Hello everyone and welcome to my stop on this fantastic tour.
Today Sally Nicholls share with us her farvourites “Suffragettes”!
Journalist, children’s author, pacifist, militant Suffragette and aid worker. How do I love thee, Evelyn Sharp? Let me count the ways.
In the days when ‘female journalist’ meant agony aunt and knitting columnist, Sharp was an unusual figure. A professional political writer, her work included columns on Suffragist issues and life as experienced by the working-classes. She edited the Suffragette newspaper “Votes for Women” and co-founded the United Suffragists. She also wrote fairy tales and novels for children.
Her essays on Suffragette life, “Rebel Women”, are a marvellously funny and human picture of shy middle-class ladies forced into public life. My favourite is her description of four retiring ladies walking the streets dressed in sandwich-boards, though I’m also fond of poor stay-at-home-daughter Penelope’s attempts to convert her grande dame of a mother. Several of Evelyn’s scenes in “Things a Bright Girl Can Do” are unashamedly ripped off from Rebel Women.
Sharp wasn’t just a writer though. Although she fell out with Emmeline Pankhurst, she was a true militant, who went to prison in her forties, and hunger struck for the suffrage cause. She was also one of the few tax resister’s who kept on with the campaign when war was declared, and the tax resistence scenes in “Things a Bright Girl Can Do” draw heavily on her autobiography, “Unfinished Adventure”. Like May’s mother, she made friends with her bailiff and attempted to enlist him to the suffragette campaign. And after the war, she worked in Europe for the Quaker charity, the Friends War Victims Relief Organisation. What a woman!
Alice Duer Miller
Duer Miller was an American suffragist, a novelist, a playwright and a poet. She also had a degree in mathematics and astronomy, because why not?
I love Duer Miller for her satirical feminist poems and writings. She wrote “Why We Oppose Votes for Men”, which appears in “Things a Bright Girl Can Do” and which points out that most of the reasons to oppose against female suffrage could also be used against men. Her “Are Women People?” is a very funny collection of similar poems, mostly pointing out the inconsistencies in anti-suffrage thinking. Why are women people when it comes to tax-collecting but not when it comes to suffrage? Why don’t women’s clothes have bloody pockets?
If you ever wondered how you might have coped as an Edwardian woman, Duer Miller is probably your answer. Plenty of women accepted their status in society but many, like Duer Miller, resented it, and said so.
Emmeline Pankhurst is something of a controversial figure in Suffrage history. Famous for founding the Women’s Social and Political Union and initiating the militant campaign, she was also a difficult figure who alienated many of her colleagues and children.
Sylvia was her socialist daughter, who left the WSPU after falling-out with her mother over her policy of only recruiting the middle-classes. She founded the East End Federation of the Suffragettes, and was involved in all sorts of activism and campaigning work, from fighting for women to receive compensation when their husbands joined the army, to campaigning for equal pay for Munitionettes and against sweatshops.
“Things a Bright Girl Can Do” covers several of her enterprises, including a toy factory for women who lost their jobs when war began and a cost-price restaurant. She also hired the first black journalist in Britain to work for her newspaper, “The Workers Dreadnaught”, and was a tireless writer, agitator and pacifist. MI5 called her ‘the tiresome Miss Sylvia Pankhurst’.
She was a supporter of Haile Selassie and emigrated to Ethiopia, where she lived the last years of her life and was honoured with a full state funeral.