Archive for category Suffrage Stories
Those of you who might happen to be passing through the Atrium of Parliament’s Portcullis House between now and early November can view a compact display that I have curated there. The subject is Millicent Garrett Fawcett and the Early Women’s Suffrage Movement: 1867-1897.
There is also an online version of the exhibition – which you can view here.
Suffrage Stories/Kate Frye’s Diary: Farewell to Kate Parry Frye: Diarist, Suffragist, Actress, Playwright – And Friend
Today is the day that I part company with Kate Frye – at least in a physical sense.
Waiting collection in the hall are the 18 boxes that hold her extensive diary that runs from the late 1890s to 1958, her notebooks containing lists of all the plays she saw and concerts she attended (at least from the 1890s to 1914), the books in which, as a teenager, she wrote at length her critique of books read, her notebook listing the names of all her dolls – and there were very many – and who had given each one to her, her photographs – covering the 1880s to the 1950s – her family letters, flyers relating to her father’s parliamentary career, and the numerous plays she wrote.
After 7 years in my care Kate is finding a new – and, I hope, permanent – home in the Archive of Royal Holloway College. There her diaries and associated archive will be available to anyone who wants to understand what it was like to be a woman living through the last couple of decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. I am sure Kate would be delighted to rest in a seat of higher learning. One of her great regrets was that she did not receive a decent education: ‘I do not understand why I was born if I wasn’t to be educated’ she wrote in her diary in 1914.
When I brought home a carload of dripping wet boxes packed with Kate’s life-long diary and laid them out on the kitchen floor to dry (for they had been stored in an extremely damp cellar) I had no idea that she would take over my life. From associated ephemera I could see that this diarist, Kate Parry Frye, had had some association with the suffrage campaign but it was only once I started reading that I realised what a unique view she gave. Unsullied by hindsight this was a contemporary account like no other of what it was like to work as an organiser for the constitutional suffrage campaign.
And out of this came a book Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary (see here for details). It is a salutary corrective to a popularly-held idea that the suffrage campaign was all chaining oneself to railings, throwing stones, falling under horses, or being forcibly fed. Kate’s account is equally heroic in its way – travelling from town to town with no cheerful companion to share the adventure, having to find yet another set of digs and then fitting in with the peculiarities of each, braving the locals to find a chairman/woman for a meeting, organizing a printer, a bill poster, possibly the police if the meeting was likely to be rowdy. And then worrying if the speaker would turn up, would be heard if she did, if an audience would turn out, and worrying what to do if the local youth disrupted the meeting. And so it went on, month after month. Kate relates it all, day by day. We can be there with her.
Obviously I read far more of the diary than the suffrage years in order to get the background to Kate’s campaigning years and was then delighted to be given the opportunity by ITV to write the story of Kate’s entire life. For Kate, played by Romola Garai (whose voice I now hear as I read Kate’s words), had played a small part in an ITV feature to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War – The Great War: The People’s Story. The result was Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette (see here for details – you can read Kate’s life for a mere £1.19 – what good value!). For, yes, in her ’20s Kate had fulfilled her ambition and taken to the stage.. ..another story to be told among so many others packed into one life…the cradle to grave story. Indeed I’ve stalked Kate’s life and seen the place where she was born, the the house where she grew up, the digs she stayed in, and have stood by her grave.
Way back in the 1960s, while I was at university studying history and politics, there was no kind of book I liked better than an autobiography whose subject had had a Victorian or Edwardian upbringing. Books such as Gwen Raverat’s Period Piece, or Emily Lutyens’ Blessed Girl, or Mary Clive, Christmas with the Savages, or Mary Hughes, A London Child of the 1870s. It’s extraordinary to think that we are as far away – or as close – now to the 1960s as the 1960s were to the Edwardian period. For surely there is less difference between a 1960s and a 2010s childhood (apart from electronic gadgetry) than there was between 1910 and 1960?
Anyway, Kate’s diary gives a peephole into a late-Victorian childhood – in a family that was hoping to be upwardly socially mobile. Kate, even as a young girl, innocently comments on what we can see as gradations of the class system within her extended family. The Fryes finances proved to be desperately insecure – and so Kate experienced both what appears to be careless wealth and then grinding poverty – all the while having to keep up appearances. As the years go by, the lines harden. As an elderly woman she returns to All Saints Road in north Kensington and marvels that as a child she lived there, in a flat above her father’s shop.
And so it goes on ….I hope Kate’s life will provide a wealth of interest to some fortunate researchers. And, by the way, her published play, Cease Fire! – is set on the Western Front in the hour before the Armistice on 11 November 1918. Wouldn’t it be just the thing to include in a centenary commemoration?
Suffrage Stories: Fawcett Society Wreath-Laying Service for Millicent Garrett Fawcett, St George’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey, 2 July 2016
Each year on 2 July the Fawcett Society holds a short service and lays a red, white, and green wreath in remembrance of Millicent Fawcett in St George’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey.
For it is in this small chapel, which now also holds the Coronation Chair, that the joint memorial to Henry and Millicent Fawcett is sited.
It was originally erected in 1887 in memory of Henry Fawcett, who had died in 1884, and was the work of the sculptor Alfred Gilbert. Ironically Gilbert’s daughter, Caprina Fahey, was later a very active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, rather than of Mrs Fawcett’s National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. For after Millicent Fawcett’s death a commemoration of her life and work was in 1932 added to her husband’s memorial – in the shape of two roundels, one of which contains the insignia of the NUWSS.
This year I was honoured to have been asked to speak a few words about Millicent Fawcett during the Service – and below is the text of my address.
I imagine I’ve been asked to give the address today because over the last 20 years I’ve researched and written about the various enterprises and campaigns that Millicent Fawcett – and her immediate circle – conducted through the second half of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th. But I first made direct physical contact – as it were – with Millicent Fawcett some years before I began my research –back in the mid-1980s – when, as a book dealer – because I sell books about women as well as write them, I braved the closing-down sale of a Bloomsbury bookshop. I say ‘braved’ because it was owned by an elderly irascible gentlemen who barked at any potential customer ‘what do you want’? Well the joy of such bookshops is that you don’t know what you want until you find it – so after one such encounter I’d never been back. But closing down was different and customers were given the run of the shop.
Down in the cellar I found the floor covered with a heap of books – splayed open, piled on top of each other – and – serendipity – when I picked out one I found it to be a short popular biography of Henry Fawcett –not, actually, very interesting in itself – but – and my heart leapt – with Millicent Fawcett’s bookplate pasted inside the front cover. I believe this book had lain in the bookshop ever since Philippa Fawcett finally gave up the family home at 2 Gower Street to move to a more manageable flat just before the Second World War. It is only too likely that books surplus to her requirements had been sent to this nearby bookseller. There seemed a very thin veil separating me from the past when I held that book in my hand.
So this bookplate is the first of four images I want to recreate for you this evening. It probably dates from the 1880s – it has very much the flavour of the Aesthetic movement. Millicent’s full name – Millicent Garrett Fawcett – takes centre place. To the right is a woman in a loose fitting gown, with bare feet, head turned towards the rising sun. To the left rises a lily, so much of its period, and beneath the name are scattered books and an inkwell and quill pen. The caption is ‘Truth is the Light’.
‘Light’ – the image of the rising sun, of hope, of the New Dawn – was one that permeated all the campaigns for women’s rights – not just for the vote – but for emancipation in all spheres of life. ‘Truth’ was the leitmotif running through Millicent Fawcett’s life. In an article her cousin Edmund Garrett, a boy she had helped bring up after the early death of his parents, wrote: ‘More even than by her writings or her speeches, she has helped the cause by her influence, her tone, her personality. The impression which she has made upon public men who have come in contact with her has been, perhaps, her most valuable service to it. The one thing that she cannot be doing with is doubleness. Anything the least ‘shady’ in quite small matters of money or of conduct damns a man at once.’ Edmund Garrett goes on to mention the Ibsen-esque quality of Millicent’s novel Janet Doncaster which, as well as giving a delightful portrait of a thinly-disguised Aldeburgh, does, I think, reveal more of her character than she disclosed in her autobiography. It is well worth a read.
So – Millicent Fawcett was guided by her principles. These at times, especially in attempts to effect an equal moral standard between men and women, could put her at odds with other campaigners, even members of her family. For instance, she and her sister Elizabeth held opposite views as to whether the Contagious Diseases Acts should be repealed – Millicent for and Elizabeth against.
But strong principles – an adherence to Truth –and being true to oneself – don’t necessarily make for any easy life. My second image recreates a scene that is not one you’ll find in either Millicent’s autobiography or in Ray Strachey’s fond biography – it is very trivial, but I think, revealing. One summer afternoon Millicent was taking tea in Lady Maude Parry’s garden in Rustington in Sussex. Lady Maude was the wife of Hubert Parry, whose music has, of course, echoed so often within this Abbey –and it was Hubert, rather than his wife, who was a close friend of Agnes Garrett and Millicent Fawcett. Indeed he’d built a house in Rustington to be close to one that Agnes Garrett had rented there for years.
Anyway, as they were taking tea Lady Maude was stung by a wasp and that evening confided to her diary that Millicent hadn’t been very sympathetic – penning the immortal phrase ‘There’s something hard about the Garretts’. Perhaps I’m perverse but I like that comment. I think it is true – the Garretts were hard – in that they had enjoyed a robust upbringing – encouraged to think for themselves and be self-reliant – Lady Maude was very much more conventional – and although Lady Maude may have meant the comment pejoratively – we shouldn’t take it as such. In her biography Ray Strachey felt compelled to dispute the notion that Millicent was ‘compounded only of “thrift, industry and self-control without any of the gentler virtues”’, stressing that it was Millicent’s great ability for practical friendship that made her such a popular and effective leader. She didn’t wear her heart on her sleeve, she didn’t waste time on emoting; she did things. I’m sure Millicent would have ensured that Maude was treated with a blue bag or whatever was the current remedy for a wasp sting, but wouldn’t have seen it as an occasion for high drama. As Edmund Garrettt wrote ‘She is, above everything, ‘sensible’. She never stickles for unessentials’. The success of a principled, disciplined woman such as Millicent Fawcett was due to her ability to focus on what was important, dismissing the setbacks – the wasp stings –that punctuated all the various campaigns with which she was associated during a career of over 60 years.
Above all Millicent Fawcett was – in her conduct of the constitutional suffrage campaign – calm and diplomatic. As Ray Strachey wrote, ‘Her task was to provide convenient ladders down which opponents might climb, and to help them to save their faces while they changed their minds.’ It was this skill that finally allowed women over 30 to be given the vote in 1918. Although Millicent Fawcett recognised that this age discrimination was quite logically indefensible she knew that once they’d won this measure – full equality would follow. By letting anti-suffrage MPs appear to have retained some control, she had at last manoeuvred women onto the electoral register. As she said, ‘We should greatly prefer an imperfect scheme that can pass, to the most perfect scheme in the world that could not pass.’
The third image takes us into Millicent’s home, 2 Gower Street. From standing in that Bloomsbury bookshop basement, holding a book that had once been on a shelf in the house, fast forward about 30 years to 2014 when I spent some happy hours with a colleague inside the house as we tried to work out how it was used when Millicent, her daughter Philippa, and her sister Agnes lived there. Agnes and her cousin Rhoda had taken on the lease in 1875 –running their pioneering interior design business from the house –Rhoda had died in 1882 and Millicent and Philippa had moved there after the death of Henry Fawcett in 1884. So Garretts had lived in 2 Gower Street for roughly 65 years. We know that Millicent conducted her campaigns from the first floor drawing room – which runs across the front overlooking Gower Street – sitting under a lovely ceiling, painted by Rhoda and Agnes – pale green, pink and yellow prettiness – featuring hummingbirds and swags and flowers, with portraits of four great artists in the corners. Do look up and give her a thought if you go past. The National Portrait Gallery holds a photograph of Millicent (see here) working at her desk in that room in 1910.
The desk, a tall bureau, is tucked into the alcove to the side of the fireplace and Millicent is sitting there working through a pile of letters, looking up for a moment to turn to the photographer. This domestic scene was the power house that fuelled the 20th-century constitutional suffrage campaign. In addition – from that desk Millicent Fawcett involved herself in a wide range of disparate, though interconnected campaigns – for instance, the international women’s suffrage campaign, the campaigns for opening up university education to women, for raising the age of consent, for opening up horticulture as an employment for women, for criminalising incest, for providing homes for middle-class working women, and even for offering a new German ‘open-air treatment’ to men and women suffering from TB. This last was prompted by the fate of her cousin Edmund who had contracted the disease – but rather than wringing her hands Millicent, with her friend Dr Jane Walker, just went ahead and built a sanatorium in Suffolk where the new treatment might be carried out.
Sitting at that desk Millicent is neat in a tailored costume, but my last image is of her standing in the St John’s Wood studio of a very well-known photographer – Lena Connell – dressed for a more formal portrait. She is posing, but, as ever, conveys an air of subtle reticence. I think we can be pretty certain she didn’t make her appointment with Lena Connell because she wanted more photographs for her own album – but, rather, was prepared to endure the process for the sake of the Cause. For, thanks to a lucky discovery a few weeks ago – in a locked drawer in a Fawcett Society desk – we are now able to deconstruct that photograph and realise that she is presenting herself as the president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
For on her breast she is wearing a beautiful pendant given to her by the NUWSS in 1913. Presumably after Millicent’s death Philippa Fawcett had returned the pendant to the London Society for Women’s Service, the precursor of the Fawcett Society, and as time went by its existence and meaning had been forgotten. But that photograph speaks to us now – for engraved on the reverse of the pendant are the words that sum up the values that her co-workers appreciated in Millicent Fawcett – ‘Steadfastness and Courage’.
Here is the podcast of the ‘Endless Endeavours’ talks that Ann Dingsdale, Jane Grant and I gave at LSE on 21 June 2016
Last year I was delighted when The Women’s Library@LSE asked if I would help to shape an exhibition planned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the presentation of the first women’s suffrage petition on 7 June 1866. Ever since discovering a printed copy of that petition on a stall in the Portobello Road over 25 years ago I have been very fond of all it represented and of the treasury of names it contains, so it was a particular pleasure to be asked to suggest ways of highlighting its importance.
The LSE team (Indy Bhullar, Heather Dawson, Gillian Murphy and Eleanor Payne) and I had several very enjoyable and productive meetings during which we selected items to include in the exhibition and brainstormed ideas for the moving background to the main showcase and for wallboards. It is a real pleasure to be able to show items of what we now know to call ‘material culture’ – such as Lydia Becker’s dress and Millicent Fawcett’s gladstone bag – alongside the very letters in which the idea for the petition developed. The personal adds particularity to the political.
In addition, the descendants of the couple to whom I sold that printed copy of the petition have been kind enough to lend it to the exhibition. It is the only known copy other than that held in Girton Archives. The latter was Emily Davies’ own copy and it was she who had organised its printing. What became of the hundreds of others that Miss Davies arranged to be sent to all newspaper editiors, MPs and members of the House of Lords? Straight into the wastepaper basket I shouldn’t wonder.
The LSE designer has done an excellent job of translating our ideas for demonstrating the range both geographically and socially of the women who signed the petition and of giving a clear rendering of the complicated ‘family tree’ of suffrage societies that carried the campaign from 1866 to 1928 and then, in the shape of the Fawcett Society, on into 2016.
For the ‘1866 petition’ part of the exhibition morphs into a celebration of the Fawcett Society, which traces its foundation back to 1866 and is, therefore, this year celebrating its 150th anniversary. To mark the occasion Jane Grant has written a history of the Fawcett Society, In the Steps of Exceptional Women – for full details see here.
To accompany ‘Endless Endeavours’ The Women’s Library@LSE has launched a Flickr Album, which includes scans of many of the letters that flew backwards and forwards as the idea for the petition gathered momentum, as well as of the personalities attracted to the campaign and artefacts produced over the years.
One of the most beautiful of the latter is a brooch that recently surfaced in the Fawcett Society office. It was presented to Millicent Fawcett in 1913 and is rendered in the NUWSS colours of red, white and green. For a lively account of why, where and how the brooch was presented see here. This is a real piece of ‘suffrage jewellery’ – to put all the spurious examples so catalogued by auction houses, Ebay etc in the shade. [For my gripe about the mis-cataloguing of suffragette jewellery see here.]
For full details of the ‘Endless Endeavours’ exhibition see here.
STOP PRESS 7 June 2016 I have just discovered a studio photograph by the celebrated photograper Lena Connell that shows Millicent Fawcett wearing the Fawcett Society ‘brooch’ as a pendant. She was making her ass ociation with the NUWSS visible.
Suffrage Stories: Woman’s Hour Discussion: Who Won The Vote For Women – Suffragists or Suffragettes?
In the week that marked the 150th anniversary of the presentation of the first women’s suffrage petition, Woman’s Hour invited June Purvis and me to ‘debate’ the issue of whether the vote was won by the constitutional Suffragist campaign or by that of the millitant Suffragettes.
I spoke for the Suffragists.
You can listen to the conversation here (at c 28 min).
While undertaking some research for a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago at the Royal College of Nursing I encountered an intriguing mystery. What happened to Nurse Pine’s ‘suffragette medal’.
Nurse Catherine Pine (1864-1941) was the Pankhurst family’s special nursing attendant – she had cared for Mrs Pankhurst’s son, Harry, who died in her nursing home in 1910. She ran the nursing home at 9 Pembridge Gardens, Notting Hill, and it was here that many suffragettes were taken after release from prison after hunger striking.
Mrs Pankhurst was among the many who recovered from imprisonment in the care of Nurse Pine. Although the authorities never dared force feed Mrs Pankhurst, she was desperately weakened by successive hunger strikes. See here for a photograph of Nurse Pine tending Mrs Pankhurst.
In her will Nurse Pine left what she described as her ‘suffragette medal’ to ‘the History Section of the British College of Nursing.’. Now the term ‘suffragette medal’ is usually used to describe a medal given by the WSPU to those who went on hunger strike – and I knew that there was no evidence that Nurse Pine was ever imprisoned – so began to wonder ‘what did she mean by her “suffragette medal”?’
Delving a little further I came across a note in a March 1942 issue of the British Journal of Nursing that tells us that ‘A few months ago we announced that the late Sister Catherine Pine had bequeathed to the British College of Nurses the priceless historic Medal and Bars bestowed upon her by the late Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, for her devoted services to her when released from durance vile. As time goes on this gift we may hope will be valued at its true worth by women all over the world.’
Could this have been a medal specially struck for Nurse Pine? Perhaps it was. If so, I wonder what the ‘Bars’ represented? Did they commemorate the number of times she admitted to Mrs Pankhurst to her nursing home? That really does seem very fanciful.
In terms of the suffragette campaign, the description ‘Medal and bars’ usually refers to a ‘hunger strike medal’, with bars added for each subsequent hunger strike.
The only explanation I could think of was that it was Mrs Pankhurst’s own medal – given to Nurse Pine in thanks. Noting that the British College of Nurses (an organisation that was not the Royal College of Nursing) closed in 1956, I wondered what had happened to Nurse Pine’s bequest.
Now, in the same 1942 issue, the British Journal of Nursing recorded that:
Miss Mary Hilliard, a gentle, very valiant suffragette, has bestowed as a gift to the College the fine linen handkerchief, signed by and embroidered by all the gallant women who suffered imprisonment for conscience sake, in support of the enfranchisement of women in Holloway prison in March 1912. It displays 67 signatures embroidered in various colours, and all that remains is to offer a warm vote of thanks to Miss Mary Hilliard, R.B.N.A., and to await the time when this historic gift can he suitably framed and placed in the History Section of the British College of Nurses, where its unique value will be appreciated.’
In fact I know that that embroidered handkerchief is now housed in Priest House, the museum of the Sussex Archaeological Society in West Hoathly, Sussex, and so I emailed the Custodian to enquire how it had arrived with them. He was able to tell me that it had surfaced at a West Hoathly jumble sale around 1970 where, in fact, nobody had bought it and it was rescued off a bonfire at the last minute. I must say I can’t see such an artefact being a jumble sale wallflower nowadays. However, nobody knows by what means the handkerchief ended up in West Hoathly after the closure of the British College of Nurses.
The archive of the British College of Nurses is held by King’s College University of London and their archivist has kindly checked for me and nothing resembling Nurse Pine’s’ suffragette medal’ is held by them.
So were the contents of its ‘History Section’ scattered when the British College of Nurses closed? What happened to Nurse Pine’s medal? Is it, in fact, one of the two medals presented to Mrs Pankhurst that are now held in public collections – one in the Houses of Parliament and one in the Museum of London?
This also doesn’t seem to be the answer. Neither of the medals has added ‘bars’. The one held by the Museum of London was given to Mrs Pankhurst in recognition of her hunger strike in Holloway beginning on 1 March 1912 and Beverley Cook, the Museum’s curator, tells me that, although the provenance is a little unclear, it is likely to have arrived at the Museum in 1950 along with the rest of the Suffragette Fellowship archive.
The other medal awarded to Mrs Pankhurst is not a ‘hunger strike’ medal – it predates the employment of the hunger strike – but commemorates her imprisonment in Holloway in October 1908 after being convicted for inciting crowds to ‘Rush the House of Commons’. It is now held by the Parliamentary Art Collection in the House of Commons – see here.
Could there have been a third medal awarded by the WSPU to Mrs Pankhurst? She certainly went on more than one hunger strike and would have merited ‘bars’, which the Museum of London medal doesn’t have. Could she then have ‘bestowed’ this on Nurse Pine? Or did she, indeed, have a medal made specially for Nurse Pine? As I said, it’s all a bit of a mystery. If anyone knows the answer I shall be delighted to hear from them.
Whatever the truth, it is rather sad that the British College of Nurses does not seem, in the event, to have taken care of the gift that they hoped ‘will be valued at its true worth by women all over the world.’ However, Nurse Pine’s collection of photographs, now held in the Museum of London, most definitely is treasured.
You can read more about Nurse Pine in her entry in my The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide, Routledge.
Fair enough. Even though there are already campaigns to put Sylvia Pankhurst on College Green (see here) and Emily Davison inside the House of Commons (see here) there’s no harm in some more lobbying.
I could see, because she had gone to the trouble of having a photograph taken of Mrs Pankhurst’s statue, with herself on one side and the House of Lords looming on the other, that Caroline Criado- Perez knew about that icon of commemoration. But did she, I wondered, know about the Suffragette Fellowship memorial on Victoria Street – the other side of Parliament Square from Mrs P’s statue in Victoria Gardens?
I asked in a tweet if she had visited that memorial and when she replied that she hadn’t I sent her a link to a piece on it that I had written for my website. See here for the history of the Suffragette Fellowship memorial, unveiled in Christchurch Gardens, Victoria Street, in 1970 to commemorate not any one Great Woman but the foot-soldiers of the suffrage campaign.
In my innocence I thought she might be interested in a commemorative piece that had been erected by surviving suffragettes in a place of their choosing – outside Caxton Hall, scene of so many suffragette demonstrations. I do find it dispiriting, not to say downright sad, when the Past – in this case the struggle by those surviving suffragettes to raise the money and lobby for a place of commemoration of their own choosing – is trampled on and ignored by the Present. How much more sisterly to cherish rather than ignore the memorials erected by those who did suffer for the Cause.
Incidentally it is interesting that in 1970 the Suffragette Fellowship commissioned an abstract, symbolic memorial rather than a representation of any one figure. The current petition doesn’t suggest who might be so honoured as to stand alongside the random collection of gentlemen, of various shapes and sizes, on the Parliament Square roundabout. It strikes me that Mrs Pankhurst is far more enviably placed, with Richard I and Oliver Cromwell, right alongside Parliament. In fact it was lobbying by former suffragettes that ensured that her statue was positioned as close as it could be to Parliament, not separated from it by a stream of traffic.
If I were to put my head above the parapet I would suggest that if anybody is to be honoured in 2018 it should be Millicent Garrett Fawcett. But I suspect that her style of steady, clever, wry, non-militant campaigning, culminating in the final behind-the-scenes wartime lobbying that finally gained some women the vote, has little contemporary popular appeal. But I shall be interested to see how this campaign progresses.
STOP PRESS: Excellent news. Millicent Garrett Fawcett has, indeed, been selected as the woman whom this campaign, backed by the Fawcett Society, will propose should stand in Parliament Square.