Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp
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Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp

Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp
Greenham Common women's protest 1982, gathering around the base - - 759136.jpg
Women gathering outside of the fence at Greenham Common in December 1982 in order to hold a demonstration against the cruise missiles.
DateSeptember 1981-2000
Caused byStorage of cruise missiles inside of RAF Greenham Common
GoalsRemoval of cruise missiles

End of use of nuclear weapons

World peace
StatusEnded (2000)

Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp was a series of protest camps established to protest nuclear weapons being placed at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, England. The camp began in September 1981 after a Welsh group, Women for Life on Earth, arrived at Greenham to protest against the decision of the British government to allow cruise missiles to be stored there.[1] After realising that the march alone was not going to get them the attention that they needed to have the missiles removed, women began to stay at Greenham to continue their protest.[2] The first blockade of the base occurred in March 1982 with 250 women protesting, during which 34 arrests were made.[3] The camp was active for 19 years and disbanded in 2000.[4]


The first act of resistance by the Greenham Common Peace Camps came about when, in September 1981, 36 women chained themselves to the base fence in protest against nuclear weapons.[3] On 29 September 1982, the women were evicted by Newbury District Council but set up a new camp nearby within days.[5] In December 1982, 30,000 women responded to a chain letter sent out[clarification needed] and joined hands around the base at the Embrace the Base event.[3]

Greenham Common peace sign.

The camps became well-known when on 1 April 1983, about 70,000 protesters formed a 14-mile (23 km) human chain from Greenham to Aldermaston and the ordnance factory at Burghfield.[6][7] The media attention surrounding the camp inspired people across Europe to create other peace camps.[1] Another encircling of the base occurred in December 1983, with 50,000 women attending. Sections of the fence were cut and there were hundreds of arrests.[3][8]

On 4 April 1984, the women were again evicted from the Common; again, by nightfall many had returned to reform the camp.[9] In January 1987, although Parliament had been told that there were no longer any women at Greenham, small groups of women cut down parts of the perimeter fence at Greenham Common every night for a week.[10]

The protestors consisted of nine smaller camps at various gates around the base. Camps were named after the colours of the rainbow, as a way of contrasting against the green shades of the base.[11] The first camp was called Yellow Gate, and others included Blue Gate with its New Age focus; Violet Gate with a religious focus; and Green Gate, which was women-only and did not accept male visitors.[3]

Memorial to Helen Thomas at Greenham.

The last missiles left the base in 1991 as a result of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but the camp remained in place until 2000, after protesters won the right to house a memorial on the site.[12] Although the missiles had been removed from the base, the camp was continued as part of the protest against the forthcoming UK Trident programme. Sarah Hipperson, who had been a part of the protest for all nineteen of its years, was among the last four women to leave the camp.[13]

The old camp was inaugurated as a Commemorative and Historic Site on 5 October 2002. There are seven standing stones encircling the 'Flame' sculpture representing a camp fire. Next to this there is a stone and steel spiral sculpture, engraved with the words "You can't kill the Spirit."[14] There is also a plaque there for activist Helen Wyn Thomas who was killed near the site.[15] The site has since been given to the Greenham Common Trust to care for.[14]

Dissent against the Peace Camp

It was well-known among the Greenham women that their actions and presence were not entirely welcome. Anne Seller, one of the Greenham women, remarked in article that the local pubs around Greenham refused to serve the women. She said that dissenters would often meet there to think of ways to disturb the protest. Seller noted that "vigilante groups" would form to attack the women at the base. These actions made many of the Greenham women afraid to venture into the town.[16]

The local police were also not entirely friendly toward the Greenham women. Officers would often release Greenham women from arrest in the middle of the night. If the women were driven back to the base, they would often be dropped off far from any established camp, and be forced to walk long distances to get back to the protest.[16]

The Ministry of Defence called for an increased police presence at the base. They justified this on the grounds that terrorists might be trying to infiltrate the base, pretending to be Greenham protesters. To the Greenham women, this was seen as another attempt to infringe on their protest.[16]

Protest strategies

The women at Greenham used actions, posters, and songs to protest against the nuclear missiles and gain attention.

The first protest action undertaken at Greenham involved women chaining themselves to the fence of the base in September 1981. The most well-known protest actions that the Greenham women undertook were the Embrace the Base event and their human chain protests. At Embrace the Base, 30,000 women held hands around the perimeter fence. In April 1983, the Greenham women and their supporters created a 14-mile human chain. In December of that year, another human chain was created, circling around the fence, while some parts of the fence were cut.[3][8] In at least once instance, the women dressed as witches and attempted to cut down the base's fence.[17]

The Greenham women would often 'keen'. They would dress in black, and say that they were mourning for children who would be lost to nuclear war in the future.[18]

Posters were used by the women at Greenham, and often featured the symbol of a spider web, meant to symbolise the fragility and perseverance of the Greenham women.[19]

Singing was another protest strategy used by the Greenham women. Popular songs were sometimes used with their lyrics rewritten to support the anti-nuclear cause. Some of the songs were original, written by the women of the camps.[20] In 1988, "Greenham Women Are Everywhere", the official songbook of the camp, was published.[21]

Importance of gender

On 12 December 1982, 30,000 women held hands around the 6 miles (9.7 km) perimeter of the base, in protest against the decision to site American cruise missiles there

In February 1982 it was decided that the protest should involve women only.[22] This was important as the women were using their identity as mothers to legitimise the protest against nuclear weapons, all in the name of the safety of their children and future generations.[23]

The spider web became one of the most-used symbols at the camp, because it is both fragile and resilient, as the Greenham women envisioned themselves.[19] The Greenham women were notorious for dressing themselves up as witches,[17] in order to contrast the symbol of the evil witch with the actions of ordinary women at the base.

There were several instances when women entered the camp, thus entering "male" space. On New Year's Eve 1982, the women broke into the base for the first time; 44 women climbed over the military base's fence and climbed on top of the silos and danced around on them for hours. All the women were arrested, and 36 were imprisoned.[22] On 1 April 1983, 200 women entered the base dressed as teddy bears.[22] A "child" symbol like the teddy bear was a stark contrast to the highly militarised atmosphere of the base; the women again were highlighting the safety of their children and future generations of children.[23]

The next major event was 'Reflect the Base' on 11 December 1983, when 50,000 women circled the base to protest against the cruise missiles which had arrived three weeks earlier.[22] The day started as a silent vigil where women held up mirrors as to allow the base to symbolically look back at itself and its actions; however, the day ended with hundreds of arrests as the women pulled down large sections of the fence.[22]

Upon breaching the barriers and entering the base, the women were making the statement that they would not stay at home and do nothing, as women are traditionally expected to do while the men take care of the serious "male" issues.[23] Their refusal to go home at the end of each day was a challenge against the traditional notion that a woman's place was in the home. Many media outlets even questioned the behaviour of the Greenham women: if their children were so important to them, they asked, then why were they not home with them?[23] The media tended to ignore the Greenham women's collective identity of "women as mothers" protecting the children and largely focused on the illegitimacy of the camp, describing it as a witches' coven laden with criminal activity, with the women posing a threat to family values and the state.[23] One such part of the protest that the media ignored took place on 12 December 1982, where women hung pictures of their children on the fence. The idea surrounding this particular event was to hang representations of things the women loved on the fence; to many, this meant hanging pictures of their children.[24]

Related movements: Window Peace

The Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp inspired related peace movements in the U.K. as well as abroad. One such movement was Window Peace, a year-long live-in performance art installation in New York City.[25] As a tribute to the protestors of the original movement, who at the time had been living outside of the Greenham RAF camp, as well as to the Seneca Women's Peace Encampment,[26] women artists and activists created a rotating series of art installations in the store SohoZat[27] at 307 West Broadway in Manhattan.

The Window Peace installation, created in 1986 by artist Susan Kleckner, took place in the Soho Zat storefront, located in lower Manhattan.[28] As had been the practice of the Greenham Common movement, only women artists could participate; however, men were allowed to participate if they had been invited by a woman. Each week for an entire year, beginning 12 December 1986 until 11 November 1987, 51 women artists[26] occupied the storefront window with their art. Among the artists were Susan Kleckner (also the originator), Ann Snitow, Dianna Moonmade, Sharon Jaddis, Tequila Minsky, Anne Meiman, Carol Jacobsen, Joyce George, Jane Winter, Marsha Grant, The Women of the Greenham and Seneca Movements, Catherine Allport, Eileen Jones, Susann Ingle, Sharon Smith, Linda Montano, Dominque Mazur, Cenen, Pamela Schumaker, Judy Trupin, Connie Samaras, E.A. Racette, Peggey Lowenberg and Maggie Ens, Kathy Constantinides, Elaine Pratt, Coco Gordon, Sally Jacque, Kay Roberts, Anna Rubin, Renee Rockoff, Harriet Glazier, Karen Marshall, Paula Allen, and others.[29]

See also



  1. ^ a b Cortright 2008.
  2. ^ Liddington 1989, p. 230.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Records of Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp (Yellow Gate)". National Archives.
  4. ^ Hipperson, Sarah. "Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp". Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp.
  5. ^ Red Rag 1982.
  6. ^ "1983: Human chain links nuclear sites". British Broadcasting Corporation. 1 April 1983. Retrieved 2010.
  7. ^ Brown, Perera & Wainwright 1983.
  8. ^ a b Kissed 1984.
  9. ^ "1984: Greenham Common women evicted". British Broadcasting Corporation. 4 April 1984. Retrieved 2010.
  10. ^ Red Rag 1987.
  11. ^ Fairhall 2006, p. 44.
  12. ^ The Guardian 2000.
  13. ^ Mair, Eddie (3 November 2011). PM (Radio broadcast).
  14. ^ a b BBC News 2014.
  15. ^ Hipperson, Sarah. "Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp Commemorative & Historic Site". Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp.
  16. ^ a b c Seller 1985, p. 29.
  17. ^ a b Fairhall 2006, p. 58.
  18. ^ Burton (1984). Harford, Barbara; Hopkins, Sarah (eds.). Greenham Common: Women at the Wire. London: Women's Press. pp. 15. ISBN 978-0704339262. OCLC 12669725.
  19. ^ a b Fairhall 2006, pp. 40-41.
  20. ^ Fairhall 2006, p. 24.
  21. ^ "Greenham Women Are Everywhere - Songs" (PDF).
  22. ^ a b c d e "Your Greenham Chronology". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013.
  23. ^ a b c d e Shepherd 2010.
  24. ^ Seller 1985, p. 31.
  25. ^ ""Window Peace" December 12, 9186-November 11, 1987 at Soho Zat, 307 Broadway, NY". The New Common Good. 1987. Folder: "Pacifism/Peace Movement/"Window Peace" Installation ca. 1987. Archived from the original on 6 October 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  26. ^ a b Kleckner 1987.
  27. ^ Darryl Mendelson
  28. ^ Patterson 2012.
  29. ^ Constantinides, Kathy (1987). "Letter about Window Peace". Brooklyn, NY. Folder: "Pacifism/Peace Movement/"Window Peace" Installation ca. 1987. Archived from the original on 6 October 2016. Retrieved 2016.


Further reading

Primary sources

Several sets of papers related to Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, including;

  • Greenham Common Collection ref 5GCC
  • Records of Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp (Yellow Gate) ref 5GCW
  • Jayne and Juliet Nelson (Yellow Gate) ref 7JAN

Secondary sources/anthologies

  • Cook, Alice; Kirk, Gwyn, eds. (1983). Greenham Women Everywhere: Dreams, Ideas, and Actions from the Women's Peace Movement. Pluto Press.
  • Fairhall, David (2006). Common Ground: The Story of Greenham. I.B. Tauris.
  • Harford, Barbara; Hopkins, Sarah, eds. (1984). Greenham Common: Women at the Wire. The Women's Press.
  • Laware, Margaret L. (2004). "Circling the Missiles and Staining Them Red: Feminist Rhetorical Invention and Strategies of Resistance at the Women's Peace Camp at Greenham Common". NWSA Journal. 16 (3): 18-41. doi:10.2979/NWS.2004.16.3.18. JSTOR 4317078.
  • Liddington, Jill (1989). The Long Road to Greenham: Feminism and Anti-Militarism in Britain Since 1820. Virago Press.
  • Lowry, Maggie (1983). "A Voice from the Peace Camps: Greenham Common and Upper Heyford". In Thompson, Dorothy (ed.). Over Our Dead Bodies: Women Against the Bomb. Virago Press. pp. 73-77.
  • Roseneil, Sasha (1995). Disarming Patriarchy: Feminism and Political Action at Greenham. Open University Press.
  • Seller, Anne (1985). "Greenham: A Concrete Reality". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 8 (2): 26-31. doi:10.2307/3346050. JSTOR 3346050.


External links

Coordinates: 51°22?18.07?N 1°16?40.79?W / 51.3716861°N 1.2779972°W / 51.3716861; -1.2779972

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