I bring you another book by Pen & Sword, and one that I feel remains very relevant. Re-reading the history of the UK suffragettes and the movement to get votes for women, I could not help but notice similarities with the current situation. The struggle is far from over, but we must always remember those who came before. (Oh, and I couldn’t help also notice similarities with some political events and situations taking place in my country right now, but that isn’t relevant to the book so… I’ll keep my peace).
Suffragettes (Images of the The National Archives) by Lauren Willmott
1918 was a watershed moment for the development of British democracy: for the first time, some women could vote. The occasion marked the culmination of a fifty-year long, arduous struggle of thousands of women and men up and down the country.
Using unique documents and images held at The National Archives, we will delve into the world of suffrage and trace the journey of these thousands of individuals, fighting to achieve women’s rights in a man’s world, and how they were ultimately able to emerge largely victorious.
About the author:
Lauren spent four years at The National Archives as a records specialist. She has an active interest in gender history, and particularly the changing role of women in British society from the Victorian era to the Second World War. She now works as a curator in a major national museum.
Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback early copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
This is one of the types of books this publisher excels at. Experts on a topic with good access to images and visual resources create an informative and compelling narrative of a historically important subject or event, combining easy to read accounts with pictures and documents relevant to the matter that help make it more vivid and memorable in our minds.
In this case, the images of The National Archives about the Suffragettes serve to illustrate the story of the movement in the UK. The fact that the author was a records specialist at the National Archives is evident, as she wisely chooses, from what must be a large selection of material, a variety of documents: comic and cartoon images (of the disparaged “new woman”, wearing trousers or bloomers, ignoring her children, and smoking!), pictures of the women involved (including a fascinating one of Evelyn Manesta, or rather two, one showing clearly that she refused to have her picture taken and therefore somebody was holding her from the back, and then the manipulated version of it, where the person behind her had been removed. No Photoshop yet, but photo manipulation even in the early XX century was already in existence), letters from the women complaining about the conditions in prison, or the fact that they were treated like common criminals, a wonderful image of a boycotted census form, from 1911, with a handwritten note (No persons here, only women!), a picture from 4th June 1913, at Epsom, the Derby Races, where we can see Emily Wilding Davison after being trampled by a horse and another picture of her funeral procession, images of the destruction caused when things escalated…
These wonderful —scary, moving, and incredible, at times— images are accompanied by a brief history of the movement for the women’s vote in the UK. The book is short (under 100 pages) and therefore this is not a very detailed account, but as an introduction to the topic it works well, as it includes the antecedents (how married women had been fighting to try to keep their property for decades, and how they became more and more frustrated on seeing how other countries in “the colonies” like New Zealand and Australia passed more advanced legislation an introduced women’s vote before the UK did), the development of the different associations (Manchester and the Pankhurst women play an important role), their initial peaceful tactics, their focus on deeds and increase in the visibility of their actions, imprisonment, hunger strikes, the pause during WWI (which not everybody was in agreement with), and the final achievement of some sort of vote after the war (in 1918, only for women over 30 who were property owners or married to property owners. It would take 10 years to normalise the situation). The summary is well-written and it is fairly comprehensive, considering the length of the book, although it won’t tell experts anything they didn’t already know.
Although the images include the archival reference, I missed a bibliography, a list of illustrations and an index, but otherwise I found the book great for reference, also as a book to complement a collection for those interested in the topic and a good introduction for people looking for an informative and easy to read account.
If readers are interested in knowing more about the Suffragettes and the efforts to achieve women’s vote in the UK, especially in a particular city or region, I recommend checking the publisher’s website, as they are continually updating their collection Struggle and Suffrage in… (which includes already many cities and counties: Manchester, Leeds, Wales…), and they have other books looking at some of the figures involved in the fight as well. I plan on talking about some of those soon.
Thanks to Rosie and Pen & Sword, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling. Ah, and never forget!