📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament pt. 2

Hi all, happy Friday!

A few weeks back I shared a post about my BTS visit to Vote and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition at Westminster Palace, London. It was really fascinating and for me, made a real change to the stereotypical displays that have been curated to celebrate the 100 years of the Representation of the People Act which gave some women the right to vote in the UK. Many of the exhibitions I have visited have focused on the ‘popular’ suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davidson; displaying the same medals, banners and badges time and again. Whilst Vote and Vote did acknowledge these women and exhibit some similar objects, the curators were blessed with having the Parliamentary Archives to work from meaning a different set of political activists, specialist objects and original stories could be showcased which I was very relieved about!

Favourite objects:

The Great Pilgrimage was one of the largest peaceful suffrage demonstrations, with 50,000 women attending the rally in Hyde Park, London. This map shows routes taken by ‘pilgrims’ travelling across the country to London.

fullsizeoutput_aafThe Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage, July 1913. LSE Libray, 10/54/097.

Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons. Astor chose this plain outfit, similar to a man’s suit, for the HOC so that she would be judged by what she said and not what she wore.

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Nancy Astor’s Parliamentary Suit, 1919. Wool cloth suit (jacket and skirt), silk blouse and matching hat. (On loan from Plymouth City Council, Museum Galleries Archive).

On 28th October 1908, suffragettes from the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) visited the Ladies’ Gallery whilst male MP’s were discussing women’s suffrage.  Muriel Matters and Helen Fox chained themselves to grilles. A third woman, Violet Tillard lowered the ‘proclamation’ banner through the grilles so it could be seen in the chamber. Male suffragettes threw leaflets form their gallery. Matters and Fox couldn’t easily be unchained so the grilles were removed with them still attached. Alongside the banner were a metal grille and bolt clippers that were related to protests that day. A purchase order for the bolt clipper’s stated “In 1908, a “Porter’s easy bolt clipper” was obtained through H.M Office of Works to cut the chains with which the suffragettes might secure themselves to portions of the building”.

Left: Proclamation Banner, 28th October 1908. The Women’s Freedom League ‘proclamation’ was written by WFL founder Teresa Billington Greig. Copies were pasted up all over London. This one was pasted onto cloth and mounted on sticks for use in the Ladies’ Gallery protest. Parliamentary Archives: HC/SA/SJ/3/1

Favourite suffragette stories:

The exhibition told stories about suffragettes that have often been left out of suffrage narratives, highlighting women that contributed majorly to the fight for the vote but didn’t have the forename Emily or surname Pankhurst!

  • Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh was one of several South Asian women who pioneered the cause of women’s rights in Britain. She played a major role in the Women’s Tax Resistance League, as well as being heavily involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union. Although Sophia’s primary focus as a British subject and goddaughter of Queen Victoria was women’s rights in England, she and her fellow suffragettes also promoted similar activities in the colonies. She was proud of her Indian heritage, but was not bound by allegiance to a single nation and sought to support the women’s cause in a number of countries.

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  • Paralysed from the waist down caused by contracting polio as a chid, Rosa May Billinghurst was a disabled suffragette who famously campaigned and protested in her hand tricycle; earning her the nickname ‘cripple suffragette’. She was involved in many of the protests lead by the WSPU and founded the Greenwich branch of the Party in 1910. As its first secretary she took part in the ‘Black Friday‘ demonstrations. Her disability did not hold her back, nor did it hold back the male police officers. They would often throw her out of her tricycle, leaving her on the ground, unable to get up. Throughout her activism, Rosa was sent to prison three times & force fed by prison guards like many other suffragettes.

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Favourite quotes:

I was so incredibly happy and inspired by this exhibition as it gave a refreshing insight into the suffrage movement; exposing hidden objects and stories that had been left out of many other displays. I left the exhibition feeling truly inspired knowing how much change can come from campaigning, protesting and fighting for what you believe in. I can openly say I would be a suffragist rather than a suffragette (I’m very scared about breaking the law or getting into trouble!) but this exhibition showed how both are necessary for change. Taking a stand, writing to MP’s, attending marches and vocalising your thoughts can support change. Nothing ever happens overnight, these women fought for decades for the first step but women’s continued fight went from no women > some women  > all women being allowed to vote in the UK. Women’s voice in Parliament has changed the way women can engage with politics, the decisions that are made in the House of Commons and the rights we have as an equal sex. I am forever grateful to the women who fought and continue to fight for change and equality in the UK and around the world and will aspire to be more involved in politics in the future. We women are a force to be reckoned with and we will not stop fighting for equal rights!

Keep fighting the good fight & showcasing women in exhibitions!

Happy Museum Musings,

Em xo

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📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament, Westminster Hall

Hi all, happy Friday!

In light of the progressive movement in American politics this week regarding the historical milestones made by women in the midterm elections, I thought I would share an insight into the wonderful Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition I visited last month. 🗣🗳  When I left the British Museum earlier this year, I was kindly gifted membership to the Women’s Library as part of my leaving present (alongside tickets to see my idol, Stacey Dooley and an array of feminist goodies!). The Women’s Library LSE, based at London School of Economics, holds 500 archive collections and a significant museum collection of over 5000 objects, much of which dates from the late 19th century.

My first Women’s Library event was a trip to Westminster to visit the ‘Voice & VoteWomen’s Place in Parliament’ exhibition. The tour was lead by Mari Takayanagi, Joint Project Manager of Vote 100 and a fellow Women’s Library member. The major exhibition displayed at Westminster Hall was created to give visitors a better understanding of the campaign for votes for women in the UK and the representation of women in UK Parliament and politics.

The exhibition was split into 4 main sections: The Ventilator, The Cage, The Tomb and The Chamber. All 4 settings were significant in the ways that women could engage with and influence UK politics; from being secret observers in the 19th century to being active and present Member’s of Parliament in the present day.

  1. The Ventilator, 1818-1834:

The opening section of the exhibition introduced the octagonal structure known as The Ventilator which was originally designed to ventilate the Chamber in the House of Commons. 200 years ago, before it was acceptable for women to be actively involved in politics, a group of feisty, politically-minded middle class women found a secret attic space above the Ventilator and would clamber inside to listen to the debates going on below. This not only gave women a space to socialise but also the chance to listen to political discussions and gain an insight into policy-making like never before.

A partial recreation of the Ventilator was on display in the exhibition – visitors were invited to put their heads into the small window spaces and listen to reenactments of Parliamentary debates like the women of the 19th century would have done. 
  1. The Cage, 1834 – 1918:

In 1834, a large fire demolished the original Westminster building leading to a new Palace being built between 1840 – 1876. The new Palace of Westminster included a purpose-built ‘Ladies Gallery’ which meant that women could officially listen and watch debates in the Houses of Common rather than hiding in the Ventilator. The Ladies Gallery was nicknamed ‘The Cage’ because it had large, heavy metal grilles covering the windows, both restricting the women’s view and ensuring they didn’t ‘distract’ men in the Public Gallery. In the 20th century the space became known for protests by suffragettes campaigning for change and the metal grilles were eventually removed in 1917.

A reconstruction of the Ladies Gallery in the exhibition gave a sense of the rules, space and views that women would have experienced whilst listening to parliamentary debates from their newly designated area. The cream paneling represents where the heavy grilles would have been. 
  1. The Tomb, 1918 – 1963:

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons. When she joined as a MP there were no spaces reserved solely for women except for the Ladies’ Members’ Room. During the 20th century, more women were elected into Parliament resulting in women from Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties sharing the small Members’ Room. The cramped space soon became known as ‘The Tomb’.

Left: Quote from Ellen Wilkinson, 1928. Right: Barbara CastleMargaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams
  1. The Chamber, 1963 – Present Day:

As women’s voices and voting rights in the UK have increased, so has their role in Parliament and there have now been 491 female Members of Parliament in Britain; all of which were displayed on a large celebration wall in the final part of the exhibition.

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Visitors were invited to watch videos and listen to oral histories, collected from The British Library, of current female MP’s talking about their political role and their continuing fights for equality. The space highlights both how far we’ve come in terms of female representation in Parliament and voting patterns versus how far we’ve still got to go (a third of UK women didn’t vote in the 2017 UK General Election!) The exhibition ended with a pledging station where visitors could reflect on their place in politics and decide how they could get more involved in UK Parliament in the future.

As usual, I will follow this post up with another blog highlighting my favourite objects from the exhibition so keep an eye out for fabulous feminist content related to Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo