Posts Tagged israel zangwill

Suffrage Stories: Two New Exhibitions

Last week I visited two small exhibitions – both centring on the theme of ‘Campaigning’.

The first was a temporary exhibition (alas, it ends tomorrow, Friday 22 May, so hurry to catch it) – Blackguards in Bonnets – at the impressive Jewish Museum in Camden Town. This tells the story of the involvement of Jewish women and men in the struggle for emancipation. It centres particularly on the 20th-century campaign for women’s suffrage in which many members of the Jewish community took leading roles.

Israel Zangwill with

Israel Zangwill at the WSPU’s June 1908 demonstration with, on the far left, Emmeline Pethick Lawrence and on his right Christabel Pankhurst

The writer, Israel Zangwill, a noted speaker on behalf of the movement, is represented by this image. In March 1912 Kate Frye attended a meeting addressed by him and wrote of it in her diary:

‘”I turned to Mrs Mansel, just before he finished, saying ‘Doesn’t he make one think of – and isn’t he like – Spring’” That word concluded his speech, and it was like the Spring in its freshness and gaiety, life and hope, and so deliciously witty. I have never heard a large audience laugh so quickly and as gladly as this audience, the response was almost before the spoken word, in fact there was not a dull flash of the eye all the evening.’

Also on display are a number of items that related to the involvement in the WSPU and Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage campaigns of the wealthy Lowy family. Henrietta Lowy and four of her daughters had joined the WSPU in 1908.

76 Holland Park - once the Lowys' home - and one from which they were all absent on Census Night, 1911

76 Holland Park – once the Lowys’ home – and one from which they were all absent on Census Night, 1911, following the WSPU boycott call

Here, too, you can see Gertrude Lowy’s hunger-strike medal. She was imprisoned after taking part in the March 1912 window-smashing raid.

Lowy hunger strikeBut it wasn’t only wealthy members of the established Jewish community whom suffrage campaigners were keen to convert to their cause. In the autumn of 1913 the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage took their message down to the sweatshops of Whitechapel.

Yiddish - query - leafletThis leaflet, printed in Yiddish, was saved by Kate Frye from the quantity she delivered and is on display, together with her diary open at the entry for 27 September 1913, in which she describes a tea party the NCS gave for the local woman and girls, writing:

‘I chatted and handed round. The girls were so nice – nearly all Jewesses. The pitiful tales they tell of the sweated work is awful – and they are so intelligent – and quite well dressed. The Jews are an example to the gentile in that way.’

Later in the week I went to the LSE Library to view their new exhibition space – and the first exhibition to be shown in it.

The theme is ‘Campaigning’ – covering the suffrage movement (a slight nod to male enfranchisement with the greater emphasis placed on the women’s campaign), Liberations – Gay and Female – and campaigns for Peace. One wall of the exhibition space allows for the display of images, moving on a loop – with space in front devoted to a static display of CND badges, a couple of 19th-century documents, an Artists’ Suffrage League poster and a ‘Votes for Women’ scarf. These advertise, as it were, the themes of the three types of campaign.

This poster - focussing on the plight of the unenfranchised woman graduate - should appeal to at least 50% of LSE students. For my post on the artist see here

This poster – focussing on the plight of the unenfranchised woman graduate – should appeal to at least 50% of LSE students. For my post on the artist see here

In the centre of the space is a single display case in which neatly chosen documents highlight the different ways in which the campaigns were organised – and, most importantly in my eyes, stresses the rifts and divisions that are a sine qua non, it would appear, of all pressure groups.

Although small, the exhibition makes its points very well. They stick in the mind. It’s presumably intended to catch the eye of LSE students as they pass in and out of the Library entrance and is not intended to deliver in-depth information. Small and simple is no bad thing.

But, oh dear, I did wish that some acknowledgement of Millicent Fawcett and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies had been included in the display. ‘Suffrage’ yet again was only represented by Mrs Pankhurst and the WSPU, whereas the Women’s Library@LSE contains a wealth of material inherited from the NUWSS. As I viewed ‘Campaigning’ it occurred to me that it would be rather a good idea if a future exhibition could, in the same simple manner, by making reference to the NUWSS and the Women’s Freedom League (and, perhaps, some of the smaller societies), demonstrate that the women’s suffrage campaign was more complicated and multifaceted than it is popularly presented.


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Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: Two Days in April 1908

Kate Frye was a devoted theatre goer. She had trained as an actress and had toured for two or three years from 1904 and joined the Actresses’ Franchise League as soon as it was founded. 

A scene from ‘Diana of Dobson’s’ – an article in ‘The Sketch’, 10 February 1908. Courtesy of the V & A

 ‘Diana of Dobson’s, a romantic comedy that also criticized the ‘live-in’ conditions that Edwardian drapery stores imposed on their staff, was written by Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952)  actress, author, and active suffragist. Lena Ashwell (1862-1957) was both the leading actress in the production and the manager of the Kingsway Theatre. ‘Diana of Dobson’s was the second play in Ashwell’s first season at the Kingsway. She was later a vice-president of the Actresses’ Franchise League and a tax resister. Dennis Eadie, in the ‘elderly character part’ was then only 33 years old.

The walk from Tottenham Court Road to the  Kingsway Theatre in Great Queen Street, to the west of Kingsway, would have taken the Fryes through the still relatively unsavoury St Giles and Seven Dials area.

Wednesday April 8th 1908

Mother, Agnes and I left just before 2 o’clock and went by bus to Tottenham Court Road and walked to the Kingsway Theatre just before 3 o’clock and we went in to the reserved seats to see ‘Diana of Dobsons’. It is nearly a month since I got the seats. We very much enjoyed our afternoon. The play is most interesting and amusing and sad too – underneath it all. Lena Ashwell, though her voice sounded tired, was very good – so was Hollard – and Dennis Eadie excellent in an elderly character part. It is quite a novel sort of play and I don’t wonder it is popular. It ought to make people think. The scene of the first act must be a revelation to lots of people.

The next day’s ‘Suffrage Discussion’ was organised under the aegis of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage – a constitutional society. Although it was to be several years before the founding of the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage, there was obviously already an interest in the subject among the Jewish community.

Mrs Gertrude Spielman (1864-1949) born in Germany, was the wife of Meyer Spielman, who was later knighted. She was actively engaged in educational and other forms of social work, particularly with the Norwood Jewish Orphanage and was, in 1912, to be a founder of the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage. 

Aylmer Maude (1858-1938) translator of Tolstoy, Fabian, was renowned as a persuasive lecturer. 

Mrs Campbell Lethbridge (1873 -1945), a woman of mystery, was born Sybil MacGregor Allen, in 1894 married William Lonergan, but by 1901 had become Sybil Campbell Lethbridge, a popular and prolific author. Find out more about her here.

Israel Zangwill, Jewish novelist, was always a great favourite of Kate’s.

Israel Zangwill, photographed in 1905

Thursday April 9th 1908

Agnes and I left in a cab at 8 o’clock to Mrs Spielman, 38 Gloucester Square. Got there with Alexandra and Gladys [Wright] and some of the other stewards and we all went up together. There was nothing for us to do at first except make the people sit tight – such a pack it was – hundreds – nearly all Jews except our own friends. It was a Suffrage Discussion – Mr Aylmer Maude in the chair – Mrs  Campbell Lethbridge spoke, Miss Spielman (oh! that was  painful) and Mr Zangwill. He, of course, was beautiful – but I am much afraid too frivolous to do any converting. He was so funny he made me laugh until the tears ran down my face. The discussion was most amusing – such weird people got up and said things. Afterwards we went up and talked to people. I got five members and did better than anyone – but it was hard work. I didn’t give myself any rest and kept straight on – while Agnes looked after our guests and saw they got something to eat. We came back in a hansom. Got in at 11.45 and then had supper. It was past one before John [her fiancé] departed and 2.30 before we got off to bed. I was tired.



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 –  (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review of Books Bookshop, Foyles, National Archives Bookshop.

'Campaigning for the Vote' - Front and back cover of wrappers
‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – Front and back cover of wrappers

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