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Secularism, religion and women's rights, 1860-1914


The Modern Records Centre holds the archives of the Young Women's Christian AssociationLink opens in a new window, which grew out of 'missions' to help working women founded in the 1850s. As the name of the organisation suggests, there was a strong religious grounding to much of the YWCA's welfare work, but the organisation was also involved in campaigns relating to education, physical wellbeing and other social issues. The YWCA archive includes reports, minutes, correspondence, illustrated magazines, ephemera, etc., relating to the work of the organisation and its members in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Archives relating to the Labour ChurchLink opens in a new window provide an alternative campaigning view on women's rights and the role of religion (mostly during the 1890s). In particular 'The Labour Prophet'Link opens in a new window, the Christian Socialist group's illustrated journal, includes articles by prominent women members on political, economic and social activism and rights (these volumes have been digitised).

= This symbol after a link means that it links to digitised copies of the documents.

= This symbol after a link means that it links to catalogue descriptions of the documents (including the reference numbers which will help you to order up the original documents at the MRC).

Selected sources:

Eighth monthly letter to young women, 1880Link opens in a new window 

Bulletin written by Margaret Jane Menzies, a leading member of the Young Women's Christian Association. In this monthly letter she talks of the need for women, once married, to surrender their will to their husbands (as advised by Christian teaching).

'Our Own Gazette', various dates from 1884 onwardsLink opens in a new window 

Illustrated journal of the Young Women's Christian Association. Includes melodramatic short stories, articles about religion, travel, work, education, domestic skills and other subjects.

'British Workwoman', 1876-1895Link opens in a new window 

Illustrated journal aimed at a female working class audience. Despite the title, there is little about the actual experiences of the 'British workwoman' in the publication. Most of the contents focuses on the benefits of religion, sobriety, and being a good wife and mother - a message conveyed through a mix of dense melodramatic serials and short non-fiction articles.

'The Catholic Suffragist', vol.1, no.1, 15 January 1915Link opens in a new window 

Journal of the Catholic Women's Suffrage Society, established to promote the suffrage movement within the Catholic Church. This first issue includes an article by Alice Meynell, explaining the aims of the suffrage movement in general and of the Christian suffragists in particular, and a report of the Society's canvassing of the National Catholic Congress in 1914.


Image of facilities at the YWCA Institute, Liverpool

Illustrations of facilities at the new Young Women's Christian Association Institute Buildings, Liverpool, included in 'Our Own Gazette', vol.I, 1884Link opens in a new window.