All of this original, and often still radical, thinking was done despite its originators living in a world with the most ridiculous (to our eyes) restrictions. Rowbotham explains that women in the 1880s and 1890s were attending in Oxford and Cambridge University Extension lectures, and even being allowed to fully enrol in the newer provincial universities. But at Owens College Manchester, the female students were barred from the library: they had to send their maids to collect books. And the anarchists Rose Witcop and Guy Aldred were charged and convicted with distributing obscene literature for Family Limitation, a straight practical text on birth control, with their lawyer explaining that this was probably because a diagram that showed a pessary being placed in a vagina. The obscenity was that the finger might not be the woman's own, a thought that came as a total surprise to the female publisher.
Dreamers of the New Day could be criticised, perhaps, for not taking us forward, for simply reporting the past, but Rowbotham is, after all, primarily a historian, and this book is wonderfully original and delightful to read — and it recovers for new readers wonderful women of the past who deserve to be remembered.