I was a bit scared that this book was going to be intensely academic, which is why I’ve put off reading it for a while. But lo, I was wrong! It was instead intensely readable.
In fourteen fairly short articles, this survey covers a wide range of generally lesser-known topics of the movement for women’s suffrage in Britain. It covers things like the drama, poetry and fiction that came out in support of the suffrage movement; some of the lesser known societies, especially during WW1; the actions outside of London, and those undertaken by working-class women; and the continuing work after 1918 to get the franchise on the same terms as men had it (women over 30 who were householders could vote after 1918; men over 21 could vote). The only chapter that covered things I already basically knew was one on Christabel Pankhurst, who along with her mother Emmeline is probably the most well-known of all suffrage activists.
I learnt an enormous amount about the activities undertaken as well as people’s attitudes. I had always assumed there was a basic oppositional dichotomy between the suffragists (constitutional activists) and the suffragettes (militant activists); not so. Friendships networks were at least if not more important for many women than their ‘official’ societal associations. I also really appreciated reading about some of the literary men who contributed towards the movement; it’s salutary to be reminded that the women weren’t fighting against the entirety of the male population, and that those who opposed women’s suffrage were, eventually, quite a minority.
The depressing part of the story overall is that so many of the issues raised against women voting, and having any position in public life, are frighteningly recognisable in contemporary discourse. A hundred years ago. Seriously.
[…] reviewed biographies of Emmeline and Sylvia, as well as other books about suffrage […]
[…] biographies of Emmeline and of her daughter Sylvia, such different women; I’ve enjoyed other books on the movement too. I’ve wished that the 1970s tv show Shoulder to Shoulder existed on […]