48 years ago, on 27th February 1970 Ruskin College played host to the first ever National Women’s Liberation Conference. Ruskin students Arielle Aberson and Sally Alexander worked with historian Sheila Rowbotham and initially intended to set up a women’s history conference. However, upon realising that women’s history had hardly ever been recorded they decided to focus the conference on the contemporary issues facing women.
The conference at Ruskin attracted 600 activists from across the country, far more than what Aberson and Alexander expected. The organisers managed to extend the conference into the Oxford Union because of the high turnout, a place that Sheila Rowbotham explained was “rather poignant considering it was an environment that was meant to produce male orators who would become prime ministers”.
The Ruskin conference addressed issues such as patriarchy, sexuality, women’s economics and socialist feminism. And in what wasn’t intended to be a political statement, traditional gender roles were flipped when a crèche was opened and ran by men while women spoke, debated and attended the conference.
Cultural theorist Stuart Hall working at the crèche during the conference, 1970
Optimism grew during the conference and the final session was called “Where Are We Going?” in which the conference concluded with four demands:
1: Equal pay
2: Equal educational and job opportunities
3: Free contraception and abortion on demand
4: Free 24-hour nurseries
Women's Liberation Conference agenda, 1970
Such was the success of the Ruskin conference, the Womens Liberation Movement organised eight more conferences across the country from 1970 to 1978 and the event proved to be a landmark in the second wave of feminism and women’s liberation.
Blog piece written by Choe Walsh and Ross Caris-Pratt, current students at Ruskin College