- ISBN 978 0 7206 1360 5
By the early 1970s the women’s movement was sweeping the Western world. Erin Pizzey was one of millions hoping for change but found herself disagreeing with its more radical aims. Committed to the idea of women offering mutual support, she opened a community centre in a house in Chiswick, London. Soon the house filled up with battered women and children. The offspring of violent parents herself, she understood their plight. Domestic abuse was regarded as something for families to settle behind closed doors, and a woman who left a man was deemed to have made herself homeless, with her children sent into care.
Erin established the first refuge in the world for battered women and children in 1971. She had a bitter fight on her hands, not only with the women’s movement – outraged by her findings that women were as capable of violence as men –but by priests who called her a marriage-wrecker as well as councils, social services and law courts which tried to get the overcrowded shelter closed down. Before long, though, people began to realize the value of her work. By the mid-1970s David Astor and his friend Lord Goodman had offered their services as fund-raisers; other celebrities and politicians offering help included members of The Who and The Police, Spike Milligan and Joanna Lumley and the Labour MP Jack Straw. In addition Chiswick Women’s Aid gained increasing public and international support.
Erin found herself juggling an increasingly chaotic personal life as she became a single mother looking after a daughter and son, an extended family of teenagers and several grandchildren. She wrote books and articles to support herself while struggling with overwork. Meanwhile thousands of abused women and children streamed through the doors of the overcrowded and shabby Chiswick refuge – by then supplemented by derelict and squatted houses elsewhere. To keep the doors open she and the mothers spoke publicly, chained themselves to railings and picketed outside 10 Downing Street.
She visited dozens of countries to help open shelters abroad but was frequently boycotted by feminists maintaining that women were innocent victims of men’s violence. Some wanted boys over twelve excluded from shelters altogether, a policy Erin opposed. Indeed she employed many committed male volunteers to work with traumatized children. After ten years of successfully resisting attempts to close the shelter or have her imprisoned her for overcrowding and contempt of court, she decided it was time to move on.
This book is the author’s moving and frequently entertaining account of her dysfunctional childhood, her battles with the ‘sisterhood’ and her struggle to get shelters established around the world. The book includes new material on her life and her work told with candour, insight and humour. These include her attempt to kill her violent father; her battles with him to get her mother buried days after her death; her ban from the Women’s Liberation headquarters; her criticisms of the women’s movement – in particular their hostility to men; her coining of the slogan ‘Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher’; her involvement with the squatters’ and claimants’ movements; as well her flights from legal prosecution by going on the run in France and Greece. Moreover, the development of Astor’s dangerous obsession with her, together with Goodman’s increasing hostility, her run-ins with officialdom, marriage difficulties and her battles with her health are all recounted frankly and comprehensively for the first time.
The autobiography is an essential read for all those with an interest in the struggle to end domestic violence and the history of the feminist movement of the past forty years.
‘A fascinating and even essential read’ – Mslexia
‘Revealing, frank and frequently very funny, Pizzey’s memoirs provides a marvellous insight into the world of 1970s radicalism’ – London Review of Books