In the initial months of the cataloguing project of the campaigning organisation, known as the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW) to Priesthood in the Church of England, I have been using a calculator, a window and a shredder, both literally and metaphorically. This is the first blog post of a series in which I will give snippets of the work behind cataloguing a large archive and an overview of the relevant information contained in this interesting resource.

Image of campaigners with banners

Supporters campaigning at Coventry Cathedral, 1992.

MOW was formed to campaign for the Church of England to remove the barriers preventing women from becoming priests. Founded in July 1979, it closed in July 1994 after The Act for the Ordination of Women was approved at the General Synod and Parliament and the first women ordained priests in early 1994. The materials cover the everyday running of the organization and offer a close insight into the path of women to priesthood in the Anglican Church in England. It contains 184 boxes including documentary materials, administrative and financial papers, correspondence, photographs, news cuttings, publicity and publications. There are also audio visual materials and objects including banners, t-shirts, tea towels, among other things. Gradually I’ve discovered what information this archive contains and the sets of data that may be of interest to academics, researchers and the wider community.

Images of archival material

A few examples of papers in the Movement of Ordination Archives

Planning a cataloguing project involves calculating how many boxes there are to be sorted and how long one thinks the task will take. When I say sorting it means not only listing the content of each box; I need to connect information, people and events. It takes time – one cannot sort 184 boxes in a few weeks and one cannot rely on memory to remember where things were originally. Surveying all the boxes also helps to identify papers with personal information and whether any material is subject to copyright. The archive was donated to the Women’s Library in batches from 1992 to 2012. In order to create a meaningful archive description for readers it is essential to have a methodical approach to survey the entire content first.

In March 1994 the first women priests were ordained in Bristol, an emotional ceremony which witnessed women making history. Twenty one years later the first women were consecrated bishops in 2015. It didn’t happen without dividing the opinion of churchgoers and instigated engagement from the non-church community too. It prompted discussion on a number of subjects including politics and the Church of England, feminist theology, gender inequality, leadership in the church, campaigning style and traditionalism to name but a few.

A card with details of the event referred to on.

Ordination card of Anne Jennings at Wakefield, 25 June 1994.

Understanding the wider social, historical and political contexts helps me to make informed connections between the MOW’s activities and their papers in the archives. For that, I had to look beyond my working spreadsheets and the boxes content. Instead I read a few books and articles about the subject, learned about key supporters and got to know the work of WATCH (Women and the Church). As you can see I had to look through my window and find information elsewhere.

Another aspect of my job is to decide whether the papers contain relevant information and should be preserved.  The largest portion was all the papers from the central office in London after its closure, in addition to small donations by a number of relevant members and supporters. Mailing, publications and paper of meetings were mostly created by the central office and sent to members and parish branches resulting in a large number of multiple copies. LSE Archives and Special Collection policy is to keep one copy only and securely destroy any unnecessary reproduction. This is when a shredder comes in handy!

The next blog post is due in January 2016 in which I will describe some of MOW organisation structure, strategies and approaches and what relevant information the papers of committee meetings and their newsletters contain.

A cartoon from 1987.

Reproduced in Chrysalis: Women and Religion, February 1987.

Once fully catalogued, the archives will be accessible in the Women’s Library Reading Room, and the detail available in the Women’s Library @ LSE Archive Catalogue.

Please feel free to contact me with any queries regarding the project, materials and resources.

Fabi Barticioti

Assistant Archivist assigned to catalogue the Movement for the Ordination of Women

Tel: (0)207 955 6452

About the author

Fabi is an Assistant Archivist, part of the Archives and Special Collections team, assigned to catalogue and publicize the Movement for Ordination of Women Archive (MOW).