Rowbotham was born in Leeds, the daughter of a salesman for an engineering company and an office clerkFrom an early age, she was deeply interested in history. Rowbotham was to write that traditional political history “left her cold”, but she credited Olga Wilkinson, one of her teachers with encouraging her interest in social history by showing that history “belonged to the present, not to the history textbooks”.
Rowbotham attendedSt Hilda’s CollegeatOxfordand then theUniversity of London. She began her working life as a teacher incomprehensive schoolsand institutes of higher orAdult education. While attending St. Hilda’s College, Rowbotham found her syllabus with its heavy focus on political history to be of no interest to her.Through her involvement in theCampaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and various socialist circles including theLabour Party’s youth wing, the Young Socialists, Rowbotham was introduced toKarl Marx's ideas.Already on the left, Rowbotham was converted toMarxism.Soon disenchanted with the direction of party politics she immersed herself in a variety of left-wing campaigns, including writing for theradicalpolitical newspaperBlack Dwarf. In the 1960s, Rowbotham was one of the founders and leaders of the History Workshop movement associated with Ruskin College.
Towards the end of the 1960s she had become involved in the growing Women’s Liberation Movement (also known asSecond-wave feminism) and, in 1969, published her influential pamphlet "Women’s Liberation and the New Politics" which argued thatSocialisttheory needed to consider the oppression of women in cultural as well as economic terms. She was heavily involved in the conferenceBeyond the Fragments(eventually a book), which attempted to draw togetherdemocratic socialistandsocialist feministcurrents in the UK. Between 1983 and 1986, Rowbotham served as the editor ofJobs For Change, the newspaper of theGreater London Council.