On this day in history….25th June 1912

On this day in history : 25th June 1912 – Prime Minister Herbert Asquith comes under attack in the Commons over the force-feeding of suffragettes….George Lansbury is suspended from Parliament for his outburst….

George Lansbury was Labour MP for Bow and Bromley; he was a peace activist, opposed to the Boer War and World War I…. He was also a staunch supporter of Women’s Suffrage….

The Right Honourable George Lansbury MP – Bassano Limited – Public domain

The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had engaged in an active campaign and many had been imprisoned for acts such as smashing windows and refusing to pay fines…. Soon Holloway was full and women were sent further afield, to prisons such as Aylesbury and Birmingham and overcrowding meant conditions were even poorer than usual…. Denied the status of political prisoners and so not receiving the certain privileges that such were entitled to, many of the women resorted to going on hunger-strike in protest…. The authorities responded with forcible feeding….

Force-feeding was a brutal procedure…. The woman was either tied to a chair, which was then tipped back, or she was tied down on to a bed…. A rubber tube was then forced up her nose or down her throat, into the stomach…. If administered via the mouth, a ‘gag’ was used, occasionally made of wood but more often steel…. The steel option was particularly painful as it was pushed into the mouth to force open the teeth and then a screw was turned to open the jaws wide…. Sometimes the rubber tube would be accidentally forced into the windpipe, causing food to enter the lungs, thus endangering life…. Which ever method was used, damage to the nose or throat was pretty much inevitable…. Some women had to endure being force-fed more than two hundred times….

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Force feeding – A suffragette on hunger strike being forcibly fed with a nasal tube. Source: The Suffragette by Sylvia Pankhurst circa 1911 https://common.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AForcefeeding.jpg

On the 25th of June 1912 George Lansbury well and truly lost his temper in the House of Commons…. Prime Minister Asquith, in replying to an appeal to release the suffragettes, had stated if the women gave the undertaking not to repeat their offences – meaning give up the cause – then they would be released…. Lansbury shouted “You know the women cannot give such an undertaking! It is ridiculous to ask them to give an undertaking!”….

Shouts of “Order! Order!” Rang out around the Commons…. But Lansbury continued with his tirade; white with fury he advanced to the front bench – shaking his fist in the face of Asquith and other ministers…. With his face just inches from that of the Prime Minister’s he screamed “Why, you’re beneath contempt. You call yourself a gentleman, and you forcibly feed and murder women in this fashion. You ought to be driven out of office”…. He carried on ranting despite MPs shouting their disapproval and the Speaker ordering him to leave…. Lansbury shouted at Asquith “You will go down to history as a man who tortured innocent women”….

Eventually the Speaker regained control, telling Lansbury if he didn’t leave of his own accord then he would be forcibly removed…. His fellow Labour colleagues persuaded him to leave….he was temporarily suspended from Parliament….

Lansbury got little support from other Labour MPs in his fight for Women’s Suffrage – he dismissed theses colleagues as “a weak, flabby lot”…. Later in the same year he resigned his post to fight a by-election in Bow and Bromley for Women’s Suffrage…. He lost to his Conservative opponent – who’s campaign slogan was ‘No Petticoat Government’….

In 1913 Lansbury addressed a WSPU rally at the Albert Hall ~ “Let them burn and destroy property and do anything they will, and for every leader that is taken away, let a dozen step forward in their place”….

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British suffragette with a poster, giving out newspapers Ch. Chusseau-Flaviens https://flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/2678367136/in/set-72157606224254056/

Charged and convicted with incitement Lansbury received a three month prison sentence….he immediately went on hunger-strike….

On this day in history….4th June 1913

On this day in history : 4th June 1913 – Militant suffragette Emily Wilding Davison runs out in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby…. She dies of her injuries a few days later….

Emily was born on the 11th of October 1872 at Blackheath, London…. She won a scholarship to the Royal Holloway College, where she studied literature….she then continued on to Oxford University – but would have been unable to obtain a degree as it was not permissible for women to do so at the time…. She went on to become a teacher….

Emily Davison in 1908 – Public domain

In 1906 Emily joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which had been founded by Emmeline Pankhurst…. Three years later Emily had given up her job and was working full-time for the Cause…. Her activities saw her imprisoned several times and by 1911 she was becoming more militant….

She had certainly proved that she was prepared to die for the Movement…. In 1912 she was jailed for ten months after setting fire to post boxes in London…. Whilst in prison she went on hunger-strike and in response to force-feeding threw herself from a balcony….

“I did it deliberately, and with all my power, because I felt that by nothing but the sacrifice of human life would the nation be brought to realise the horrible torture our women face. If I had succeeded I am sure that forcible feeding could not in all conscience have been resorted to again”….

Emily Davison – Public domain

Thousands of people had attended the Epsom Derby….King George V and Queen Mary were amongst them…. One of the King’s horses, ‘Anmer’, was running in the Derby and they were there to watch…. Ridden by Herbert Jones, jockey and horse were easy to spot – sporting the King’s colours of purple, scarlet and gold….

Epsom racecourse has two long straights with a sweeping curve at one end – rather like a horseshoe in shape…. The bend where the curve turns to the home-straight is called ‘Tottenham Corner’….and this is where Emily had positioned herself….

As the horses came around the corner with Anmer third from last, Emily – holding the purple, white and green flag of the Suffragette Movement – ducked under the guard rail and stepped into the path of the King’s horse and reached for the reins…. Anmer, who would have been travelling at around 35mph, crashed into her and fell…. Jones was thrown and knocked unconscious, the horse partially rolled on to him….but Anmer regained his feet and finished the race alone….

Image: Arthur Barrett – Public domain

Both Emily and Herbert Jones were rushed to Epsom Cottage Hospital…. Jones suffered broken ribs, bruising and concussion…. Emily was operated on but died of her injuries four days later….

Emily Wilding Davison under the King’s horse, 1913 – LSE Library via flickr – no known copyright restrictions

At the inquest the verdict was given:-

“That Miss Emily Wilding Davison died of a fracture of the base of the skull, caused by being accidentally knocked down by a horse through wilfully rushing on to the racecourse at Epsom Downs during the progress of the race for the Derby; death was due to misadventure”….

Emily Davison towards the end of her life – Public domain

It is not known if Emily had pre-planned her actions – she had not discussed her intention with anyone…. She had another two flags upon her person….and in her handbag was a return train ticket and an invitation to a suffragette function that evening…. Perhaps it was a spur of the moment decision – or it has been suggested that she intended to fix her flag to Anmer….

The return ticket found in Emily’s handbag – public domain

The King recorded in his diary that it was ‘a most regrettable and scandalous meeting’; Queen Mary in hers called Emily a ‘horrid woman’….

Jockey Herbert Jones never truly got over the incident – but was physically well enough to ride Anmer at Ascot racecourse two weeks later….

Public domain

On this day in history….13th July 1911

On this day in history : 13th July 1911 – Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison hides in a broom cupboard in the House of Commons so she can record it as her address on the night of the 1911 Census….

Emily Wilding Davison – Public domain

Emily had hidden herself in a cupboard in St. Mary Undercroft, the chapel of the Palace of Westminster…. She remained there throughout the night to avoid being registered in the Census at any other address…. She was discovered by a cleaner the following morning, who reported her – she was arrested but not charged…. Ironically she ended up being recorded on the 1911 Census twice! Once by the Clerk of Works at the House of Commons and again by her landlady at her lodgings….

Having given up her teaching job to work for the cause Emily was an extremely active suffragette…. She was arrested many times, for acts ranging from causing a public disturbance to setting light to post boxes…. She spent several short terms in prison – and was one of the many suffragettes who went on hunger strike…. She even once barricaded herself in her cell – and the guards flooded it with water, nearly filling the room…. Eventually the door had to be broken down…. In 1912, whilst serving a sentence in Holloway, she jumped from a prison balcony in protest of the abuse and force feeding of suffragettes….

Emily Wilding Davison circa 1912/13 – Public domain

Finally on the 4th of June 1913, Emily committed her final act of suffrage at the Epsom Derby…. She ran out onto the racecourse in an attempt to pin a suffrage flag onto the racehorse belonging to King George V – who was watching the race with Queen Mary…. Emily fell beneath the hooves of the horse….she died in hospital on the 8th of June….

Emily Wilding Davison towards the end of her life – Public domain

Is feminism obsolete…?

At risk of putting myself in the direct firing line – I am going to ask a question…. Has feminism in Western society become obsolete? I ask this purely as a lay person – I am certainly no expert on the subject – but it is something that has had me pondering recently….

Before even beginning to try to make sense of what is going on in the Western world of feminism at this present time….it would perhaps be useful to remind ourselves why the feminist movement was even necessary in the first place…. Would the Suffragettes and Suffragists – those brave women of the late 1800s and early 1900s – be raising an eyebrow at what feminism has become? Would they be horrified that women are still struggling to achieve equality in so many areas of life – or would they shake their heads in disbelief that we appear never to be satisfied…?

Waterloo Place. Leonard Bentley via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/31363949@N02/16348522018/

Perhaps the earliest feminist in Britain was the woman now referred to as ‘the grandmother of feminism’, Mary Wollstonecraft – with her book The vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792…. A publication that was actually very well received in its time – but it was another century before women really began to fight for the Cause. After centuries of oppression and the ownership of women….it was the dawning of a new era….

Wikimedia commons Mary Wollstonecraft – oil on canvas

Right up to the 20th Century there were three little words that sealed a woman’s fate – (or at least if she was married in the Church of England) – the moment she uttered ‘love, honour, obey’…. It is interesting to note the Catholic Church has never had ‘obey’ in its marriage service….

To ‘obey’ probably originated in Roman times, when daughters were the property of their fathers and then later the ownership passing to her husband – a practice to remain right up to the time of Women’s Suffrage…. For the lower Roman classes is was a case of ‘free marriages’ – the father giving his daughter to the groom…. Whereas, wealthy Romans would have had a contract, outlining property etc to be part of the dowry; this was the beginnings of legalised marriage….

The word ‘obey’ was introduced to the Church of England wedding service in 1549, when the first Book of Common Prayer was authorised by King Henry VIII. In biblical origins the wife should submit to the husband – just as the Church should submit to Christ…. Obey was taken literally within marriage – the wife and any children being the property of the man – his word was law…. Everything she owned belonged to her husband, everything she earned if she was working and any inheritance she was due….

Smithsonian Institution via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/smithsonian/2583389217/

If she were to disobey she could expect to be punished – a good beating was often meted out….and was perfectly legal and accepted within a marriage…. Only when a woman’s life was endangered could a case be brought before the Courts – even then the sentences were often lenient. As only the most brutal cases made it as far as Court, so recorded trials of the time were just the very tip of the iceberg….

Edward Doyle murdered his wife…. He broke her ribs, beat her, scolded her with boiling water, thrust a red-hot poker into her abdomen – and then left her to die for two days; he got 15 years for man slaughter. Bearing in mind this was at a time when the sentence for stealing a sheep was 10 years transportation….and if he had killed a man he would have gone to the gallows….

Much domestic violence was fuelled by alcohol; lower classes tended to be more openly violent towards each other. Neighbours would seldom intervene, as it was seen as an everyday part of marriage. The middle classes had their share too, although in the face of respectability it more often happened behind closed doors. If a man was violent towards his wife, he was likely to be towards his children too….

A judge in the 19th Century actually deemed it was perfectly permissible for a man to beat his wife providing the stick he used was no thicker than his thumb…. Hence the saying ‘rule of thumb’….

So, a man could beat his wife senseless on a regular basis – but she was not at liberty to divorce him…. Marriage, being the ‘glue of society’ was to be preserved at all costs…. A wealthy woman, who could prove her spouse’s abuse or infidelity may have been able to obtain a legal separation (at a hefty cost, approx £1,500 – equate that to modern-day terms)….but neither would have been permitted to remarry. However, one little dalliance on her part and her husband could divorce her immediately – keeping any money, property or possessions she brought with her to the marriage – and stopping her from ever seeing her children again…. In any divorce case the children automatically stayed with the father….

In 1853 the Aggravated Assaults Act was passed in Parliament – after Mr Fitzroy, the MP for Lewes, pushed against inadequate penalties handed out to perpetrators…. Sentences and fines were increased but still after 1853 newspapers were full of reports of wife-beating….

In 1857 the Divorce and Matrimonial Clauses Act was passed – giving women the option of divorce on the grounds of cruelty…. In 1870 the Married Women’s Property Act gave women the right to the possession of their own earnings…. In 1882 married women were given the same rights as unmarried women with regards to property – meaning any possessions, money, land or property she owned before marriage did not automatically pass to her husband…. A further Act in 1893 gave married women control over any property acquired during the marriage; for example, an inheritance….

It was a start but there was still a long way to go…. It was no wonder women often regarded marriage as slavery…. By the late 1800s the situation was becoming a lot less tolerated and at the tail end of the Victorian era the Women’s Suffrage Movement began….

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Members of the Women’s Social and Political Union campaigning for women’s suffrage in Kingsway circa 1911 Public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWSPU_in_Kingsway.jpg

Feminism is often divided into three ‘waves’…. The definition of feminism – ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes’ – is exactly what the Women’s Suffrage Movement was all about….equality. The Victorian idea of women, in the home bringing up the children – whilst the men got on with earning the money and running the Country….did not sit well with all…. Women were no longer content to remain silent and let the menfolk decide what was right for them, their lives and the rules and regulations they had to live by….they wanted their say….they wanted a part in the decision making….they wanted the Vote….

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British suffragette with a poster, giving out newspapers Ch. Chusseau-Flaviens https://flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/2678367136/in/set-72157606224254056/

Finally, in 1918 women over the age of 30 and who were property owners were granted the Vote…. In 1928 women got the Vote at the age of 21 – the same age as men…. Equality, at least on this score, had been won…. Incidentally, it was also in 1928 that, prompted by the Suffrage Movement, the Church of England began to offer an alternative option in the marriage ceremony…. No longer was the bride required to promise to obey – both she and the groom could vow to love and cherish one another….

The 1930s was an era of progression for women – but it was the arrival of World War 2 that brought real employment opportunities for women….with so many men away fighting, jobs had to be filled.

Women’s Land Army WW2 Melinda Young Stuart via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/melystu/36500701432/

However, once the war years were over women were expected to beat a hasty retreat back to the kitchen to make way for their returning menfolk. Having had a taste of freedom and independence, understandably many were not willing to become submissive and reliant once again….

We Can Do It! The U.S. National Archives via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/us national archives/3678696585/

So, in the 1950s a second wave of feminism ensued – the battle for equal rights in the form of the Women’s Liberation Movement (Women’s Lib for short). This wave lasted through to the 1980s; its focus being on equality in marriage, sex and sexuality and the workplace…. Equal pay and control over their own bodies….

It was during the 1960s and 70s that the Movement splintered into two groups; the equal rights feminism wanting equality with men on a political/social front and then the radical feminist – who wanted even bigger changes. Radical feminism tended to be advocated by younger women who wanted change to attitudes surrounding gender, race, sexuality and class…. The 1960s saw the sexual revolution – starting with the arrival of the contraceptive pill in 1961 – (in the beginning only available to married women)….

1964 saw a revision to the Married Women’s Property Act; allowing women to keep half of any savings made as a couple should the marriage break up….

Abingdon Street Leonard Bentley via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/313633949@N02/11149517464/

In 1967 the Abortion Act legalised abortion for a pregnancy of up to 24 weeks. Available only to married women, two doctors had to consent that the pregnancy would be harmful to the mother’s physical or mental health – or that of her unborn child’s….

Women continued to make progress in politics; Barbara Castle became the first female Secretary of State in 1968 – meanwhile women were striking for equal pay…. 850 women machinists working for Ford in Dagenham walked out – disputing that their work was defined as ‘unskilled’ – they demanded the same pay as their ‘skilled’ male colleagues…. (Bearing in mind it was still perfectly legal when advertising a job to state whether the position was open to specifically male or female – women were often required to do ‘unskilled’ work)….

More radical feminists were turning their attention to events objectifying women – such as the Miss World Beauty Contest, which was first held in 1951. Stating that they found it ‘insulting and undermining that women were judged solely on looks’ – activists threw flour bombs at the 1970 contest being held at the Royal Albert Hall, London….

1975 was the United Nations International Year of Women – to raise global awareness of Women’s Rights. Since that year International Women’s Day has been celebrated every year on March the 8th by countries all around the World….

Pyjama Party Parade Toban B via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tobanblack/3341804527/

1975 also saw the formation of the National Abortion Campaign – defending women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies….and the Sex Discrimination Act was passed in Parliament – protecting women (and men) from discrimination on the grounds of their sex and marital status in areas such as education, training and employment….

Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female Prime Minister in 1979 – to become known as the ‘Iron Lady’…. Eight years later Diane Abbott became the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons….

Although the Women’s Rights Cause was heading in the right direction alarmingly one very sensitive and emotive area was slow to change – the matter of domestic violence, particularly the definition of rape within marriage….

“But the husband cannot be guilty of Rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract” – A principle which was established in 1736 by Chief Justice Hale….

No challenge to this was made in Court until 1949…. A woman had obtained a Separation Order from the Magistrates – after which she was assaulted by her husband – it was decided he could be charged with rape as she had in fact revoked her consent…. However, in 1954 another woman had petitioned for divorce but shortly afterwards was attacked and raped by her estranged husband, causing her actual bodily harm…. The Court refused to charge her husband – saying that by petitioning for divorce she had not revoked her consent…. It took until 1991 for rape within marriage to become a crime….

The first women’s refuge opened in Chiswick, West London in 1971 – providing a safe place for women and children who had been abused by husbands….

In 1981 Princess Diana married Prince Charles, bucking the trend and breaking the Royal precedent by not agreeing to obey in their wedding vows; instead she promised to ‘love, comfort, honour and keep’….

The Wedding of Prince Charles & Princess Diana France 1978 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/51764518@N02/16648236045/

In 2006 a Church of England report said traditional vows with obey were being used by some men to justify domestic violence…. The report urged Church ministers to emphasise to couples about to marry that men and women were equal in the eyes of God…. Part of the worry being that victims of domestic violence could blame themselves, thinking they were deserving of the abuse….

It could be said the 1980s were the turning point with regards to the attitude surrounding sexism in the workplace. No longer were women willing to tolerate being held back from advancing in their careers, any more than they were going to continue putting up with the stereotypical office ‘perv’, with his lecherous remarks and bottom pinching…. It was the dawning of political correctness as we know it now; women were becoming empowered in the workplace, more and more senior positions were being filled by females…. By venturing deeper into what had predominantly been a male World, women started to ‘play’ harder too…. The ‘ladette’ culture started to emerge – rowdy hen parties to rival the most raucous stag-dos…. Ladies Nights – screaming, laughing and heckling at the evening’s entertainment – often comprising of groups of oiled, well-toned young men, such as the Chippendales…. The role being reversed – women objectifying men…. After thousands of years of male dominance – the girls were letting their hair down and having fun….

Meathead Movers on Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/meatheadmovers/6882982905/

Still the fight for women’s equality went on…. Challenging gender roles, highlighting freedom of choice over reproductive rights; birth control, abortion, and to choose when or even if to have a family…. Raising awareness of rape and violence towards women; seeking a way to stop oppression….stopping the sexual objectification of women….

When we look at our lives as we lead them today and compare them to those lives of women only 100 years ago – we realise what a long way we have come…. Of course, there are those who would argue it has taken too long and we still have a long way to go…. We are now in a third wave of feminism; one that is more radical….

Radical Women ctrouper via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cecooper/6201405107/

It seems every time the radio or TV is turned on, a newspaper opened or the internet logged on to, there is at least one story hitting the headlines…. Sexual harassment and bullying in Westminster – Harvey Weinstein – Oxfam…. Women groped at a men-only charity event at the Dorchester by senior figures from politics and business…. Formula 1 to drop grid girls as from this coming season, as the image no longer fits in with modern-day society….

F1 2012 Indian GP Grid Girls Yasunari Goto via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original Image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/got_got/8134262592/

A previous example of this: The Sun had topless Page 3 girls in its newspaper for 44 years – this stopped in 2015…. No more pictures of bare boobs at the breakfast table (yet women shunned for breast-feeding in public)….this must have been viewed as a victory by radical feminists…. On the other hand though – could it be said this was actually removing choice for women? What about those who choose to make a career from glamour modelling or other related work….is it the aim that this option be denied to them….?

Then there is the issue of the gender pay gap…. For nearly 50 years it has been law that men and women doing the same job should be paid the same…. The gender pay gap and equal pay are not the same thing…. The gender gap looks at the average hourly earnings between men and women. Figures released in April 2017 by the Office of National Statistics revealed across the UK men earned 18.4% more than women (this is down from 27.5% in 1997). Of those earning less than the living wage, 62% are women…. UK companies with 250 or more employees have to publish their gender pay gap by April 2018…this will effect about 9,000 companies, who will have to publish this information on a government website….

Of course, two people doing the same job, regardless of gender, should be paid the same hourly rate – there is no question about that….but there are other factors that should be taken into consideration…. There are fewer women in senior roles, most top jobs are still taken by men. Taking time out to have children often means women are slower to advance in their careers. Women are more likely to do part-time jobs, which are often lower paid…. These facts are going to have an impact on the average figures….

Image via Pixabay

Tesco is at the moment facing a £4bn equal pay claim; a legal challenge by women working in Tesco stores, earning less than their male colleagues working in the warehouses. Their argument being the value of their work is comparable…. Also currently under the spotlight on equal pay is the BBC. A news correspondent having a salary some £10,000pa below that of her male colleagues doing the same job…. A National radio presenter paid one-third that of her male co-host…. Another BBC local radio station co-host breakfast presenter, paid half the salary her male counterpart receives….and the award-winning National radio presenter being told ‘the BBC doesn’t do equal pay’….

There is no denying that there are still many examples of women being discriminated against….and it’s only right each case is individually addressed. There is also no doubt feminism is doing a great job in raising awareness of rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment…. However, is there a danger of modern feminism becoming negative? Could it not be said we already have equality? What exactly is it we want….complete role reversal….supremacy in a unisex World? Are we becoming the gender of ball-breakers…? That’s a lot of questions, I know – but ones that will hopefully make us consider if what we are actually fighting for is actually now an outdated cause….

It would be a very under-educated view that feminists hate men; a real feminist cares just as much about men’s rights. Equality should be for all, regardless of gender, sexual preference or race…. What we should be focusing on is not just women’s rights – but human rights….

Image via Pixabay

We owe so much to the Suffragettes and Suffragists – but their work is now done. Of course there are still sexist men out there – (sexist women too) – but they are a minority….most men abhor sexism and thoroughly support equality – they have proved that time and time again. It’s now time to move on; there is no getting away from the fact men and women are not the same….women bear the responsibility of childbirth – nothing is going to change that – it is what Nature intended…. For nearly every woman who decides to have a family this is going to have an impact on her career – what is important though, is this is not set in stone – at least in this day and age we have choices….

Image via Pixabay

There is no doubt that men are, on the whole, physically stronger; there will always be jobs that are more suited to them….women just need to accept that – if she can demonstrate an ability to do the job just as well, then there is nothing stopping her…. The same goes for men choosing to do what in the past would have been viewed as a more feminine profession….there are fewer and fewer boundaries….. It’s about equality and getting on with doing what each and every one of us are individually best at….and as a united front….

Image via Pixabay

Women are generally now no more oppressed than anybody else in Western every day modern society; opportunities are open to all…. One issue that does still keep rearing its ugly head is the sexual exploitation we are hearing so much about currently….it is dominating our news headlines…. Whilst it would be insensitive to generalise, as this is such a serious matter, it does have to be filtered…. Many historic accusations have been made – some appear to be quite insignificant and almost petty….the workplace 30 years ago was a very different place to now; a sleazy remark, a pat on the knee was quite normal behaviour back then….not right by today’s standards – but that’s how it was…. Of course more serious incidents did happen and those need to be dealt with – that said though, we have to let go of the past and move forward, looking after each other and fighting for equal rights for everyone…. We need to look to the future…. I personally am heartened, as I think this really is beginning to happen….

Image via Pixabay

A stitch in time….

“We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half” – Emmeline Pankhurst

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Emmeline (Goulden) Pankhurst circa 1913 Public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEmmeline_Pankhurst_1.png

June the 8th is fast approaching – the day the British public go to the polls…. Being a woman of middling years, this is something I have done on numerous occasions in the past…. I recall the very first time I exercised my right to vote; I was in my late teens, I stopped off at the village hall on my way to work, I felt so very grown-up. That time and every subsequent time since, that I have pencilled my ‘X’ into the appropriate box, I have had no doubt as to which Party I wished to vote for; it has always been perfectly clear in my mind – until now…. For the first time in my life, I am questioning – to the point I have even asked myself whether I should bother to vote at all….


A couple of years ago, John and I visited the Priest House at West Hoathly in West Sussex; a traditional Wealdon hall house, situated on the edge of Ashdown Forest, it is a museum filled with some of the most amazing artifacts from life gone by. One particular item really caught my eye – a framed handkerchief covered with signatures. On closer inspection it became evident that each signature had been painstakingly embroidered. The delicate piece of linen is known as ‘The Suffragette Handkerchief’ and bears 66 signatures and 2 sets of initials; I was fascinated and bought myself a pamphlet explaining its history and meaning…. Last week, whilst doing a spot of spring cleaning, I came across this pamphlet….it seemed poignant that I should unearth it at this particular point in time…. The signatures are those of a group of women that were being held in Holloway Prison in 1912 – when the Women’s Suffrage Movement was at its peak….

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The Suffragette Handkerchief Image courtesy of http://www.hoathlyhub.info/PriestHouse/

After the industrial revolution many women were in the position of being in full-time employment. Although actively contributing to the Country’s workforce they had no voice in the running of the Nation – no representation in Parliament and indeed, were not even allowed to vote. Organised campaigns for women’s suffrage started to materialise in 1866 and by 1888 women were permitted to vote in many council elections – but that was as far as it went…. In 1867, Liberal MP, John Stuart Mill proposed an amendment to give women the vote on the same terms as those of men…. It was rejected by 194 to 73 – and so the ‘Cause’ gained momentum….by the end of the 19th Century the focus of women’s equality became that of their right to vote….

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), known as the ‘Suffragists’ (not to be confused with suffragettes) was founded in 1897. It was a merger of two groups that had both split up in 1888; the National Central Society for Women’s Suffrage and the Central Committee, National Society for Women’s Suffrage. The aim of the NUWSS was to lobby and obtain the vote for women through democratic, legal and peaceful means…. Its members were middle class and working class women, working together, alongside each other….and it wasn’t only confined to women, many men also actively campaigned for the Cause…. By 1914 it had over 100,000 members and 500 branches countrywide….

In 1903 the Women’s Social Political Union (WSPU) was founded by six women in Manchester. Dissatisfied with the results being achieved by the NUWSS, this new group decided more militant tactics were needed. The women  only group, under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, fought for social reforms and became known as the ‘Suffragettes’….adopting the slogan “Deeds, not words”….

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Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested at King’s Gate in May 1914 Author unknown – public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEmmeline_Pankhurst_Arrested_1914.jpg

In November 1911, demonstrations in London saw the arrest of 223 women, after a spree of window breakages of government buildings in Whitehall and at shops in the Strand. March 1912 saw an even bigger demonstration, a second wave of window smashing in London, organised by the WSPU, meant a further 200 plus women were arrested. The leaders of the WSPU, including Emmeline Pankhurst, were sentenced to nine months in prison; other women received sentences averaging two months – many for refusing to pay fines levied in Court….

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Great suffragette demonstration in London – Mrs. Andrew Fisher, Mrs. McGowan and Miss Vida Goldstein from Australia 1911 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGreat_suffragette_demonstration_in_London

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Postcard of a suffragette procession of 1911. Printed by H Searjent of Ladbroke Grove, London 1911 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASuffragette_procession_1911.jpg

Soon, Holloway became full, so women were sent to other prisons in places such as Birmingham and Aylesbury. Overcrowding meant the conditions in the prisons were even poorer than usual. Denied the status of political prisoners and so not receiving the certain privileges that such were entitled to, many of the women resorted to going on hunger strike as a protest….

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Emmeline Pankhurst in prison dress circa 1911 public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEmmeline_Pankhurst_in_prison.jpg

The pamphlet I found whilst spring cleaning recites the story of how this particular group of women happened to be in Holloway at the time and the author had researched the women whose names appear on the handkerchief. They came from all over the Country and from all walks of life. After reading through the explanation and the information collected on each woman, it inspired me to find out a bit more about women’s suffrage closer to home….

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Anti Suffrage Postcard c.1910 TWL/2004/1011/55 LSE Library CC / no restrictions https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/22754363186/

Here in Surrey, the Movement appears to have become active in the 1870s. The first recorded meeting was held in Guildford during January 1871. Farnham had a branch of the NUWSS from 1908 and by 1909 the Godalming branch had been established. Godalming’s president was Mrs. Mary Watts, the widow of the artist G.F.Watts. Her secretary, Theodora Powell, went on to co-found the Guildford branch in 1910, (Cranleigh also got its own branch in this same year). Connected to the Godalming branch was a New Zealander by the name of Noeline Baker, who befriended famous garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll (who lived just outside of Godalming). Jekyll became a member of the NUWSS and designed banners for both the Godalming and Guildford branches….

The Church in Surrey provided sympathisers to the Cause. One clergyman in particular, involved in the League for Women’s Suffrage, was a Reverend Algernon Creed, vicar of Ewshot, near Farnham. This particular piece of information struck a chord with me; I spent my teenage years in Ewshot, living in a house opposite the church…. I got married in that church, my son was christened there and it is where we said ‘good-bye’ to my father after he passed away. A humble church in a small Surrey village, I had no idea such an advocate for women’s equality had once been such an important part of it….

By 1913 all areas of the Country had representation in organisations promoting the suffrage cause. Surrey saw its fair share of militant activism; one method was to sabotage male dominated organisations, golf courses and cricket grounds were popular choices. Sometimes more extreme measures were attempted, for example a bomb left at Haslemere Station (which failed to ignite)….

Many suffragettes had homes in the Surrey Hills, amongst them Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, who helped lead the WSPU. Their home, ‘The Mascot’, in South Holmwood, became the place where many women released from prison after being on hunger strike, went to recuperate….

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Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Jennie Baines, Flora Drummond and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence c.1906-1910 https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/22545429328/

Peaslake, a village in the Surrey Hills, was home to a surprisingly large number of activists, it was described in 1912 as being “rather a nest of suffragettes”….

Hilda Brackenbury and her daughters Georgina and Marie also opened their home, ‘Brackenside’, in Peaslake, to women recovering from hunger strike….including Emmeline Pankhurst herself. In fact, it was a Peaslake resident, Marion Wallace Dunlop – an artist, sculptor and illustrator – who initiated the very first hunger strike….

Marion Wallace Dunlop, a member of the WSPU, was imprisoned for printing an extract from the bill of rights on the walls of St. Stephen’s Hall at the House of Commons. On the 5th July, 1909, she went on hunger strike, refusing all food as a protest that her rights as a political prisoner were not recognised. She claimed her actions were “….a matter of principle, not only for my own sake but for the sake of others who may come after me….refusing all food until this matter is settled to my satisfaction….” After three days of fasting….she was released….

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Entry in Mabel Capper’s scrapbook by Marion Wallace Dunlop June 1909 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMarion_Wallace_Dunlop_WSPU_prisoners_scrapbook_entry.png

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Memories of Winson Green Gaol – Mabel Cappers WSPU prisoner’s scrapbook – Forcible feeding illustration 18 September 1909 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AForcible_feeding_illustration_from_WSPU_prisoners_scrapbook.png

Force feeding was a brutal procedure. The woman was either tied to a chair, which was then tipped back or she was held down on a bed. A rubber tube was then forced up the nose or down the throat, into the stomach. If administered via the mouth, a ‘gag’ was used, occasionally made of wood but more often steel. The steel option was particularly painful as it was pushed into the mouth to force open the teeth and then a screw was turned to open the jaws wide…. Sometimes the rubber tube would be accidentally forced into the windpipe, causing food to enter the lungs, thus endangering life…. Which ever method was used, damage to the nose or throat was pretty much inevitable….

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Force feeding – A suffragette on hunger strike being forcibly fed with a nasal tube. Source: The Suffragette by Sylvia Pankhurst circa 1911 https://common.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AForcefeeding.jpg

Some women had to endure being force-fed more than 200 times…. Two such women were Grace Roe and Kitty Marion….

Grace Roe joined the WSPU after hearing Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence speak in October 1908. Grace was arrested for the first time after a demonstration held at the House of Commons on June 29th, 1909. She was appointed organiser of the East Anglia WSPU in 1910 and then in 1912 Emmeline Pankhurst made her deputy of the WSPU in London, under Annie Kenney. After Kenney’s arrest and imprisonment for ‘incitement to riot’ in April 1913, Grace became leader of the WSPU in London….

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Emmeline Pankhurst talking to Grace Roe, c.1912 – France https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/22937693496/

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Christabel Pankhurst (left) and Annie Kenney circa 1911 Source: The Suffragette by Sylvia Pankhurst Public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChristabel_Pankhurst_and_Annie_Kenney.jpg

Katherina Schafer was born in Westphalia, Germany in 1871. Her mother died when she was just two years old, her father remarried but lost his second wife when Katherina was only six; both women died of TB. Katherina’s father was very strict and by all accounts had an uncontrollable temper…. In 1886 the young Katherina moved to England to join her sister, Dora. She learnt English, changed her name to Kitty Marion and became an actress, enjoying a successful although modest career. In 1908 she joined the WSPU, moved to Hartfield, East Sussex and became an active member of the Brighton branch….

In June 1908 Kitty was arrested at a demonstration at the House of Commons. In July 1909 she was arrested once again; this time she was imprisoned. She immediately went on hunger strike which resulted in her being force-fed. In retaliation and protest she barricaded herself in her cell and set light to her mattress….

In November 1911, she was once again sent to prison, with a sentence of 21 days to be served in Holloway, she went on hunger strike yet again…. It has been calculated that Kitty endured some 232 force feedings during the times she spent on hunger strike in prison….

This account by Kitty Marion, from 1913, has been edited by Christabel Pankhurst. The excerpt is taken from ‘The Suffragette’ – the official weekly newspaper of the WSPU….

….”I was lying on my bed, and I immediately turned to the wall, but they wheeled the bed out into the middle of the room, and tried to get me into position for feeding. I struggled violently, but they sat on my legs and I was fed with the nasal tube. I was so exhausted at the end of the feeding that a wardress was left with me for some time”….

The following account is that of E.Sylvia Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline). The excerpt is as published in McClure’s magazine, August 1913 pp 87-93…. Please be advised, it is quite graphic….

….”I struggled as hard as I could, but they were six and each one of them much bigger and stronger than I. They soon had me on the bed and firmly held down by the shoulders, the arms, the knees and the ankles.

Then the doctors came stealing in behind. Some one seized me by the head and thrust a sheet under my chin. I felt a man’s hands trying to force my mouth open. I set my teeth and tightened my lips over them with all my strength. My breath was coming so quickly that I felt as if I should suffocate. I felt his fingers trying to press my lips a part, -getting inside,- and I felt them and a steel gag running around my gums and feeling for gaps in my teeth.

I felt I should go mad; I felt like a poor wild thing caught in a steel trap. I was tugging at my head to get it free. There were two of them holding it. There were two of them wrenching at my mouth. My breath was coming faster and with a sort of low scream that was getting louder. I heard them talking : “Here is a gap”.

“No, here is a better one – this long gap here”.

Then I felt a steel instrument pressing against my gums, cutting into the flesh, forcing its way in. Then it gradually prised my jaws a part as they turned a screw. It felt like having my teeth drawn; but I resisted – I resisted. I held my poor bleeding gums down on the steel with all my strength. Soon they were trying to force the india-rubber tube down my throat.

I was struggling wildly, trying to tighten the muscles and to keep my throat closed up. They got the tube down, I suppose, though I was unconscious of anything but a mad revolt of struggling, for at last I heard them say, “That’s all”; and I vomited as the tube came up.

They left me on the bed exhausted, gasping for breath and sobbing convulsively. The same thing happened in the evening; but I was too tired to fight so long.

Day after day, morning and evening, came the same struggle. My mouth got more and more hurt; my gums, where they prised them open, were always bleeding, and other parts of my mouth got pinched and bruised.

Often I had a wild longing to scream, and after they had gone I used to cry terribly with uncontrollable noisy sobs; and sometimes I heard myself, as if it were some one else, saying things over and over again in a strange, high voice.

Sometimes – but not often; I was generally too much agitated by then – I felt the tube go right down into the stomach. It was a sickening sensation. Once, when the tube had seemed to hurt my chest as it was being withdrawn, there was a sense of oppression there all the evening after, and as I was going to bed I fainted twice. My shoulders and back ached very much during the night after the first day’s forcible feeding and often afterwards.

But infinately worse than any pain was the sense of degradation, the sense that the very fight that one made against the repeated outrage was shattering one’s nerves and breaking down one’s self control”….                  – E.Sylvia Pankhurst

The act of force feeding was highly controversial, causing a public outcry. In 1913 the government looked to other ways of dealing with the hunger strike issue and introduced the Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act, which became known as the Cat and Mouse Act. This in itself could be regarded almost as cruel as the force feeding itself…. It allowed the release of a hunger striker in order for her to recuperate and regain her health…. Once recovered, she would then be re-arrested and made to complete her sentence….

Between 1900 and the start of World War 1 approximately 1,000 people were imprisoned for crimes relating to suffrage. Most were sent to prison for refusing to pay fines imposed by the Courts as punishment….

The subject of women’s suffrage was debated in the House of Commons 18 times between 1870 and 1904. Many suffrage societies suspended their activities at the beginning of WW1. Two million women took up and worked in roles traditionally fulfilled by men; this was to become a key factor in women finally obtaining the vote….

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Members of the Women’s Social and Political Union campaigning for women’s suffrage in Kingsway circa 1911 Public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWSPU_in_Kingsway.jpg

In February 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed awarding the vote to women aged 30 or over, if they were a householder or the wife of one. This excluded the majority of working class women and fell well short of the original aims of the suffrage campaign….

In November 1918 the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act was passed, allowing women to stand for Parliament. The first ever elected female MP was Constance Markievicz for Sinn Fein but she did not ever take her seat. In 1919, Lady Nancy Astor became the first female MP to sit in the House of Commons….

On the 14th December, 1918, 8.5 million women were eligible to vote in a general election for the first time. It wasn’t until 1928 with the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act that women were given the same equal voting rights as men: the general election of May 1929 saw 15 million women with the right to vote….

So, with all that in mind, I for one have been reminded why I have always felt it my duty as a woman to vote; in recognition of our sisters who fought so hard to secure it for us. Far be it for me to preach to anyone but I hope it’s given you food for thought, girls….as it has for me…. This Country may be facing difficult times and some of us may be having problems deciding which way to vote or whether to even bother….but don’t you think we owe it to these women to do so….? I’m glad I came across that pamphlet….

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British suffragette with a poster, giving out newspapers Ch. Chusseau-Flaviens https://flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/2678367136/in/set-72157606224254056/