Posts Tagged Women’s Library@LSE
Suffrage Stories: ‘Suffragette’ – The Making Of The Film: A Discussion Hosted by The Women’s Library@LSE
On 5 November I took part in a discussion with director, Sarah Gavron, and producer, Faye Ward, about the making of the film Suffragette.. The event was hosted by the Women’s Library@LSE – and addressed a packed audience.
You can now listen to a podcast of the event – Suffragette: the making of the film – here.
In the interests of accuracy, I should point out that I was only one of several historical consultants associated with the making of the film.
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.
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.
Here, too, you can see Gertrude Lowy’s hunger-strike medal. She was imprisoned after taking part in the March 1912 window-smashing raid.
But 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.
This 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.
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.
Ever since the decision was made for the Women’s Library to move to LSE (now open as the Women’s Library @ LSE) I have been writing posts that draw attention to the many locations associated with the women’s movement in the area around Aldwych and the Strand. My hope is that researchers in the Women’s Library, when taking a break from their labours, will welcome some information that will allow them to see the surrounding area with fresh eyes. Or even, as in the case of Buckingham Street, draw them to an area they may never have thought of visiting.
Buckingham Street runs south from the Strand, parallel with Villiers Street, close to Charing Cross Station. In this picture Niemann positions us with our backs to the Strand, viewing the length of the street down towards the 17th-century Watergate which, before the building of the Embankment, marked the northern bank of the Thames. In the distance, looming over the Watergate, we can see the towers of Brunel’s Hungerford Suspension bridge, demolished in 1863. This view had, therefore, changed by the beginning of the 20th century, but from it we can glean an idea of the busy-ness of the narrow street,. There is probably less traffic now – at the moment, as London perpetually renews itself, this consists mainly of builders’ trucks – but the street still ends at the Watergate, by the side of which steps lead down into the Embankment Gardens.
The Survey of London, published in 1937, gives a thorough building history of the street and today’s London guides – such as this one– mention that Pepys lived at number 12 and Dickens at number 15 (his house now bombed and replaced), but campaigning women, too, have a claim to the street’s history.
It was here – at no 18 (at the quieter, river-end of Buckingham Street) that in the autumn of 1907, after the dramatic break with Mrs Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union, the newly formed Women’s Freedom League opened its office. This was always probably only intended as a temporary solution – the WFL moved to larger premises in nearby Robert Street the following year. I have always wondered whether billiards was not the reason for alighting on no 18 – which at this time also housed the office of the Billiards Association. Teresa Billington-Greig, one of those leading the break with the WSPU, had that year married Frederick Greig, a manufacturer of billiard tables – so, perhaps, when it was clear that they would have to depart Clement’s Inn in a hurry, it was through him that the rebels heard of an office for rent. I’ve not, however, been able to find any proof for this – doubtlessly wild – supposition. Perhaps, rather, the Strand Liberal and Radical Association, also tenants of number 18, effected the introduction to Buckingham Street.
The WFL lost no time in advertising their existence – issuing several photographic cards during the few months they were operating from number 18.
On the other side of the street the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement was based at number 13. The MPU had been founded at a meeting held at the Eustace Miles Restaurant (just the other side of the Strand) in 1910. One of the founders – and the hon. organising secretary of the MPU – was Victor Duval. The premises were also, I think, the offices of his family firm, Duval & Co. Victor’s mother, Emily Duval, had been one of those who transferred allegiance from the WSPU to the WFL and would doubtless have been a regular visitor to number 18.
Back on the eastern side of the street, number 19, now under scaffolding as it is remodelled as ‘luxury apartments’, is a considerably larger building than its neighbour, no 18. Among its many tenants was the Emerson Club which in 1908 was described as a ‘Ladies’ Club’ but from 1911 welcomed both men and women members. This was still rather unusual. The Emerson remained at this address until 1925 and numbered among its members the WFL activists Elizabeth Knight, Amy Hicks and Alison Neilans, as well as Mrs Pankhurst’s brother, Walter, and Margaret Bondfield, the future Labour cabinet minister. Sarah Bennet, the WFL’s treasurer, was one of the Emerson’s early shareholders.
By 1908 number 19 also housed the office of the architect Basil Champneys, while Thackeray Turner and Eustace Balfour (the latter the husband of the suffragist Lady Frances Balfour) had their architectural practice next door at number 20. All three architects brought to fruition – mainly in Queen-Anne style red brick – the dreams of campaigning women. Champneys was the long-time architect of Newnham College and In the 1890s Turner and Balfour designed the York Street Ladies’ Residential Chambers – one of Agnes Garrett’s projects (for which see much more in Crawford, Enterprising Women). Thackeray Turner was also secretary to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, at this time also based at number 20. The architects were working out of the type of late-17th/early-18th-century houses so much admired by Agnes and Rhoda Garrett in House Decoration.
Opposite, at number 12, were the offices of the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseuses, the premises of the Midwives’ Institute and Trained Nurses’ Club and the Association of Clerks and Secretaries.
So, a 100 years ago, many different types of women would have had many reasons to make their way down Buckingham Street, stopping off at any one of these addresses. Some might, of course, have carried on down the steps at the end of the street and into the Victoria Embankment Gardens – where two major heroes of the suffrage movement are commemorated.
The WFL, based on the south side of the Strand, was very well placed to honour, as they did every year, their particular hero, John Stuart Mill, whose statue is one of several in the Embankment Gardens. (Incidentally you will note from the caption to this card that the WFL had moved into the new Robert Street office by May 1908.) Well into the 1920s women laid tribute before the statue – one 1927 photograph in the Women’s Library collection shows Millicent Fawcett present on such an occasion.
And it is Millicent’s husband, Henry Fawcett, who is the other hero memorialised in the Embankment Gardens. The sculptor of the bronze bust was a woman – Mary Grant, the fountain’s designer was Basil Champneys and the whole was funded, as the inscription testifies, by Henry Fawcett’s ‘grateful countrywomen’.
For more information about the people and societies mentioned see Crawford: The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide.
And do consult the Women’s Library @ LSE online catalogue for details of primary source material.
Today, 1 August 2013, is a red-letter day for women’s history researchers – for once again they have access to the magnificent Women’s Library archive and museum collections – now open at The Women’s Library @LSE. With research having, perforce, been put on hold for the last few months there was doubtless an impatient queue outside the doors this morning.
As a long-time user of the Women’s Library – with fond memories of the Fawcett Library and its Tardis-like basement – I was delighted to find an interview with David Doughan – the Fawcett’s dedicated custodian – on the LSE Blog. It is so important that women historians remember their own historiography.
I must say that, when hearing that LSE, (as, of course, do so many other institutions) likes to reward those who give very large donations by attaching their name to a room or building – I regretted even more that Millicent Fawcett’s name has been detached from the Library inaugurated in her memory. The Women’s Library@LSE has a very bright future, but we mustn’t forget the past on which it is built.
When – or if – those patient researchers now able to access the Women’s Library@LSE are able to tear themselves away from their papers, I have, over the last few months, created a series of posts on buildings in the area around LSE that relate to the Woman’s Cause. You will find links to them all under the Walks tab at the top of this blog. I thought the information contained in these posts might bring the area to life while legs are stretched and fresh (?) air breathed during strolls around the Aldwych area.