The archive of the campaigning organisation the Movement for the Ordination of Women has been completely catalogued by archivist Fabiana Barticioti and it is now available for consultation at LSE Library.

The Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW) operated from 1979 to 1994 and was the major organisation to campaign for women to become priests in the Church of England. The papers in the archives date from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s and cover the organisation’s running, offering a close insight into its campaigning strategy and the struggles encountered by its campaigners.

MOW campaigner

MOW campaigner. Credit: LSE Library

The controversial legislation, the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure, was passed by the General Synod on 11 November 1992 and the law was granted Royal Assent on 5 November 1993. The ordination of the first women took place in a ceremony at Bristol Cathedral on 12 March 1994.

At the time, many church goers were not satisfied. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, who had backed the proposal said he recognised the result would not please everyone.

Chrysalis, February 1987

Chrysalis, February 1987. Credit: LSE Library

“What binds us together in God’s love as a Church is vastly more important than a disagreement about women’s ordination,” Dr Carey said to the General Synod. However, his attempts to keep the Church united had a setback because 400 vicars were so opposed to the idea of women priests that they fled en masse to the Roman Catholic Church.

The idea of women priests began to be discussed in the 1920s and the first woman to become a priest in the Anglican Communion was Florence Lim Ti Oi in 1944 in Hong Kong. It was only in 1975 that the Church of England General Synod passed a motion stating it had “no fundamental objections” to the ordination of women to the priesthood. However, a motion to remove legal barriers to the ordination of women was defeated in the House of Clergy at the General Synod meeting on 8 November 1978.

Archbishop Runcie cartoon

A MOW cartoon. Credit: LSE Library

On 21 November in the same year, attendees of a meeting chaired by Dame Betty Ridley decided to set up a national movement to work for the ordination of women. So, the early days of what became the Movement for the Ordination of Women, aka MOW, began.

The archive covers the entire period of MOW’s operations. It contains administrative and financial papers, correspondence, photographs, publicity material, and publications amongst other ephemera. The material covers themes such as gender inequality, intention of vote of members of General Synod and Houses of Parliament, women in the church, campaigning strategies and lobbying.

MOW collection

MOW collection. Credit: LSE Library

Some of my favourite items are the letters from MPs to supporters because some of them can be very entertaining. Other highlights include the comprehensive set of papers of AGMs and meetings of the Central Committee and satirical material used in their publications. There are some objects too, including original balloons, badges and colourful banners.

The catalogue of the archive is available online and the archive is available for consultation.

The archive was deposited at the Women’s Library as an outright gift in a number of accessions between 1992 and 2012. Today, it forms part of The Women’s Library collection at LSE Library, and the new catalogue has been greatly welcomed by The Friends of the Women’s Library. The completion of this project was made possible by financial support from the Higher Education Funding for England (HEFCE).

Contributed by Fabiana Barticioti (Assistant Archivist, LSE Library)

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Interested in women’s history? See Women at LSE

The Women’s Library collection includes a number of other archives relating to women and the church including Records of St Joan’s International Alliance (2SJA), Records of the Anglican Group for the Ordination of Women to the Historic Ministry of the Church, (5AGO), Records of the Catholic Women’s Ordination (5RCW), Records of the Society for the Ministry of Women in the Church (5SMW) and Records of the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod (GRAS), amongst others. A full list is found in the 6MOW catalogue.

The Women’s Library collection also includes periodicals for the relevant organisations and some press cuttings relating to women’s ordination (c.1919-1950.) These can be searched using LSE Library Search.

Official papers of the General Synod are available online from the Church of England website (2000-2010) and in paper form at Lambeth Palace Library (pre-2000).

Editions of Commons and Lords Hansard, the Official Report of debates in Parliament, are found in the Parliamentary Archives but can be consulted online.

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