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Beckie Rutherford

Research Overview

My doctoral research is co-supervised by Dr Laura Schwartz and Dr Claire Shaw and is kindly funded through a departmental scholarship. My thesis is provisionally entitled ‘Disabled Women Organising: Rethinking Agency within British Liberation Movements, 1976-1998’. I examine the life stories of disabled women and their relationship to both the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Disabled People’s Movement in Britain. Three broad questions are currently shaping my research:

  • How did disabled women understand themselves as political?

  • How did disabled women navigate and narrate their experiences of disabled womanhood?

  • How does the history of disabled women organising stand to disrupt and reshape existing narratives of liberation movements in twentieth century Britain?

Drawing extensively on print culture and oral history, my work will challenge the erasure of disabled women from both popular and academic narratives of activism and liberation movements. One of the most important contributions this research will make to the field of modern British history is helping to reconfigure the ways in which historians define "activism". I advocate a broader and more creative understanding of activist histories, with the crucial aim of challenging ableist expectations of activist cultures in the present day.

I am particularly interested in the histories of the following groups: Gemma, The Liberation Network of People With Disabilities, Sisters Against Disablement (SAD), Feminist Audio Books (FAB) and Graeae. If you have experiences that would you like to share then please get in touch.

Research Interests

  • Disability history and disability studies
  • Women’s history and feminism
  • Histories of activism and liberation movements
  • Class, gender and sexuality in twentieth century Britain
  • Histories of the body

Academic Background

2018-2023 University of Warwick, PhD History

2017-2018 University of Warwick, MA Modern History

2013-2016 University of Oxford, BA History

Awards and Funding


Forthcoming ''We have to organise together to fight back': disabled women and the Women’s Liberation Movement, 1981-1986', in Sarah Crook and Sarah Kenny (eds), Routledge Handbook of Contemporary British History (Routledge)

Forthcoming 2023 '"I Started a New Life When I Joined Gemma": Disability, Community, and Sexuality in Gemma Newsletters, 1978-2000', in Tracey Loughran, Daisy Payling and Kate Mahoney (eds), Gender, Subjectivity, and "Everyday Health" in the Post-1945 World (Manchester University Press)

December 2022 'Disability History Month 2022: reflections on recent research'Link opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window, blog post written for Historical Transactions, Royal Historical Society

July 2022 '"We moved together, we breathed together": disabled women on stage in 1980s Britain'Link opens in a new windowLink opens in a new windowblog post written for the Social History Society Research Exchange (2022 prize winner)

February 2022 'Remote oral history interviews with disabled women activists during Covid-19'Link opens in a new windowLink opens in a new windowblog post written for IHR History Lab 'In the Margins' series

October 2020 'Disabled Women Organising: Feminism and Disability Rights Activism'Link opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window, article written for British Library website Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights

Academic Papers

November 2022 'Disabled Women Organising: Rethinking Agency within British Liberation Movements, 1976-2000', paper presented to the Women's History seminar, Institute of Historical Research

October 2021 'Writing Histories of Medicine with Activism, or Activist Histories of Medicine', roundtable discussion at the Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick

July 2021 'Historicising the social model of disability', paper presented to the Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (captioned recording available hereLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window)

July 2021 'Lesser-known voices in well-known movements: from Suffrage to Women's Liberation', paper presented to the Women's History Network online seminar series

March 2021 ‘Disability and “Everyday Health” in Gemma Newsletters, 1978-2000’, paper presented to the Gender, Subjectivity, and “Everyday Health” in the Post-1945 World online seminar series, Body, Self and Family project, University of Essex

February 2020 'New Histories of Disability', paper presented to the Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick

October 2019 'Disabled Women Organising, 1978-1996', guest lecture given to the 'Disability, Inequality and the Life Course' Sociology Undergraduate Module, University of Warwick

July 2019 ‘Apart or A Part?’ Understanding the Agency and Erasure of Disabled Women Within the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain, 1979-1993’, paper presented at the Modern British Studies Conference, University of Birmingham (nominated for best PGR/ECR paper 2019)

June 2018 'Disabled Women, Sisterhood, and the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain, 1979-1993', paper presented at the Postgraduate Medical Humanities Conference, University of Exeter

May 2018 'Emotional Politics and the Women’s Social and Political Union, 1903-1917', paper presented at the Department of History Postgraduate Conference, University of Warwick

Public Engagement

December 2022 - present historical consultant for Oxford University Press Key Stage 3 textbook 'The Fight for Rights in Modern Britain'

September 2021 'Disabled Women and the Women's Liberation Movement'Link opens in a new windowLink opens in a new windowreading guide written for RETEACH history education website

March 2021 'To this day I don't see anything else like it': Disabled Women Organising, 1976-1985', International Women's Day guest lecture given to the Gender Equality and Disability Support networks, British Library

Other Positions

March 2020 - present book reviews assistant for German HistoryLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window Oxford Academic Journal

October 2019 - March 2020 assistant for the Centre for the History of MedicineLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window Seminar Series

July 2019 - March 2020 co-convener for the Centre for the Study of Women and GenderLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window Graduate Seminar Series

October 2018 - March 2020 assistant for the Warwick Feminist History GroupLink opens in a new windowLink opens in a new window

April - May 2019 chair of the organising committee for the Warwick Department of History Postgraduate ConferenceLink opens in a new window