Angela, my soulmate and wife, was a second wave feminist who died this month, aged 82. She remained radical to the end.
In 1971, a few months after the birth of her second son, Angela joined the Women’s Liberation Movement, and started writing. Her work appeared in Shrew, the Women’s Liberation Review, Spare Rib, and Everywoman, as well as in the Guardian, the Sunday Times, and other mainstream outlets. For her, as with many other second wave feminists, women’s liberation was not a single issue, to be tacked on to others - it was the central issue of our time, and she believed that achieving its full potential would change everything.
“It is imperative that we struggle to find new values and philosophies which enhance the ‘humanness’ of human beings in place of the dehumanising patriarchal philosophies which are slowly killing us all. This is why the Feminist Revolution will succeed, because its evolutionary time has come,”
(Angela Hamblin, Ultimate Goals, Women’s Liberation Review no 1, Oct 1972)
Angela also contributed chapters and poems to these feminist anthologies:
Conditions of Illusion (Feminist Books, 1974)
Hard Feelings (The Women’s Press, 1979)
One Foot on the Mountain (Onlywomen Press, 1979)
On the Problem of Men (The Women’s Press, 1982)
Sex and Love (The Women’s Press, 1983)
Women against violence against Women (Onlywomen Press, 1985)
Women’s Health (Pandora, 1987)
A thriving spiritual healing practice and work on a major book project were brought to an abrupt halt by the onset in 1994 of the severe ME that disabled Angela for the rest of her life. A short-lived easing of its severity in the late 2010s was not sufficient to enable a return to writing, but it did allow her to develop a rich jazz singing voice. At the age of 78 she recorded an acclaimed CD of jazz standards, ‘Round Midnight. She gave the proceeds to her favourite charity, Life for African Mothers.
Finding her voice
Angela disliked lazy beliefs that social change just happens, erasing the people who make it happen. She was particularly critical of how, within her lifetime, changes fought for by second wave feminists became unrecognised, taken for granted, or undermined. She was, though, reticent about publicly acknowledging her own role in helping to bring about those changes.
This reticence was challenged by the publication of Not Dead Yet, the inspirational collection of reflections by older feminists (Spinifex Press, 2021). Angela loved the editors’ rejection of the way “older women’s achievements are either totally ignored, misrepresented, or belittled.” And she responded to their appeal for older readers to contribute to a Not Dead Yet blog.
Typically, what Angela chose to focus on was an issue with which she was involved both personally and politically - how the legal system protects rapists, and attacks rape survivors. She had kept the text of a 1977 speech she had delivered in Trafalgar Square, London. This was part of a protest demanding the sacking of three High Court judges who had given a rapist a conditional discharge - because they thought saving his army career was more important than justice for the young woman he had violently raped.
Angela made her Trafalgar Square speech the centre of her piece, and she was able to dictate the rest, explaining both the context and what it meant for her personally. She called her contribution Finding My Voice. This was the last thing Angela wrote. It’s an account of how, silenced by rape at the age of 14, she found her voice speaking out against rape at the age of 37.
Soon after taking part in this and other demonstrations against rape and male violence, Angela worked as a counsellor in a rape crisis centre. Together with a colleague, she wrote one of the first articles in this country to highlight the extent and impact of men’s sexual abuse of children.
Angela, a survivor of child sexual abuse, died on the day that the final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was published. She would almost certainly have been incensed that the media that day cared much more about the chaos in the Tory party than about the testimonies of 6,200 survivors of child sexual abuse and safeguarding failure.
Against Forced Adoption
After Finding My Voice appeared online, Angela asked if, after she died, I would consider writing something to record another time she found her voice - her involvement in the 1975 campaign to remove legal obstacles to adult adoptees reuniting with their mothers.
As with rape and the law in 1977, the personal and the political had come together in a big way for Angela in 1975, when the UK parliament debated adoption law reform. Adoption might seem an unlikely issue for a radical feminist to get involved in. But Angela was desperate to be reunited with her first son, who had been taken from her in 1955, and she knew that the existing system was designed to prevent contact between adoptees and their mothers. She knew, too, that hardly any of the estimated 185,000 single mothers in England and Wales whose babies had been taken from them since 1949 had spoken in public about it. She realised that, if they remained silent, their reality would be denied, and the injustice would remain.
Angela’s decision to speak out as a mother whose child was taken from her initiated a campaign to add mothers’ voices to adoptees’ demands for a change in the law. TV appearances and radio and newspaper interviews soon led to the reunion she had yearned for. But she continued to campaign for the right for adult adoptees to access their birth records, to make it easier for adoptees to trace their mothers and heal some of the pain created by the ‘clean break’ that was required by adoption agencies at the time.
Reuniting adoptees with their first mothers, Angela felt, could be an initial step in a long process of social change. It could expose the double standard that allowed men to make women pregnant and then abandon them, yet punished the women. It could question the rosy (and overwhelmingly false) perception of adoption as providing homes for orphans, and the heartless framing of adoption as a cure for infertility or as an alternative to abortion. Above all, it could reveal the brutality of a system that forced single mothers to relinquish their children, rather than give them the support they needed to raise their children. And that, perhaps, could help those mothers to understand that they were not to blame.
“Unmarried mothers are punished and part of that punishment is to withhold from them the material necessities they need in order to care for their babies. But this withholding is never openly acknowledged. Instead the blame for her situation is placed squarely on the shoulders of the mother herself. She is made to feel that it is her personal responsibility that she has no home, no income, no prospects, and no-one to help her.”
(Angela Hamblin, Parting Sorrows, Guardian 16 June 1976)
My next posts will record the 1975 debate around adoptees’ right to access their birth records, highlighting the significance of Angela’s speaking out as a mother in support of that right, and the role of Jigsaw, the organisation she founded, in achieving it.
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So sorry for you loss. Angela sounds like an incredible woman!
This is a wonderful tribute and memorial and I hope that writing it helps you deal with what must be the most terrible grief and loss. ❤️