Bust Up: Women’s Liberation in ’60s/’70s Aberdeen

The 1960s and 1970s – those eras of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were also eras of wars, racism, starvation, massacres, atomic bombs, nuclear threats, assassinations, the Cold War and rampant sexism.

You only have to watch some hideous films of the ’60s and ’70s or listen to song lyrics from the time to realise that while there was much talk about women’s liberation the reality was it was just that – talk.

Bust Up. Aberdeen

So women’s lib movements mushroomed in much the same way they had a century before with the rise of the Suffragists and Suffragettes. That the struggle was continuing 100 years on reveals how resistant British society was to embrace radical change in its power relationship with women.

What women had discovered was if you want an injustice rectified you have to go out and fight for that cause and not to expect rights to be handed out by political bodies. Rights are grabbed screaming and kicking from those who limit access to them.

The 1960s when the taxman sent tax statements and demands and tax rebates relating to a woman’s earnings to her husband! Women were considered incapable of understanding such complex arrangements.

Women in work were horribly exploited by employers and male-dominated trade unions run by dinosaurs content to collaborate with employers to keep women’s earnings lower than men’s for equivalent work.

Along with employment rights, women sought to control their own bodies – to be able to terminate a pregnancy in particular circumstances. The alternative was horrific and sometimes lethal and in 1967 an abortion act was passed which allowed a woman to apply for an abortion if the pregnancy was a risk to her life, her physical or mental health, to her existing children, likely seriously handicap the unborn child or an arguable detrimental social impact going through with the pregnancy.

That same year the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed allowing homosexual acts between consenting adults in private.

During the 1960s and 1970s Aberdeen was buzzing with the politicisation of the young. Groups they were involved with included Aberdeen Women’s Liberation made up of young housewives, working women and students.

Much of their discussions centred on questioning the family structure, its strict gender divisions, availability of contraception and developing awareness among girls and women of their status within society.

The group’s very limited resources produced a wee publication called Bust Up. Published here is the second edition and as well it the group printed as a pamphlet on contraception which was distributed outside factories where women worked and secondary schools in the city (which attracted an interview on BBC radio).

I shouldn’t imagine there are many copies of Bust Up or the contraception booklet left some half a century on but a copy of each have recently surfaced and you lucky people have a near unique opportunity to travel back in time catch a glimpse of Bust Up and hopefully soon, the contraception one.

I’ve separated pages from Bust Up with snippets about relevant legislation from around this time for your further enlightenment. Bust Up Aberdeen

 In 1969 the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act guaranteed a wife a share of family assets on dissolution of her marriage, based on her contribution to the household as a housewife or wage earner.


The Divorce Reform Act allowed for divorce on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and a divorce was granted after five years of separation.

In 1970 the Conservative government of Edward Heath introduced the Equal Pay Act. Equal pay for equal work but what was equal work? That discussion still continues. It was to be another five years before it had to be implemented. 

1973 the British Sociological Association conference on sexual divisions took place in Aberdeen. 

In 1975 Equal Pay Act implemented, in theory although we know there are still women fighting for recognition of equal pay for equivalent work with male colleagues, by Labour under Harold Wilson.



The Sex Discrimination Act was passed which demonstrates that there was no gender equality in Britain. As might be expected the Act failed to cover everything – excluding pensions and social security rights.

Maternity rights were strengthened through the Employment Protection Act.

The same year the Scottish National Women’s Liberation Conference was held in Aberdeen and so too did the Northeast Scotland Regional Women and Socialism Conference. 

 In 1976 the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act was passed which made it possible to get a court order to remove a man from the matrimonial home, whether or not he owned or rented it. The Act did not apply to cohabiting couples.

A year on from the implementation of the Equal Pay Act and women at a factory in Middlesex were out on strike for 21 weeks before management agreed to follow the law. Clearly their employers were not the only ones to ignore legislation but the only one where women were prepared to stay out this length of time to force the hand of their management.

The fishing industry was still a major employer in Aberdeen then and many women worked processing and packing fish (where incidentally they were left to man(sic)-handle very heavy wooden boxes packed with wet fish while their higher paid male counterparts drove around in forklifts never lifting anything heavier than their weightier pay packets.


In 1977 the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act recognised battered women as homeless.

In 1978 the ‘Normal Household Duties Test’ a wheeze brought in by the Labour government under James Callaghan, to deprive disabled married women of benefits as they had to prove they could not work but also then they were incapable of doing normal housework for a whole year in order to receive those benefits.


The Scottish National Women’s Liberation Conference met in Aberdeen in 1977 and discussed lesbiansism and heterosexuality, language, the fifth demand.

The Fifth Demand was legal and financial independence for all women.

The women’s movement agreed a series of demands at their conferences in the seventies:

Demands 1 – 4 Passed at the National WLM Conference, Skegness 1971

  1. Equal Pay
  2. Equal Educational and Job Opportunities
  3. Free Contraception and Abortion on Demand
  4. Free 24-hour Nurseries

5 and 6 Passed at the National WLM Conference, Edinburgh 1974

  1. Legal and Financial Independence for All Women
  2. The Right to a Self Defined Sexuality. An End to Discrimination Against Lesbians. In 1978 at the National WLM Conference, Birmingham, the first part of this demand was split off and put as a preface to all seven demands

Demand 7 Passed at the National WLM Conference, Birmingham 1978

  1. Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women.



 One young woman, a keen member of the Labour Party, attended a couple of meetings. She said she was quite interested in women’s lib and she’d only entered one beauty competition. The group was arranging to disrupt a beauty contest being held in Union Terrace Gardens, which it did beautifully, with fancy dress, saucepans and lids. The young woman from the Labour Party did not come back.


9 Comments to “Bust Up: Women’s Liberation in ’60s/’70s Aberdeen”

  1. dear lenathehyena

    hahahaha great name

    very interesting to see your contribution re aberdeen – wonder where all the london ‘spare ribs’ magazines went

    i lived in essex and went to two consciousness raising groups a week which allowed my mind to expand, rather than just reacting to men

    i helped to set up the london conference, after attending the manchester conference, when the majority of women decided that men should not be involved at all after a woman had beer thrown over her for refusing to dance with a man

    wow those were the days

    i wanted to find out what women were for (in the great scheme of things) rather than having men decide for me/us

    have ended up as a herbalist and native food eater, gardener, ecologist etc

    love anthropology – looking at humans as a species

    but sad that we know ourselves so little, as humans, and in our place in the world – not human world – the real one we live in that spins around the sun

    and sad that most women in positions of power are working to and within male values

    i am lucky as i live on a third of an acre in essex so commune with creatures that are not human most of the time

    have come to the conclusion that we have little time left on this planet (apart from me being seventy hahaha)

    but then nature creates and destroys and within all creation lies the seeds of destruction – including us

    have to say that wherever i went (and i did travel within britain whilst involved with the movement) i found the women ‘up north’, and in wales, had more clue about life than the women down here

    thank you for the reminders – good to know there are still women out there who remember

    and also i have many photos of women from those times which i feel sad that they will go when i go so if you know of anyone who wants them, i would be happy to give them away, although most are of women in the south altho there are some of marches that had many other women from around the country

    did try the womens library in the lse – but surprise, suprise – they don’t want them!!

    so thanks again for such a treat on this sunny morning

    much love to a kindred spirit

    • Hello Penny, good to hear from you.

      Thanks for your comments. I regret I didn’t photograph our women’s group meetings and events. Today it is so different with every aspect of our lives photographed to death. As for your photos I would be happy to put some up on the blog although I’ve been deleting some old ones because I’m restricted over the number I can upload to it.
      Have you thought of asking your local archivists – each LA should have them – certainly do in Scotland. Also local libraries? Museums? It certainly would be a shame to lose what are important historical records.

      Have you considered setting up a blog, even if it is only to preserve the photos? It’s easy to do and once it’s up it’s up.

      There are probably several bloggers interested in any material you have – and organisations although I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

      Paper paraphernalia tended to get lost, thrown out and generally went missing over the decades. We only have a very few items remaining but probably lots still moulder away in lofts and old suitcases.

      Keep safe. L.

      • dear lena

        amazing, thank you for your suggestions – you have opened my mind up to so many avenues but…… me computer illiterate – tis a magic box methinks
        wouldn’t know how to put them on computer and have no modern phone, so bit restricted but, will think hard about best way to get them out there into the universe of people
        your suggestions have made me feel so positive, seems the movement was never a sinking ship – but a submarine

        keep safe in these crazy times and thank you again for your encouragement

        much love

      • dear lena

        just looked at the rest of this blog and was heartened by the realisation that others understand that english and british are not interchangeable
        as an english person, a poor peasant thank god, no illusions, have been so annoyed that so many people treat me, as an english person, like an overseer, part of the british empire. a slaver, an empire builder
        come from poor london folk, blamed for everything, speak like an east londoner and we become a gangster and rascist etc. very hard to take as my family were good kind people with a consciousness of our background
        dad always told the tale of how kind scots people were when he went to scapper flow to undertake training as a submariner during last war
        cannot believe we have all lived with the bank of ‘england’
        the french normans descendents call themselves english and hide within our culture and the real english have no place
        we have been culturally subdued, especially londoners, where i was born and i hate it.
        always get on with conscious irish, scots and welsh people (alphabetical order) cos am not british

        when i was at uni some years ago we had to describe our ethnicity – did you know that only the irish, scots and welsh were allowed an ethnicity but not me, as an english person, i was grouped in with white british!!!
        i complained to the dean but she said that was all that was allowed by the government!!!
        so the real english culture, lived by english people has become a pariah – quite odd really
        had to share that with you, not sure the irish, scots or welsh know this about the english – we feel it hard down here

        thanks for reading this

  2. Amazing – as 1 of Aberdeen Women’s Lib Group original members was amazed to see copies of Bust Up still survived. Things have moved on a bit since those days but not enough sadly. Now an excile in the South so love the site L.

  3. We would like to use the content of Bust Up in a show called Gallous Quines as part of the Festival of Politics this year. do we need copywright permission or is it in the public domain?

  4. Omg this takes me back. Thanks for posting it. We have come a long way in some things and remarkably little in others. The fight goes on.

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