women's suffrage

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    Hotbed: Bohemian Greenwich Village and the Secret Club that Sparked Modern Feminism By Joanna Scutts (Seal Press)


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    Among the stories left untold from the women’s rights movement is the history of Heterodoxy, a secret club that helped shape first-wave feminism. Marie Jenney Howe, a Unitarian minister, formed Heterodoxy in 1912 when she came to Greenwich Village, in N.Y.C., as part of her suffrage activism. Most of the club’s members were involved in the suffrage movement but believed that achieving the right to vote would not be enough liberation for women. Rather, they hoped it could be a springboard toward greater gender equality. Among the club’s members were the writers Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Susan Glaspell. While the group initially consisted solely of privileged white women, it eventually became more diverse. Grace Nail Johnson, the group’s only Black member, pushed Heterodoxy members to gain a deeper understanding of race and how it factored into their fight. Meanwhile, working-class feminists focused on labor issues. The women of Heterodoxy pursued freedom for women on many fronts, including birth control, maternity leave, and maintaining independence in marriage. Scutts has created a narrative in which the subjects come alive as fully developed beings. This is an important work for understanding the history of feminism as well as contextualizing the current state of modern-day feminism and its potential future. –ADRIENNE URBANSKI


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    Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation By Maud Newton (Random House) 

    Ever wondered about the story of your family’s roots beyond the DNA test results from 23AndMe? Award-winning writer Maud Newton did, and her debut book is an engaging memoir about the quest for truth and the unanswered questions buried deep within her own ancestry. In a story that is part genealogical scavenger hunt, part cultural critique, and part American history, Newton’s highly researched memoir grapples with the complexities of her family tree and how it informs her life. Since childhood, Newton, who is white, has been obsessed with—and upset by—stories of her Southern ancestors: from her grandfather who came of age during the Great Depression, to her attorney father who eulogized the virtues of slavery, to the religious fanaticism of her family’s maternal line that caused an ancestor to be accused of being a witch. The story is told in a nonlinear fashion that interweaves texts and stories from our nation’s history with those of Newton’s own ancestors, and some readers may find themselves backtracking throughout the story to connect the dots. Readers will also be transfixed by the stories Newton uncovers about her family members and moved by witnessing the transformative power that reckoning with one own’s past can have. –CHIARA ATOYEBI

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    Bitch: On the Female of the SpeciesBy Lucy Cooke (Basic Books)

    I devoured zoologist Lucy Cooke’s latest book the way a female golden orb weaver spider devours the male: voraciously. Cooke strikes down the notion that scientists make for poor communicators—her prose is cinematic, energetic, and hilarious. The book explores female aggression and dominance, maternity, genitalia, reproduction, and sexual selection (including lesbian albatrosses!). We accompany Cooke on various adventures, from scooping whale poop (to study menopause in orcas, naturally) to climbing snowy mountains to watch the mating dance of the sage grouse. Estimably, Bitch calls for “a sex-neutral approach when forecasting animal behavior. One that [is] shaped by the environment, developmental and life history along with random events.” It embraces the idea that to be female is to be on a spectrum of sex that’s definable only by its plasticity. The takeaway is that, like with other animals, human sexual expression is akin to breathing—an involuntary process and a conscious choice. When Bitch wasn’t radicalizing my views on sex, it had me cooing over observations like that of chubby seal pups rolling unstoppably as their little flippers can’t reach the ground. This book is highly recommended to anyone who enjoy animals, humor, queer theory, feminism, or all of the above. –ROBYN SMITH

    This article originally appeared in BUST's Summer 2022 print edition. Subscribe today!

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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! 


    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. 


    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.

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    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!). 


    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’

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    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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    How Millicent Fawcett Fought For Women's Rights To Vote

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    Think votes for women and you think Pankhurst’s, you might think fearless suffragettes risking everything, committing violent acts to win the day.

    And you would be wrong. 

    awkward 54e2fWell, this is awkward...

    Okay, fine, not entirely wrong, but you would only be seeing about 10% of the picture. Women’s suffrage was a fight that had been going on since the early Victorian period, decades before the suffragettes were formed – it’s a battle that’s largely been forgotten, but thanks to some badass feminists and historians, that’s all changing!

    So how do you get up to speed with this unsung era of history? Well, there’s no better place to start than Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

    millicent cd9d6Feminist hero and queen of the updo.

    Millicent was born in 1846, one of the youngest of 10 (yep, that’s right—10!). She was raised right, taught to think for herself and pursue her passions.

    When Millicent was 12, her older sister Elizabeth moved to London to study medicine (FYI- Elizabeth went on to become Britain’s first female doctor – you will soon learn that these sisters had badassery hardwired in their genes). It was whilst visiting Elizabeth in London that the young Millicent had her first brush with the women’s rights movement.

    Elizabeth introduced her younger sister to Emily Davies, a fervent campaigner for women’s rights. Soon, the two friends descended into talk of overcoming gender barriers in education (Emily) and medicine (Elizabeth), deciding that it was only after achieving equal rights in fields like these that women would be able to fight for the vote. Then, as if as an afterthought, the women turned to Millicent and Emily said:


    Older sisters, right!

    But attend to it Millie did. She threw herself into reading up on the law and female rights. She went to a talk given by radical MP John Stuart Mill in favour of women’s rights and became his ardent supporter…she did all this before she was 19, and she wasn’t done.

    Now, let’s pause for a moment and think about what your life’s greatest achievement at 19 was. I’ll admit that working out jägerbombs do not a good evening make is an achievement. But it’s not got shit on 19-year-old Millie.

    Because in 1866, she delivered a petition to Parliament calling for women to have the vote.

    That’s right. At 19, Millicent kickstarted things, with the first official move in the loooong battle for equal votes.

    sickening bac44Yep, it's both amazing and sickening. via Giphy.

    Having fired the opening shot, Millicent was keen to continue her campaign. She started writing and working at getting more politically active. Then, in 1867, she met Henry Fawcett, a radical liberal MP and scholar. The two had a lot in common, and Millicent felt like she had met a kindred spirit, even though Henry was a decade older than her and was also newly blind.

    Against everyone’s wishes, the pair married, with Millicent helping Henry come to terms with his new disability and with Henry supporting Millicent as she found her feet in politics.

    henry and millicent 13257Henry and Millicent Fawcett

    As  part of Millicent’s effort to get women's right to vote into the public consciousness, she gave her first speech in 1869. She hated every moment of it.

    public speaking be05cUgh, public speaking. via Giphy

    But without any real mass media to spread the word on women’s suffrage, she didn’t really have a choice. So Millicent fought through it: chucking herself into the deep end, she went on a speaking tour in 1871. She kept pushing through and eventually became one of England’s most popular and passionate public speakers.

    Whilst overcoming her fears, Millicent published several in-depth political and economic books and founded Newham College, Cambridge – you know, as you do. A boss at multitasking, she also found time to give birth and raise a daughter, Philippa (who went on to become an acclaimed mathematician and educator, BTW). 

    Everything was coming up Millicent, and she was fast becoming one of the most vocal proponents for women’s rights in the world; her husband, Henry one of the most loved and respected figures in British politics (not an easy feat, being a liked politician!). It seemed nothing could stop this power couple.

    And then Henry died. 

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    But Millicent persisted. Now a single mother, she buckled down on women’s rights. Soon becoming the clear figurehead for the movement in the U.K., Millicent fought for the campaign to seek more than the vote, fighting for women’s sexual rights, working rights, and so much more.

    In 1897, she helped form the NUWSS (The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, also known as the suffragists), bringing the majority of the country’s women’s rights groups together and making their collective voice even louder. 

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    Though the Suffragists’ means were peaceful, that didn’t mean Millicent couldn’t get militant.

    She had an active role in the Personal Rights Association, who sought to shed light on men with, er, nefarious intentions when it came to young women. Once throwing flour at a seemingly untouchable Army General who had been sexually harassing a maid, Millicent then pinned a sign to his back which outlined his deeds and sent him packing down a crowded street of onlookers (because seriously, fuck that guy).

    snap 2a9eeA witness said Millicent "had no pity and would have cashiered him if she could."

    But it wasn’t just women’s rights that concerned Millicent. In 1900, NUWSS member Emily Hobhouse traveled to South Africa and shone light on the treatment of the Boer People who were at war with England (The Boer War).

    The Boer People were being sent to concentration camps (never not a good time to to remember that the British invented them!),their land overturned and scorched. This quickly became a hot topic in Parliament, with all around liberal bae David Lloyd George declaiming the British military’s actions as an extermination of a people.

    Believing Hobhouses’ claims to be vastly exaggerated, The British Government created a commission of women with the purpose of travelling to South Africa and reporting back on the camps. Millicent was made head of the commission, which was met with criticism…as Millicent was in favour of the camps.

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    Millicent went out expecting to find the conditions in the camp slightly grim but with the people well fed, clothed, and sheltered. This was not what she was met with.

    To say the conditions in the camps were grim would be a gross understatement (emphasis on the gross). Disease and famine were widespread and, by the end of the war, of those in the camps, 1 in 4 had died.

    Despite a (pretty darn racist) government release defending the camps, The Fawcett Commission backed up Hobhouses claims and made their damning evidence very public knowledge. The Boer War ended in 1902, the camps quickly removed. 

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    The Suffragists arguably had most MPs persuaded that votes for women was the right thing to do, but as anyone who has spent 5 minutes in Parliament will tell you – just because MPs know it’s right…doesn’t mean they will do it. And so, from 1901-1914 the Liberal government refused to do anything around women’s votes.

    what the dick a23afYeah, don't try to look for logic in that bullshit. via Giphy

    In this climate, the suffragettes were born, with the WSPU (The Women’s Social and Political Union) forming in 1903. The suffragettes were a much smaller movement than the Suffragists (by a David and Goliath level comparison) but their violent methods caught the eye of the media, and they stayed in the headlines for much of the decade.

    suffragette e9bbf

    Yet Millicent maintained that the NUWSS wouldn’t enter the violent fray, intent on keeping the dialogue with politicians open; saying:

    ‘I can never feel that setting fire to houses and churches and litter boxes and destroying valuable pictures really helps to convince people that women ought to be enfranchised.’

    Then, in 1914 England entered the First World War and the suffrage movement met a crossroads. Should they halt their actions and support the war effort, or continue nonetheless? The WSPU agreed to halt activity, with the government releasing all imprisoned suffragettes the movement threw themselves fully into recruiting soldiers.

    BUT the NUWSS disagreed with the war. Millicent was torn; to publicly call for peace would lead to a public outcry against the suffragists; horrific considering the fight for the vote hadn’t actually been won – but to do like the WSPU and drive recruitment would splinter the party.

    In the end Millicent opted to stay neutral, not calling for peace, but not actively speaking out for the war. It meant she lost some face within the party and the NUWSS lost some members, but crucially, it ensured the public remained on side and lines with politicians open. 

    munitions ad abdde

    Throughout the war, women from all over the country took up the job roles men had left behind. Both the NUWSS and the WSPU were key to this work effort, which did far more than help the British military…it showed on a practical level that women were just as capable as men on every level.

    And so, in 1916, Millicent wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to take into account the tremendous daily work being carried by women and reconsider the vote.

    And this time he did.


    A year later, now in her 70s, Millicent stepped down from her role leading the NUWSS. But, of course, her fight was not over. As she always campaigned for women’s rights, calling for equal access in the fields of civil service and law and fighting for better divorce rights for women.


    Millicent was one of the only original suffrage campaigners to see their decades-long campaign win out. After over 60 years of campaigning, she watched the bill be carried out in Parliament.

    Forgotten for decades, Millicent’s story is finally getting the attention it deserves and in 2018, she became first woman with a statue in Parliament Square. 

    millicent fawcett 5ab78

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

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    “Why are girls to be told that they resemble angels; but to sink them below women... Yet they are told, at the same time, that they are only like angels when they are young and beautiful; consequently, it is their persons, not their virtues, that procure them this homage,” Mary Wollstonecraft says in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Wollstonecraft is regarded as the mother of Western feminist thought, and her texts are widely acknowledged as the major foundational philosophy for the women’s suffrage movement. Today in North London, her legacy has been realized through sculpture. Rising out of a swirling silver mass is a naked woman standing tall with a gaze staring straight ahead. On the base of the statue reads a quote by Wollstonecraft: "I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves."

    This is the first sculpture dedicated to the work and life of Wollstonecraft, and one of only 10 percent of statues in London commemorating women. Sculpted by Maggi Hambling, its unveiling comes after a decade of campaigning by the collective Mary on the Green to raise the £143,000 needed for its creation. Mary on the Green's campaign website reads, "The memorial will be a tangible way to share Wollstonecraft's vision and ideas. Her presence in a physical form will be an inspiration to local young people in Islington, Haringey, and Hackney… Just as the image of Churchill's memorial statue is used in debates on his legacy, the same is needed for Mary Wollstonecraft."

    While the idea is honorable, the execution seems to be amiss. To have a foremother of feminist thought commemorated in a nude "every-woman" form is a bit confusing. If not wholly unexampled, it's rare to see a male thought leader honored for his ideas through a naked statue. Unsurprisingly, the internet feels similarly. Here a few clever takes:

    Top Image vis Flickr/ Amaro Studios

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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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