Suffragette History in Bristol

Saturday saw the Vote 100 celebrations at M Shed, celebrating the 100th anniversary of some British women getting the vote. I was MC for the main stream of programming so I got to see some great talks.

Sumita Mukherjee based her talk on her new book, Indian Suffragettes. The story was pretty much as you would expect. I was pleased to hear that the Suffragette movement did at least try to find some African women to involve as well, and that there was no race bar to voting in the UK. There was some interesting discussion of the contrast between New Zealand, where the Maori were given the vote, and Australia, where Aboringal people were not.

Next up was Lyndsey Jenkins talking about Annie Kenney, one of the younger firebrands among the Suffragettes. She was part of a group called the Young Hot Bloods, which is totally the name of my next band. There was a lot of interesting discussion about how you can’t run a revolution without a whole lot of people willing to do the ground work of going out and sticking up posters, talking to the electorate and so on. However, the thing that leapt out at me was the revelation that many of the younger Suffragettes were heavily into Theosophy. There’s a Cthulhu story in there somewhere.

Prof. Karen Hunt talked about the split in the women’s suffrage movement between those who wanted to get the vote for everyone, and those who wanted it restricted to those deemed capable of using it responsibly (i.e. rich white people). Nothing much changes. The right will always try to split progressive movements by suggesting that certain people are “going too far”. And they will always find snobs eager to do their work for them (looking at you, Christabel Pankhurst).

After lunch we got a performance of the play, How The Vote Was Won (written by lesbian Suffragettes, Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St. John). It was just as hilarious as promised.

And finally we had a discussion panel, chaired by Laura Rawlings of BBC Bristol, that asked what having the vote has done for women, and what still needs to be done. Naturally the second question took rather longer to answer. The panelists were Thangam Debbonaire MP, Cllr. Asher Craig, Eleanor Vowles of Bristol Women’s Voice, Sumita Mukherjee and myself. In the course of the panel we got to discuss pretty much all of the Women’s Equality Party manifesto, which I regard as a significant success.

The day seemed to go very well, and I only made a couple of slip-ups which most people didn’t seem to notice. Huge thanks are due to Lucienne Boyce and June Hannam of the West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network who put the programme together, to Karen Garvey of M Shed for providing and organising the venue, and to the rest of my colleagues on the steering committee. Also kudos to my colleague, Frank Duffy, who designed the exhibition stands and the programme booklet.

If you missed the event, there will be an exhibition of local Suffragette history in the Central Library during July and August.

If anyone from the Government Equalities Office is reading this, we spent a lot of your money on BSL interpreters, and we had several deaf people in the audience.

And on Saturday the West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network has its annual conference at which I will be presenting a paper. It is in Bath. There is an entry fee, but if you are interested there are details here.