Sue Innes Memorial Lecture 2018 – Prof Sarah Pedersen

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On Saturday 29th September 2018, we held our 11th annual Sue Innes Memorial Lecture at Abertay University, Dundee. This has been an exciting year for women’s history with so many events celebrating and commemorating one hundred years since women over 30 years of age gained the right to vote. We were delighted to have as our speaker Professor Sarah Pedersen whose recent book The Scottish Suffragettes and the Press (2017) offers insights into the role of media in fueling political activism. Her research highlights tensions between the London leaders of Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the local leaders in Scotland contributing to a wider narrative of the suffragette movement as whole.

Suffragettes Who Have Never Been Kissed c.1910

Portrayals of suffragettes by the Anti-Suffrage Movement and the press and ugly spinsters was an image that the Pankhursts worked hard to counter. Sylvia Pankhurst remarked:

Many suffragists spend more money on clothes than they can comfortably afford, rather than run the risk of being considered outré, and doing harm to the cause.’ 

In her lecture, Professor Pedersen explored the symbiotic relationship between the press and the activities of the Scottish suffragettes. Despite the often mocking and anti-suffrage tone of newspapers, describing suffragettes as ‘screaming’, ‘screeching’, and ‘hysterical’, the reporting was often detailed and offered a platform for the pro-suffrage message to reach a wider audience. We learned about the popularity of local leaders such as Theresa Billington-Grieg and Helen Fraser, who often overshadowed London leaders during Scottish meetings reported by Scottish newspapers. It was this tension over their growing leadership in Scotland that Pedersen suggests led to the ousting of Billington-Greig, Fraser and also Caroline Phillips in Aberdeen by the central headquarters of the WSPU.

Theresa Billington-Greig

Following a disagreement over the Pankhursts increasingly heavy-handed approach both within the organisation and in their campaigning tactics Billington-Greig, with others, broke away from the WPSU in 1907. They founded the Women’s Freedom League (WFL), a militant non-violent organisation who chained themselves to railings and were instrumental in the 1911 Census Boycott.

       Women’s Freedom League Flag, 1908 from the LSE Library Collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/22772654202/

The press did not distinguish between the two organisations as highlighted by the story of Mary Maloney, who was a WFL member from London who followed Winston Churchill around during the Dundee by-election ringing a dinner bell every time he tried to speak. This caused such an outcry that the WSPU released a statement distancing themselves from the act.

Mary Maloney disrupts Churchill, 6 May 1908 (Dundee City Archives)

In the Scottish coverage of the campaign, it was the Scottish leaders that the press followed and reported on. But as suffrage action became increasingly violent, it was the deeds not words that would sell papers. It must be noted though, that violent acts of militancy in Scotland did not begin with any regularity until 1913 and even then, it was on a smaller-scale than England. The fates of Scottish suffragettes in London on hunger strike were reported daily, Scottish ‘Outrages’ and the trials made sensationalist stories. From the first act of militancy in 1905 when Christabel Pankhurst spat on a policeman, the press pushed the cause into the limelight and over the next decade the suffragettes fed the media with their hunger strikes, processions and bombings to keep votes for women in the public eye.

Pedersen’s analysis of the press highlights that there was Scottish independence from the London leadership of the militant movement with newspapers focusing on Scottish leaders, their words and activities. Through great examples of letters, images and even the odd poem, her lecture was both engaging and informative. Thank you to Professor Pederson for a lovely afternoon in sunny Dundee and for her wonderful insight into the Scottish Suffragettes and the role of the press.

 


If you, or your group, would like to find out more about Scottish Suffragettes in your location we have a great Suffrage Resource with some tips to help you get started. One of our members could also come along and run a workshop in your local area.


Yvonne McFadden (University of Glasgow)

Processions 2018 – Edinburgh 10 June 2018

On Sunday Yvonne and I took our daughters to Processions 2018, a mass participation artwork, in Edinburgh produced by Artichoke, my mum came too. The idea was that thousands of women and girls wearing scarves in the colours of the Women’s and Social and Political Union (WSPU) would create a sea of green, violet and white through the city. Processions were also taking place in Cardiff, Belfast and London.

The excitement about suffragettes began the Monday before when Sylvie and Caroline were allowed to stay about a wee bit late to watch the first half hour of Lucy Worsley’s documentary on BBC1. (If you’ve not seen it, I thought it was really good – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b5y4zg)

Then with my limited sewing skill I made them special suffragette t-shirts.

On the day Yvonne was prepared  bringing materials for the girls to make their own suffrage flags on the train from Glasgow.

© V. Wright

When we arrived at the Meadows it seemed like there were thousands of people of all ages and lots of groups of women from all over Scotland and the North of England with beautiful banners.

Being on the procession was a great experience for us all. We were walking in front of a group of Girl Guides and behind the Scottish Women’s Aid banner, which Yvonne recognised from when she had volunteered with Speaking Out. (The final Speaking Out publication has been published and can be downloaded here – https://womenslibrary.org.uk/discover-our-projects/speaking-out/the-speaking-out-publication/)

© Y. McFadden

© Y. McFadden

We didn’t finish the whole route as the girls were tired, but we did watch the procession pass us at the National Gallery and then popped in for some cake. We finished the day by bumping into Sue and Adele from the Glasgow Women’s Library and Adele’s mum at the train station.

© Y. McFadden

All in a great day out remembering all that women have achieved in the fight for equality and all that is still to do. Processions 2018 was a real inspiration for the next generation!

Congratulations to National Coordinators Jean Cameron and Anne McLaughlin – you did a great job!!


For other accounts and images of Processions 2018 see:

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

Suffrage in Dundee: WHS Suffrage Learning Resource launch event, 10 March 2018

On Saturday 10th of March as part of Dundee Women’s Festival Women’s History Scotland officially launched it’s new learning resource:

THE WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT IN SCOTLAND, 1867-1928: A LEARNING RESOURCE

We were fortunate to have such welcoming and supporting hosts in Dundee’s Central Library in the Wellgate with Maureen Hood and her team providing display materials from ‘Voteless not Voiceless‘ an exhibition held in the library a few years ago.

The launch was very well attended and there was a great deal of enthusiasm for both the online learning resource and learning more about the history of the suffrage movement in Dundee. In fact it turns out that Dundee could not have been a better place to hold the launch given the richness of the existing history of women in the city.

Following a brief introduction on our motivations for creating the resource and a tour of what information it contained, Esther Breitenbach of the WHS steering committeee gave an overview of the suffrage movement in Scotland, emphasising the long-run nature of the campaign for enfranchisement in Scotland and the differing demands of various groups of women. Central to this is the difference between suffragists and suffragettes: Suffragists used peaceful constitutional methods to make their case that women should have the vote on the same terms on men, and suffragist groups included the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). The suffragettes on the other hand advocated militant action and were largely members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Numerically there were far more suffragists than suffragettes and yet it is the suffragettes that live on in popular memory of the campaign for the vote. Esther also spoke of the early organisation of women in favour of the suffrage cause in Dundee and women’s involvement in political parties and activity in the city.

Norman Watson, journalist and author of several books on women’s history in Dundee including the soon to be reissued Dundee’s Suffragettes: Their Remarkable Struggle to Win Votes for Women then spoke very authoritatively and engagingly on the activities of members of the WSPU and WFL in Dundee such as Ethel Moorehead, Lila Clunas and Agnes Husband. Drawing on his vast collection of postcards, suffrage memorabilia, not to mention extensive knowledge, we all learned a great deal about the reasons why there was comparatively more suffrage activity in Dundee. Central to this was the fact that the then Prime Minister’s constituency was in East Fife and Winston Churchill was standing Liberal MP for Dundee in 1908. At this point Churchill was a rising star in the party, President of the Board of Trade and would go on to be Home Secretary in 1910. As a result Dundee was a high profile constituency and thus a strategic target of suffragette militancy. One of the most famous disrupting strategy was taken by Mary Maloney a member of the WSPU who would ring a bell every time Churchill addressed a crowd in Dundee (see image above). Nearby Perth prison also became notorious as this was where suffragettes were sent to be force-fed in Scotland. The WSPU rented a flat across from the prison so that members could sing songs and chants of solidarity with those imprisoned.

If you would like a more in-depth account of Dundee’s suffragette history look out for the publication of Norman’s book later this year.

Following a tea and coffee break, with refreshments generously provided by Dundee Central Library, historian Kenneth Baxter gave a presentation on the political representation of women in Dundee, which from 1918 to c. 1955 lagged behind the other major cities in Scotland. Dundonians were slow to elect their first female Councillor and first female MP. It was interesting to hear more about the women who were elected, their careers and political priorities in the city. While there is no one definitive answer to explain the relative lack of female elected representatives in Dundee given the city’s reputation as a women’s town, we had a good discussion with many suggestions from those attending the event.

The official launch of the online learning resource was a great success and we are keen to hold similar events throughout Scotland. If you are part of a local history or community group and would like to know more about the suffrage movement in your area please get in touch by emailing: info@womenshistoryscotland.org

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)