Book Club Reviews 2020

"Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book."  Bill Watterson

Suffragettes – (the fight for votes for women)  (edited by Joyce Marlow)

 

“Promise me you will always use your vote”, my mother said. ‘Too many women suffered too much for you to waste it’. It’s not a promise many mothers would ask of their daughters today, but that was in 1951 and aged twenty-one I was newly eligible to vote.  (Joyce Marlow)

 

This is a book full of personal accounts, letters written and newspaper articles. Outlining events from 1832 when the first women’s suffrage petition was presented to the House of Commons through to 1928 when women were entitled to vote in the same way as men.

I wonder, Mr Editor,

Why I can’t have the vote:

And I will not be contented

Till I’ve found the reason out.

I am a working woman,

My voting half is dead,

I hold a house, and want to know

Why I can’t vote instead.

I pay my rates in person,

Under protest tho’, ’tis true:

But I pay them, and am qualified

To vote as well as you.

( Sarah Ann Jackson – letter published in Leeds Express 4 March 1868)

 

Interestingly, the book states that the focus of the movement was not wholly and solely on getting the vote! For most activists the vote was the first essential step on the hard, high road towards greater sexual equality. Many of them worked for causes and reforms outside the suffrage arena. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies’ newspaper, Common Cause, produced articles on: Massacre of the Innocents – Mortality rates in Workhouses; Anti- Sweating Bill; Child Murder; Partition of Bengal; State Registration of Nurses; Payment of MPs; Nameless Cruelties to Pit Ponies; Free Libraries; Public Nurseries; National Equine Defence League. The vote was the means, not the end… 

        

Militancy only stated in 1904. In 1906 the Daily Mail coined the word “suffragette” to differentiate the old style “patiently and persevering” from the new style of “deeds not words”. Suffragette denoted any women campaigning for the vote with a suffragist being the most violent militant – but the words were often interchangeable.

 

Both groups claimed that it was their actions that gained women the vote in 1928.

 

There were also a number of anti-suffrage movements.

 

‘The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad wicked folly of “Woman’s Rights”, with all its attendant horrors on which her poor sex is bent’.    (Queen Victoria 1870)

 

It was grueling to read of the imprisonments of both women and men and the horrific conditions surrounding force feeding. The ‘cat and mouse’ clause allowed for women to be released if they became ill while refusing food but then re-imprisoned when their health improved outside of jail.

 

During our discussions members of the Book Club reflected for a while on the question – ‘what would you do …for your rights?’.

In summary comments from the group included:

 

‘a book for the book shelf’

‘interesting’

‘did us good to read it’

‘liked the chronology of the pieces and articles’

 

The book certainly introduced us to many ordinary women who had the courage to stand up and be counted, no matter the consequences.

Christine Sudron

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