suffragettes

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    In 1918 women were finally given a portion of the vote: that is, the Representation of the People Act allowed women over 30 who were married to a property owner, were graduates in a University Constituency, or were a member of a Local Government Register (or at least married to one!) to vote in elections.

    Getting to this partial step towards equality had been one loooooong fight. Thousands upon thousands of women fought for decades for the simple right of having a say in their own lives.

    So, let’s remember a few of the badass brave ladies that history all too often forgets! 

    1. THE FIRE STARTER: KITTY MARION 

    kitty marion survaliance image 59c3bPhoto of Kitty Marion that was also used by the police for surveillance

    A former chorus girl, Kitty Marion was steadily climbing the ranks to become a headlining music hall act. But she quickly discovered that wasn’t going to happen unless she got on the casting couch. 

    Sounds familiar, huh?

    Kitty was appalled by just how disgustingly sexist the theatre industry was. But she wasn’t going to give in that easily.

    Instead of walking away, she decided to fight; not just for her, but for every woman! She wanted women to be seen as equals, not as objects. In her mind, that couldn’t happen until women had equal political power.

    And so, in 1908, Kitty joined the WSPU(Women’s Social and Political Union, commonly known as The Suffragettes).

    Now, to say Kitty was happy to use militant tactics for the cause would be the understatement of the century.

    kitty marion during one of her arrests 6576fKitty during one of her many arrests

    Kitty was arrested often, for a whole litany of crimes including window smashing, pulling fire alarms, and—Kitty’s personal favorite—arson. She burned down Hurst race courses grand stand, an MP’s house, and several properties across Manchester and Liverpool.

    Kitty actually kept a scrapbook,where, much like her theatrical press cuttings, she popped news articles about her arson attacks, including several pieces on attacks where the culprit was never found. Hmmm, I wonder who could have done those?!? 

    sherlock gif 3b1e4Yeah, I don't think we need Sherlock to crack that particular case.

    Unsurprisingly for someone carrying out all of the arson, Kitty spent a lot of time in prison. She regularly undertook hunger strikes, which led to her being force fed a record 242 times.

    But Kitty was unwavering, even setting fire to her cell after one force feeding (girl had a theme!).

    kitty marion in sash 2 e1517748944950 3d769I mean, look at that steely stare.

    By 1915, the First World War was in full swing and the German-born Kitty was seen as way to much of a threat to remain in the UK (to be fair, she was doing all of the arson..) so she was deported to America, where she could live a quiet life and stay out of trouble.

    Obvs, Kitty immediately joined the U.S. birth control movement.

    She was part of the group that would go on to create Planned Parenthood and spent a lot of time on the streets raising awareness of birth control.

    This led to Kitty receiving deaths threats and daily abuse. Her actions also meant she was arrested again and again and again!

    kitty marion selling birth control papers a7665At this point, we all know that Kitty refused to give up.

    In 1921, Kitty and Margaret Sanger set up America’s first birth control clinic. The police never stopped trying to close it.

    Kitty continued campaigning until her old age, eventually dying in 1944, surrounded by her friends and fellow fighters. 

    2. THE TEENAGE TEARAWAY: DORA THEWLIS

    Dora had been working in a Huddersfield mill since she was just over 10.

    Now, to be blunt, being a mill worker was the worst. The hours were long, the pay shit and the safety negligible, with children and adults both working in hazardous conditions.

    But Dora was one smart cookie. She’d been poring over newspapers and chatting politics since she was just 7! All this parliamentary prose has made Dora determined to see change, but she knew this couldn’t happen when half the population couldn’t even vote!

    So, in her early teens, Dora became a founding member of her local WSPU branch.

    In February 1907, a 16-year-old Dora hopped on a train with her fellow WSPU members and travelled from Manchester to London for a quick parliamentary protest road trip. Dora’s ‘clog and shawl brigade’ were joined outside Parliament by WSPU groups from all over Britain, but they weren’t alone; an army of hundreds of policeman met the ladies head on and things quickly escalated.

    Pretty soon, 75 suffragettes were arrested for trying to ‘rush’ the House of Commons; Dora was one of them.

    Within hours of her arrest, Dora was the face of the suffrage movement, with this picture slap in the middle of the Daily Mirror’s front page.

    dora thewlis arrest 2a292This picture went on to become a popular anti-suffragette postcard.

    The newspapers dubbed her the baby suffragette.

    When she appeared in court, the judge (here to be known as Captain Asshat) was equally condescending and flippant, proclaiming to the court that he was sure the reason Dora was actually in London was to ‘entice’ men. Captain Asshat then went on to ask:

    ‘Where is your mother?’

    Sadly, if Captain Asshat was thinking Dora’s mom would be pissed at her daughter, he was wrong—Dora’s mother actually wrote to him saying just how proud she was of her headstrong and intelligent daughter.

    Sadly, no matter how amazing this was, it didn’t help. 16-year-old Dora was sent to prison.

    oh no gif 3ca75

    Now, being in prison as a suffragette was hard, but being in prison as a working class suffragette was HAAAAAAARD.

    Dora was bullied by the guards and most probably experienced beatings in addition to the daily verbal harassment.

    By the time she left, the teenager’s spirit was crushed.

    But that didn’t stop the Edwardian paparazzi hounding Dora as soon as she stepped off the train in Manchester! They all wanted to know what the baby suffragette would do next.

    Dora was not down with this!

    She was done with the hierarchy treating her like a child whose views were a cutesy joke. Nearly 17, she shot back at journalists:

    ‘Don’t call me the ‘Baby Suffragette.’ I am not a baby. In May next year I shall be 18. Surely for a girl, that is a good age?’ 

    yes dora bde0fYes, Dora!!

    Dora continued campaigning until, in 1914, she decided to escape mill life and moved to Australia. There she lived happily until a ripe old age, with her husband and children (who, BTW, were all obvs educated in feminism and the need for equal rights for all!). 

    3. THE WILD WOMAN: LEONORA COHEN

    Leonora Cohen grew up in a hardworking family. Just like Dora, she worked from an early age, eventually settling down with a nice man to pop out a few kids.

    But this wasn’t the end of Leonora’s story! 

    leonora cohen f4cefLeonora Cohen

    You see, Leonora had watched her mother struggle as a single mom, had herself faced horrific working conditions as woman, and was generally treated as a second-class citizen. She watched as those around her just took this and that sparked something inside:

    ‘My mother would say ‘Leonora, if only we women had a say in things’, but we hadn’t. A drunken lout of a man opposite had a vote simply because he was a male. I vowed I’d try to change things.’

    emotional clap gif ab540Can we please have more Leonoras in the world?

    In 1909 Leonora joined the WSPU, initially selling suffragette papers in the gutter (so she couldn’t get arrested for obstructing pavements).

    But two years into her activism, Leonora decided to go all in. With her husband backing her all the way, she went big on militant actions!

    Leonora attended more protests than ever before. She learned to give powerful speeches and ignore the masses of hate mail that followed them. She even went to Holloway Prison for stone throwing!

    But it wasn’t enough. Leonora wanted to do something that would grab people’s attention.

    And so she planned to break into the Crown Jewels.

    standard gif 4b9baWell, this seems like a perfectly normal reaction...right?

    In 1913, Leonora walked into the Tower of London, a crowbar hidden under her coat.

    Nobody noticed the slight woman…until she whipped out the crowbar and smashed through the glass protecting the Crown Jewels. She was immediately tackled to the ground amid a shower of broken glass. But the damage was done.

    Leonora had succeeded. Her act was front page news; the note she’d wrapped around the crowbar providing the words on everyone’s lips:

    ‘My Protest to the Government for its refusal to Enfranchise Women, but continues to torture women prisoners – Deeds Not Words. Votes for Women. 100 Years of Constitutional Petition, Resolutions, Meetings & Processions have Failed’

    leonora blue plaque 100d5

    Leonora continued her work after women were partly granted the vote in 1918. She became the first female president of The Yorkshire Trade Councils, before becoming one of the U.K.’s first women to take the bench, when she was made a magistrate in 1924.

    Leonora stayed an active feminist right up until her death in 1978, at the grand old age of 105!

    This article originally appeared on F Yeah History and has been reprinted here with permission.

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    Here at F Yeah History, we love women who boss at everything. Be it literature, politics, art, employment, activism – the two women you’re going to read about next had it ALL.

    Star of the stage Ellen Terry and her thespian daughter, Edith Craig, were two of the jazziest, energetic, and engaging characters of the early 20th century. From defying social norms to sticking it to theatre censorship laws, Ellen and Edith shook up the world they lived in, and everybody they met along the way.

    Hooked? Good. Let’s start with the mother…

    IF YOU’RE A FAN OF SHAKESPEARE, YOU’LL KNOW HE WROTE SOME CRACKING LEADING LADIES. PORTIA, KATHERINE, VIOLA, SYLVIA, AND WHO COULD FORGET BEATRICE, QUEEN OF WIT AND SASS?

    They’ve been portrayed on stage and screen over the past five hundred years, but never with quite as much wow factor as when Britain’s best loved stage actress, Ellen Terry performed them.

    ellen terry as lady macbeth 0d79dD-R-A-M-A: Ellen as a stonkingly scary Lady Macbeth, painted by John Singer Sargent

    And if you want a quick summary of how much Britain loved Ellen Terry, then here it is in a little poem written for her:

    ‘Britain’s pride,
    The genius of the stage personified,
    Queen-like, pathetic, tragic, contemporary, merry,
    O rare, O sweet, O Wondrous Ellen Terry.’

    Ellen Terry lived a dramatic life on and off the stage. Born to a family of performers, she became a child actress and grew up on the stage, before joining the Theatre Royal at Bristol and becoming famous for her depiction of Shakespearean heroines. 

    BUT it all went a bit wobbly when Ellen turned sixteen, and married George Fredric Watts, a renowned artist, for whom she had once modelled. Watts was 46 at the time – 30 years her senior! – and the marriage was doomed (again…she was 16!), lasting less than a year.

    Ellen returned to the stage, often alongside Henry Irving (who apparently inspired the looks for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, don’t you know). Henry and Ellen’s relationship was intense, and passionate; they partnered in productions for decades. 

    Ellen was also close to George Bernard Shaw, exchanging letters with him for most of her life. There was even a play written about their letters! Shaw referred to their relationship as a courtship by letters, and wrote to her, in one:

    ‘Do you read these jogged scrawls, I wonder. I think of your poor eyes, and resolve to tear what I have written up: then I look out at the ghostly country and the beautiful night, and I cannot bring myself to read a miserable book…Yes, as you guess, Ellen, I am having a bad attack of you just at present. I am restless; and a man’s restlessness always means a woman; and my restlessness means Ellen.’

    I’d say I felt sorry for his wife, but their relationship was pretty weird already…

    But enough about the men. Ellen loved a romance, yes, but her career remained extraordinary. 

    She was unable to resist stage life, though this was sometimes for financial reasons.

    Even after giving birth to her two children with Edward Godwin (who she had eloped with but didn’t actually marry), she returned to acting and slayed across theatres in the U.K., U.S.A., and Australia.

    picture 1 25552The Terry/Craig/Godwin fam: Terry and her children, Edward and Edith

    Ellen was adored by legions of fans, and became the muse to many directors and playwrights. Her performance of Portia in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was world-renowned, and in her later years, she successfully toured the U.S., delivering lectures on the Bard himself.

    Ellen’s children travelled with her as she toured the world, and as she grew older, her daughter Edith managed her career. 

    Born Edith Godwin, she was keen to distance herself from her illegitimacy…and thus, Edith Craig was born! 

    Ellen’s star may have eclipsed all others, but her daughter lived an colourful, unique, and inspiring life equal, if not greater, than her mother did.

    terry craig 237b9The ultimate stage parent!

    Starting on the stage at a young age, Edith acted, like her mother, with Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theatre, and in the plays of her mum’s pen pal, George Bernard Shaw. 

    But she wasn’t going to be an actress, oh no! Edith took a very different theatrical direction. Inspired by the radical movers and shakers that surrounded her, Edith set up a new theatre company, the Pioneer Players. 

    In a move to end censorship in performing arts, Edith and the Pioneer Players, well, did what it said on the tin. They put on plays that had been previously banned – plays about social reform, humanists; and, unsurprisingly, feminism.

    Because what cause was flourishing at the time of the Pioneer Players? Women’s suffrage, of course!

    Now, Edith was already pretty indoctrinated into the women’s suffrage movement, having attended a forward-thinking school with a pro-suffrage teaching staff, as she said:

    “When I was at school I lived in a house of Suffrage workers, and at regular periods the task of organising Suffrage petitions kept everybody busy. Perhaps I didn’t think very deeply about it, and my first ideas of Suffrage duties were concerned with the interminable addressing of envelopes; but I certainly grew up quite firmly certain that no self-respecting woman could be other than a Suffragist.”

    Edith was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, but soon left in protest at the Pankhursts’ autocratic rule and joined the Women’s Freedom League with other suffrage bigwigs, including Teresa Billington-Greig and Charlotte Despard. 

    As theatre became even more prolific in the suffrage world, with plays by Ciecly Hamilton and Elizabeth Robins depicting pro-suffrage and feminist narratives, in 1908 Edith became instrumental, along with her fellow actresses, artists and playwrights, in forming the Actresses’ Franchise League. 

    Apart from bearing one of the most gorgeous suffrage banners of all time (don’t @ me), the AFL didn’t use tradition campaigning tactics, but used performance as propaganda. The organization grew and got stronger, thanks to Edith’s strong, organizational mad skills.

    Edith dedicated her life to challenging, questioning, and fighting social norms. With the drama and passion that her mother applied onstage, Edith applied it to fighting injustice and inequality. 

    She openly lived in a ménage-a-trois with playwright Christabel Marshall (known as Christopher St John) and artist Clare Atwood, to which her brother said was a result of her "hatred of men" (really original, Edward, round of applause to you). 

    Edith was a wee bit of a battle-axe; she was hard-faced and uncharismatic, unlike her mother, who once said she was too afraid to kiss her own daughter, she hated affection so much. 

    Despite this revulsion for PDA and hugs, Edith was absolutely dedicated to her mother. 

    She lived next door to Smallhythe, Ellen’s country house – although out of hatred for Ellen’s third husband, she built a hedge between their houses so she never had to see him, quite literally.  

    When Ellen died, she transformed the house into a museum so that her mother’s memory would be preserved forever, and the story of her stardom would shine on. Though she was estranged from her brother (who was the father of Isadora Duncan’s daughter…), she continued to share the story their family’s life, dominated by their mother, by going into partnership with an organization dedicated to saving stories of then nation…the National Trust. She died in 1947. Right up to her death, she flaunted social conventions, and lived life the way she wanted to. 

    Just like her mother.

    This article originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.

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  • Portrait of Susan B. Anthony 413d8

    The 100-year anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment becoming law was just the other day, meaning it’s been 100 years since women, namely white women, got the right to vote and the suffrage movement had its biggest victory. On Tuesday, President Trump announced he was going to pardon Susan B. Anthony, one of the most prominent suffrage activists. Trump asked what took so long to pardon her in a press conference.

    Some historians think this is the wrong move. Some suggest that the reason Anthony was never pardoned was that she wouldn’t want to be pardoned. She was proud of her arrest and historians say that the pardon would undermine Anthony’s wishes. Anthony also felt like she did nothing wrong and did not commit a crime by voting, and Trump’s pardoning of Anthony would go against that belief.

    One of the voices speaking out against the pardon is the executive director of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House in Rochester, Deborah Hughes. Hughes said that Anthony would not want a pardon for herself. She released a statement about the pardon on Tuesday. "She felt she had a right to vote as a citizen. She felt that the trial was the greatest miscarriage of justice, as did her lawyers, and to pardon it is to validate the trial," Hughes told ABC News. In her statement, Hughes also points out the hypocrisy of Trump pardoning someone whose vote was suppressed while actively trying to suppress votes.

    Hughes argues in the statement that a pardon does not honor Anthony’s legacy. She offers Trump some alternatives. The statement reads, "If one wants to honor Susan B. Anthony today, a clear stance against any form of voter suppression would be welcome. Enforcement and expansion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be celebrated, we must assure that states respect the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Support for the Equal Rights Amendment would be well received. Advocacy for human rights for all would be splendid. Anthony was also a strong proponent of sex education, fair labor practices, excellent public education, equal pay for equal work, and elimination of all forms of discrimination."

    Elected officials, such as New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and California Representative Jackie Speier, are also calling on Trump to rescind the pardon.

    Trump's doing this pardon is a distraction in hopes that people will forget how his policies hurt women and women of color, and we cannot let ourselves be distracted.

    Header image via Wikimedia Commons / Julian Felsenburgh

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