1971, England. Marriage is the highpoint of a woman’s life and a man’s home is his
castle. But for some the front door doesn’t keep danger out. It keeps it in.
Half a century ago a battering on the street was a criminal offence. A battering behind
closed doors – ‘just a domestic’. With no place of safety, no legal or financial
independence and still substantially invisible in law, women lived in the shadow of their
husbands. Had no choice but to stay.
Failed by police, hospitals, doctors, social security, probation, marriage guidance…
It started as a place where women and their children could meet. A 2 bed derelict
house in West London. They would stop in for a chat, share a problem. A warm
welcoming place to take the kids. Then she walked in – ‘no-one will help me’ she said,
showed her bruises. You alone looked beyond the bruises. Placed notices in
newspapers – 'Victim of domestic violence? Need help?’ and a phone number. Made
what had been, till then, a private trouble into a public issue. Within weeks there were
forty mothers packed into those 4 small rooms. Women’s Aid was born.
You did that. Erin Pizzey. With no money and no official support. The first women’s
refuge in Britain. At that house in Chiswick, hundreds of women received help to
escape abusive partners and rebuild their lives. It was a community centre where
women could get help with claiming welfare benefits, starting divorce proceedings,
dealing with alcohol and drug abuse.
Pizzey’s work in Chiswick led to the creation of Refuge, which is now the largest
charity of its kind in England. It has an annual income of £13.3 million and employs
more than 200 people.
Today, the charity website has a page called “ Our Story ,” which states that it “opened
the world’s first safe house for women and children escaping domestic violence in
Chiswick, West London, in 1971.” Erin Pizzey’s name does not appear.
It has been said that she single-handedly did as much for the cause of women as any
other woman alive.
Erin Pizzey should be honoured as a women’s icon, yet she has been
airbrushed out of the picture. Tidied away. But that’s a story for another day.