We’re excited to announce that we have now completed cataloguing the last few accruals to the Ruth First Archive, the majority of which was catalogued in 2000 with the generous support of the Ruth First Memorial Trust. Ruth First was a leading anti-Apartheid activist and left-wing activist, whose political activities and outspoken journalistic critique of the South African regime led to a series of state persecutions, including a period of detention in 1963. On her release she went, with her three young daughters by husband and fellow activist Joe Slovo, into exile in the United Kingdom, where Slovo joined them. She continued to write, debate and teach, holding academic posts at universities in Manchester, Durham, Dar es Salaam and Maputo. Ruth First was killed on 17 August 1982, when she opened a parcel bomb addressed to her at the University Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo.


The archive collection at Senate House Library includes her political writings, correspondence between First and key figures in the anti-Apartheid movement, and letters to and from her parents, children and husband. Among the newly catalogued material are letters from Tilly First to Joe Slovo, personal and official letters of condolence to First’s family following her assassination, and a letter written by First to her young daughters during her detention. With its unusually extensive documentation of both First’s public and private life, the collection thus offers a unique insight into the life and work of this extraordinary woman. It also provides a rich resource for investigating the interplay of class, culture and gender in the struggle for equality, in South Africa and in a wider context.


The catalogue can be consulted online . For information on how to access archive collections, please visit the relevant page of our website.

(Thanks to archivists Ruth Frendo and Richard Temple for this guest post).