the Archive was held before the conference. Amongst the resolutions was agreement to write a constitution, and the membership fee was set at £10 or £5 for low income, an amount which has remained the same ever since. A committee was appointed. Deirdre was elected as Chair, a post she held until, as she put it, she was ‘kicked upstairs’ to become our first President at the 2004 AGM. The idea of obtaining premises of our own had been discussed during the year, but we realised that the cost would be prohibitive. Instead, we considered a scheme whereby we would actively encourage donations, which would then be deposited in existing archives and record offices as part of the AMC/WAW collection, where they would be professionally looked after and publicly accessible. This proposal was presented to the AGM by Susan Edwards and unanimously agreed by members present.


Subsequent annual conferences and AGMs have taken place in the National Library, Aberystwyth (1999); Cyfarthfa Castle, Merthyr (2000); Glamorgan Record Office, Cardiff (2001) where the theme of the day was Women and Peace Movements, marking the 20th anniversary of the march from Cardiff to Greenham Common by Women For Life on Earth; Cynon Valley Museum, Aberdare (2002); Carmarthen Record Office (2003); Swansea Museum (2004); returning to National Library, Aberystwyth in 2005 and Pontypridd in 2006. In 2007 we held the first weekend conference in Bangor (2007) with a conference dinner on the Saturday evening. This set the pattern for each conference since then, in Aberystwyth in 2008, returning to Cardiff in 2009 and Swansea in 2010, and to Caernarfon in 2011.


Other successful events have included some collaborative efforts including the weekend conference ‘Motherland: Welsh women’s writing and history’ in association with Trinity College, Carmarthen (2000). In 2004 we collaborated with the Women’s History Network and Llafur – the Welsh People’s History Society to hold a weekend conference in the University of Glamorgan, Re-Presenting the British Past: women and gender and history in the British Isles, with speakers representing Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England. ‘Remembering Ursula Masson’, a day conference which we held jointly with Llafur, was one of a number of memorial events held for Ursula, who died in April 2008.


Work and achievements

AMC/WAW is a purely voluntary organisation whose only income is its members’ subscriptions, donations, and members’ fundraising efforts. We are dependent on the help and support of the Welsh country record offices, the National Library, and museums in Wales, to care for the items donated to us. In order to undertake any major project we have to seek grant aid.


In April 2007 we were granted £187,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to run a series of Women’s History Roadshows across Wales. This was the result of many months of work by the committee, including running a number of small pilot roadshows to develop our methods. The grant allowed us to rent an office and employ a full-time development officer, Sue Hamill, and two part-time field workers, Rhiannon Gomer and Justine Hankins. They organised and ran 17 roadshows in venues in all parts of Wales. Based on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, these were occasions when local people were invited to bring records of their own or other women’s lives and activities, and discuss them with historians. Committee members and other WAW members worked with the project staff at the Roadshows, which were memorable and enjoyable occasions. The project resulted in a large number of donations to the Archive, and also many more scans and photos of items and recordings of their owners’ stories.


A key condition of the HLF grant was that we should give public access to the results of the Roadshows. This we have been able to fulfil through the People’s Collection Wales website, on which can be seen nearly 1,000 items which were brought to the Roadshows. (www.peoplescollectionwales.co.uk). This project involved a huge amount of work, in particular for the four members of the Project Management Group, Catrin Stevens, Avril Rolph, Gail Allen and Jenny Sabine. We were also greatly helped by Susan Edwards of the Glamorgan Record Office (now Glamorgan Archives) and her staff, who took on the management of financial and personnel side of the project. The Roadshow project has raised the profile and recognition of the Archive across Wales and beyond, and confirmed the Archive’s status as an important player in the cultural life of Wales.


Of course, the core work of the Archive has gone on in the background throughout the years. We successfully applied for charitable status in 2001. We created a bi-lingual website. We have fostered relationships with colleagues in the UK and other countries. We have deposited many collections in Welsh county record offices and the National Library of Wales. We maintain details of our members and issue a members’ quarterly newsletter.


The completion of the Roadshow project provided an opportunity for us to take stock and think about how the Archive should go forward. We do encourage anyone who possesses documents, photos, and other archive materials representing women’s history to deposit them in the relevant county record office, asking that they be listed as deposited via AMC/WAW.


This frees us to devote our energies to promoting the teaching, study and research of women’s history in Wales, to raising the profile of women in the history of Wales, and encouraging people to discover and value the history and historic documents which reflect the lives of women in Wales in the past and in the present.

We do this


December 2011.