To celebrate the release on 12 October of the film ‘Suffragette’ (for which I was an historical consultant) I will post each day an image of a suffrage item that has passed through my hands.
For my current catalogue – No 189 – which contains a good deal of suffrage material – as well as general books and ephemera by and about women – see here.
My visit yesterday to the exhibition of photographs by Christina Broom at the Museum of London (which I highly recommend – for details see here) reminded me of an intriguing page of photographs that passed through my hands a little while ago.
The key that unlocks the story behind the photographs is the postcard of the Putney and Fulham WSPU shop, positioned in the bottom right-hand corner. This photograph, taken by Mrs Broom, is shown in the exhibition and is discussed in detail by Diane Atkinson in Joannou & Purvis (eds), Women’s Suffrage Movement: feminist perspectives.
The photograph shows a young mother holding her baby, standing outside the shop, which opened at 905 Fulham Road in February 1910. The baby looks to be about 9 or 10 months old. I have identified the copy of Votes for Women that is displayed in the window as the issue for 9 September 1910. The shop windows are packed with WSPU propaganda items – much of which, especially the postcards – such as ones of Christabel Pankhurst, Lady Constance Lytton, Charlotte Marsh and Mary Gawthorpe – are readily recognisable. A poster advertises a meeting to be held by Lady Constance in the Queen’s Hall on 3 October 1910 and there are items of merchandise, such as WSPU scarves and stationery, together with the more homely items, such as eggs and jam that the local branch reported it was pleased to accept to sell for the Cause.
You can see into the shop (the door is open) and there in the background is the banner ‘Taxation Without Representation.is Tyranny’, just as described in the 18 February 1910 Votes for Women issue.
Adjacent on the sheet to the photograph of the shop is a loving shot of the same mother with her baby – annotated ‘5 months’ – photographed, I would think, in a bedroom. Above that is the same woman and baby, photographed, I think, outside and annotated ‘4 months’. The other three photos are of the baby alone, photographed at 3, 4 and 5 months. Although the photos are glued to the page I’ve peered into their backs and think they were sent to the baby’s grandfather.
The sheet is captioned ‘Joan Morris’ in the same hand as the annotations of the baby’s age, Or, at least, I think it is ‘Joan Morris’. The last two letters of the surname read more like ‘ei’ or ‘el’ than ‘is’ – but there was no ‘Joan ‘born in the baby’s timeframe with a name such as ‘Morrel’, which might be a reading.
There was, however, a Joan Morris born in Fulham on 6 January 1910. In April 1911 she was living with her parents at 19 Arundel Mansions, Fulham Road. If my identification is correct, they are an interesting couple.
The baby’s father was Geoffrey Bright Morris, son of William Bright Morris, the artist (not to be confused with the other William Morris) and his first wife, who was a grand-daughter of Leigh Hunt and who may well have died at his birth.
Baby Joan’s mother was Helen Kathleen Morris (née Macleod), who in the 1901 census, was an actress boarding with William Bright Morris and his family. She would have been about 31 years old in 1910, which, again, accords with the apparent age of the woman standing outside the WSPU shop. The couple had married in January 1909; they had clearly known each other for a long time for William Bright Morris’s second wife was Helen’s aunt. Helen McLeod’s father was a paymaster in the Royal Navy. William Bright Morris died in 1912 – so could have been the grandfather to whom the snaps were sent.
I wish I had been able to find a mention of Helen Morris in the reports for the Putney & Fulham branch of the WSPU – but I must admit that I cannot. She does seem just the kind of person to have taken an interest in suffrage – but, with a young baby to care for, may not in 1910-1911 have been able to devote much of her time to it. However, as Diane mentions in her discussion of the photo, the woman – without coat or hat – and the baby, dressed in a light frock, do seem to have come out from the shop specifically to have been photographed.
In ‘Votes for Women’ the co-organiser of the branch and the shop is given as ‘Mrs H. Roberts’, although no further information about her activities is, as far as I can see from reading through successive copies, ever given and I have been able to find out nothing about her.
So, all in all, an interesting story to be deduced from what might at first glance have appeared to have been an anonymous sheet of photographs. Mrs Broom’s photograph is, of course, the prize. Photographs of suffrage shops are always delightful and this image – taken on an early autumn day more or less exactly 105 years ago – is both artfully arranged and very crisp and clear.