I know I covered the suffragettes on International Women’s Day, but there’s so much to say about them that, I felt they deserved another post.
Women in New Zealand were the first to get the vote in 1893, followed by women in the states of South Australia and Western Australia, who gained suffrage in 1895 and 1899 respectively. Australia became a Commonwealth nation in 1901, and women were given the right to vote in 1902.
Although Indigenous women were granted the right of suffrage in South Australia in 1895, Indigenous people as a group were not granted suffrage in federal elections until 1962. And in countries, such as Switzerland, women didn’t receive the right to vote until 1971.
Across the Altantic, our American sisters gained the right to vote in 1920, and here is the song Bad Romance: Women’s Suffrage that tells their story!
I first learned about the British suffragettes when I was about 13 or 14, and watched the BBC six-part drama called Shoulder to Shoulder. It followed the story of the very forward-thinking Pankhurst family.
Photo courtesy http://womanandhersphere.com
Lawyer, Richard Pankhurst was a supporter of women’s rights, and the author of Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882. But when he died unexpectedly of a stomach ulcer in 1898, the cause was taken up his wife, Emmeline and her three daughters, Sylvia, Christobel, and Adela.
In October 1903, Emmeline helped found the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – an organisation that gained much notoriety for its activities and whose members were the first to be christened ‘suffragettes’. The WSPU activists were sentenced to repeated prison sentences in the infamous Holloway Prison where they protested the conditions and staged hunger strikes.
I can still recall the dramatic scenes of these women being force-fed through tubes. When the oldest daughter, Christabel, assumed leadership of the WSPU, antagonism between the group and the government grew when they adopted such tactics as window smashing and arson.
In 1913, WSPU member, Emily Davison, was killed when she threw herself under the King’s horse at the Derby as a protest at the government’s continued failure to grant women the right to vote.
The younger sisters were more moderate and opposed these actions, and left the WSPU. Adela emigrated to Australia (where she continued her work as a suffragette), and Sylvia became a socialist.
In 1913, in response to the wave of hunger strikes, the government passed what became known as the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act. Hunger striking prisoners were released until they grew strong again, and then re-arrested.
This period of militancy was ended abruptly on the outbreak of war in 1914, when Emmeline turned her energies to supporting the war effort. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave voting rights to women over 30. Emmeline died on 14 June 1928, shortly after women were granted equal voting rights with men (at 21).
And for those of you who like Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox (who doesn’t) here’s the story again with the backdrop of the song Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves.
I am sure there will be a lot more interest generated in this, and other stories of the suffragettes, when Suffragette staring Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst is released later this year. It features all the big names, including Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Romola Garai.
Suffragette has the distinction of being the first commercial film to be filmed inside the Houses of British Parliament. The official season opens on 26 December 2016 (Boxing Day) but here is a preview:
And, in keeping up with new genres, Mary Talbot has published a graphic novel called: Sally Heathcote: Suffragette.
Photo courtesy http://www.mary-talbot.co.uk
Author, Mary Talbot saw this an opportunity to address the misconception of the first-wave movement as primarily middle class. Discussing her novel’s central heroine, servant girl Sally Heathcote, Mary Talbot said:
I thought it would be useful to have someone lowly in the story. I wanted to emphasise that the campaign wasn’t just a middle and upper-class phenomenon. It involved housemaids and seamstresses, too, and they wanted more than the vote. They wanted better education, pay and working conditions as well.
And we can all relate to that!
Suffragette memorabilia is already a bit of a collector’s item, and I predict it will become even more so after the release of the 2015 Suffragette film starring, Meryl Streep.
It will be a case of “buyer beware” when purchasing such items, here’s bit of a checklist to help if you thinking of investing is a piece of history:
- Does the piece feature white or near-white along with some shade(s) of green and some shade(s) of purple — and, if the colors come from stones or beads, do they appear original? No additional colors should be present, except for metal (if used).
- Does the style indicate a dating between 1840 and 1930?
- If the item is of marked silver, is it stamped Sterling (rather than the later 925) or with another known purity mark of early date?
- Is the design something other than a naturalistic portrayal of such flowers as violets and lilacs?
- Do you observe age-appropriate surface wear? (There are exceptions to this, since some Suffragette jewels were little worn).