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ePortfolio of 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 the Political 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

  • RHS Centenary Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research (2022-2023)
  • Social History Society Postgraduate Exchange prize winner (2022)
  • Departmental scholarship for 3.5 years of doctoral research (2018-2022)
  • Sir John H. Elliott Prize for highest Distinction in MA cohort (2018)


Forthcoming 2025 ‘Disabled Women, Access Politics and Liberation Movements, c. 1970s-1990s’, in Sarah Crook and Sarah Kenny (eds), Routledge Handbook of Contemporary British History (Routledge)

Forthcoming 2024 '"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)

August 2023 'Politics, Parties and PhDs: disabled women and student life' commissioned articleLink opens in a new window for the Museum of Youth Culture website

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

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

February 2022 'Remote oral history interviews with disabled women activists during Covid-19' blog postLink opens in a new window for IHR History Lab

October 2020 'Disabled Women Organising: Feminism and Disability Rights Activism' commissioned articleLink opens in a new window for British Library website Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights

Academic Papers

Forthcoming May 2024 'Disabled women and ‘information activism’ in modern Britain', paper presented at the Women’s Grassroots Activism AHRC Research Network Workshop.

July 2023 'Disabled Women and Body Image in Images of Ourselves (1981)', paper presented at the Rethinking Women and Social Change interdisciplinary symposium, Kings College London

March 2023 'Reflections on Researcher Positionality', paper presented to the Fellows Seminar series, Institute of Historical Research

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 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 - April 2023 historical consultant for Oxford University Press Key Stage 3 textbookLink opens in a new window 'The Fight for Rights in Modern Britain'

September 2021 'Disabled Women and the Women's Liberation Movement' commissioned reading guideLink opens in a new window 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

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