Another in my series documenting the places that would once have been so familiar to both suffragettes and suffragists in the area surrounding the new home of the Women’s Library @ LSE. The main sites once occupied by the International Suffrage Shop have long since been swept away but, as a devotée of books and bookselling, I would like to ensure that this brave venture is commemorated.
In 1910 the International Suffrage Shop was opened by the actress, Sime Seruya in a room on the third floor of 31 Bedford Street, Covent Garden, lent to her by Edith Craig. In March 1911 the shop moved to spacious new premises – 15 Adam Street – on the south side of the Strand, not far from where Virago ran a bookshop, with which I was associated, in Southampton Street in the late 1980s. (Incidentally, the Virago Bookshop, along with the late-lamented Silver Moon and Sister Write’s in Islington – the latter’s premises now, ironically, a Cook Shop – represented a brief flowering of interest in women-oriented reading material of which the Persephone Bookshop in Lamb’s Conduit Street is now, I think, the only surviving bricks and mortar representative – at least in London.)
The International Suffrage Shop was described as ‘The Only Feminist Bookshop’ and had on sale all kinds of feminist as well as general literature, modern plays on social questions, art and children’s books, pictorial posters, badges and newspapers, photographs and postcards.
The shop also acted as a publisher for Cicely Hamilton’s Pageant of Great Women and Margaret Nevinson’s In the Workhouse and its logo is to be found on the (rare) photographs, published separately, of the leading characters – such as Ellen Terry – who took part in the original pageant.
The ISS had a large room – complete with ‘a picture lamp and sheet’ that could be let out for meetings and, positioned so centrally, was a useful place for assignations. For instance, Kate Parry Frye arranged to meet some friends there on the afternoon of 21 November 1911, before going, first, to have tea at the cafe in the Cecil Hotel and then on to a window-smashing demonstration in Parliament Square.
Alas it was as difficult then as it is now to make a living through book selling and the International Suffrage Shop was always in financial difficulties. Kate Frye played a leading, if silent, part in Christopher St John’s banned play, The Coronation, published by the ISS and staged by Edith Craig in January 1912 as a Benefit Performance in aid of the shop. A long description of the occasion can be found in Campaigning for the Vote.
As the WSPU campaign became more physically militant the International Suffrage Shop, which boasted two very large plate-glass windows, became a prime target for retaliation. Helena Swanwick described how when, one evening, she was attending a meeting at the shop medical students broke in and threw books about. The police, apparently, would do nothing to help. On at least one occasion one of the shop’s windows was broken.
When the Strand was widened in mid-1913 the shop had to move and certainly by the time it was forced to close in April 1918, threatened with bankruptcy, its address was 5 Duke Street, Adelphi (then off Villiers Street). In 1913 it would appear that the original founders had relinquished their connection and that it had been taken over by Miss Adeline West Trim, who had been in charge of the Book-Selling Department from the beginning and had managed to keep the shop open throughout the First World War and who, alas, died soon after, in 1920 aged barely 50.
For other posts in this series see:
Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford
For a full description of the book click here
Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.
ISBN 978 1903427 75 0
Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford – firstname.lastname@example.org, from all good bookshops – especially Foyle’s, London Review Bookshop, Persephone Bookshop, British Library Bookshop, Daunt Books, The National Archives Bookshop and Newham Bookshop. Also online – especially recommend very favourable price offered by Foyle’s Online (and they pay all taxes!)