Posts Tagged women’s suffrage movement

Collecting Suffrage: Suffragette Fakery

Over the years I have expressed concern about the practice of dealers and auctioneers in labelling as ‘suffragette’ any piece of jewellery that combines stones approximating to suffragette colours of purple, white and green. I explained in another post [see https://wp.me/p2AEiO-nd] that such jewellery would have had no association with the suffragette movement, the colours were merely harmonious and fashionable, which was why they had been chosen by the Women’s Social and Political Union as their ‘brand’. This practice is, I am afraid, still rife, but at least I have tried to warn the trade and the public.

However, I am now increasingly worried by the number of deliberately faked suffragette objects that are being sold both on eBay and by British auction houses, often for high prices. Fake ‘suffragette’ flags, watches, cigarette cases, car badges, defaced coins, and woven cloth badges are the latest items to appear in auction house sales. Having specialised in suffrage ephemera – as an historian and a dealer – for over 35 years I can assure my readers that most of these objects either never existed in the ‘suffrage’ years and are being dreamed up – and manufactured – by unscrupulous sellers, or are modern copies. I do occasionally protest to terrestrial auction houses about individual items and they then invariably withdraw them from sale – but I cannot hope to stem the tide alone.

While I hate the idea of private buyers being duped, not only by spending large sums but also by thinking, erroneously, that they own an artefact with a real connection to the suffrage movement, my principal fear is that such objects will end up in public collections; indeed, I know this to have happened. If the institution is made aware of its mistake and removes the object from display, it has lost money; if the object passes into the collection unchallenged, it is legitimising a fiction. I would ask potential buyers to think carefully – and even consult an expert – before spending money on artefacts labelled as ‘suffragette’. Better still, research the movement carefully so that you can exercise your own judgment. There are still plenty of ‘right’ objects to be found but, as ever, this maxim holds: ‘If an item looks too good to be true, it probably is’.

Caveat Emptor

To see something of the marvellous range of suffrage artefacts that were actually produced by suffrage societies do consult Ken Florey’s site. Although treating, in the main, items produced to publicise the US suffrage movement, he also includes a wide range of British items.

My website also includes a number of articles that may prove useful – under the ‘Collecting Suffrage’ heading. And, if you would like advice about an item you are thinking of buying, you can always ask for my opinion.

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Now Published: Campaigning For The Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary, Edited By Elizabeth Crawford


Kate Frye cover

An extract:

‘Saturday June 14th 1913. [Kate is lodging in Baker Street, London] I had had a black coat and skirt sent there for Miss Davison’s funeral procession and the landlady had given me permission to change in her room. I tore into my black things then we tore off by tube to Piccadilly and had some lunch in Lyons. But the time was getting on – and the cortege was timed to start at 2 o’clock from Victoria.

We saw it splendidly at the start until we were driven away from our position and then could not see for the crowds and then we walked right down Buckingham Palace Rd and joined in the procession at the end. It was really most wonderful – the really organised part – groups of women in black with white lilies – in white and in purple – and lots of clergymen and special sort of pall bearers each side of the coffin.

She gave her life publicly to make known to the public the demand of Votes for Women – it was only fitting she should be honoured publicly by the comrades. It must have been most imposing.

The crowds were thinner in Piccadilly but the windows were filled but the people had all tramped north and later on the crowds were tremendous. The people who stood watching were mostly reverent and well behaved. We were with the rag tag and bobtail element but they were very earnest people. It was tiring. Sometimes we had long waits – sometimes the pace was tremendous. Most of the time we could hear a band playing the funeral march.

Just before Kings Cross we came across Miss Forsyth (a fellow worker for the New Constitutional Society) – some of the New Constitutional Society had been marching with the Tax Resisters. I had not seen them or should have joined in. I had a chat with her.

Near Kings Cross the procession lost all semblance of a procession – one crowded process – everyone was moving. We lost our banner – we all got separated and our idea was to get away from the huge crowd of unwashed unhealthy creatures pressing us on all sides. We went down the Tube way. But I did not feel like a Tube and went through to the other side finding ourselves in Kings Cross station.

Saying we wanted tea we went on the platform and there was the train – the special carriage for the coffin – and, finding a seat, sank down and we did not move until the train left. Lots of the processionists were in the train, which was taking the body to Northumberland for interrment – and another huge procession tomorrow. To think she had had to give her life because men will not listen to the claims of reason and of justice. I was so tired I felt completely done. We found our way to the refreshment room and there were several of the pall bearers having tea. ‘

Campaigning for the Vote tells, in her own words, the efforts of a working suffragist to instil in the men and women of England the necessity of ‘votes for women’ in the years before the First World War.

The detailed diary kept all her life by Kate Parry Frye (1878-1959) has been edited to cover 1911-1915, years she spent as a paid organiser for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage.  A  biographical introduction positions Kate’s ‘suffrage years’ in the context of her long life., a knowledge of her background giving the reader a deeper appreciation of the way in which she undertook her work.  Editorial comment adds further information about the people Kate meets and the situations in which she finds herself.

Campaigning for the Vote  constitutes that near impossibility – completely new primary material on the ‘votes for women’ campaign, published for the first time 100 years after the events it records.

With Kate for company we experience the reality of the ‘votes for women’ campaign as, day after day, in London and in the provinces, she knocks on doors, arranges meetings, trembles on platforms, speaks from carts in market squares, village greens, and seaside piers, enduring indifference, incivility and even the threat of firecrackers under her skirt. Kate’s words bring to life the world of the itinerant organiser – a world of train journeys, of complicated luggage conveyance, of hotels – and hotel flirtations – , of boarding houses, of landladies, and of the ‘quaintness’ of fellow boarders.

This was not a way of life to which she was born, for her years as an organiser were played out against the catastrophic loss of family money and enforced departure from a much-loved home. Before 1911 Kate had had the luxury of giving her time as a volunteer to the suffrage cause; now she depended on it for her keep. No other diary gives such an extensive account of the working life of a suffragist, one who had an eye for the grand tableau – such as following Emily Wilding Davison’s cortége through the London streets – as well as the minutiae of producing an advertisement for a village meeting.

Moreover Kate Frye gives us the fullest account to date of the workings of the previously shadowy New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. She writes at length of her fellow workers, never refraining from discussing their egos and foibles. After the outbreak of war in August 1914 Kate continued to work for some time at the society’s headquarters, helping to organize its war effort, her diary entries allowing us to experience her reality of life in war-time London.

ITV has selected Kate Frye – to be portrayed by a leading young actress – as one of the main characters in a 2014 documentary series to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

See also ‘Kate Frye in “Spitalfields Life”‘ and ‘Kate Frye in “History Workshop Online”‘

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 – e.crawford@sphere20.freeserve.co.uk  (£14.99 +UK postage £2.60. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review Bookshop, Foyles, Daunt Books, Persephone Bookshop, Newham Bookshop and 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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