In this post, Dr. Janis Lomas tells us about her role in ensuring that the papers of The War Widows’ Association were preserved.
When I began a PhD over 30 years ago one of the organisations I contacted was The War Widows’ Association and asked if they’d put out an appeal in their newsletter for any war widows who were prepared to fill in a questionnaire and perhaps be willing to be interviewed by me at a later date. I compiled a very basic, rather naive questionnaire and eventually received 62 replies. Around the same time I met one of the founders of the organisation, Iris Strange. I went to High Wycombe and taped a long interview with her. My intention was to visit and conduct oral history interviews with a large number of war widows but events overtook me. After I’d met Iris a few times and corresponded with her she died fairly suddenly. I attended her funeral as I had become very fond of her, although she could be extremely prickly and I always thought she just put up with me and my sometimes stupid questions. I was therefore amazed to discover that when she was dying she’d left instructions with her niece that all her papers were to come to me. Once again, I drove down to High Wycombe not knowing what she had wanted me to have. It was then I discovered the volume of papers. The entire loft of her three bedroom house was completely filled with boxes. It took me a year to go through them and discard all the thousands of subscription receipts collected over 20 years etc. At the end of the sifting I was left with 8,000 documents, around 5,000 of which were letters from war widows. After I’d completed my PhD and after consultation with Iris’s niece and her son I decided to donate the collection to the University where I had studied for my PhD, so they are now securely housed and form the War Widows’ Archive: the Iris Strange Collection at Staffordshire University. In 2018 the War Widows’ Association also decided to donate all their archived material to the University and that has now joined the collection.
The archive is only available to scholars by appointment after a signed undertaking that the letters are cited anonymously. Further details from email@example.com for an appointment to visit please contact Alison Pope at A.J.Pope@staffs.ac.uk
Do you work with the papers of a little known women’s history archive? If so, get in touch and tell others! firstname.lastname@example.org