On This Day: NUWSS Suffrage Procession, 13th June 1908

NUWSS Suffrage Procession.PNG

Banner bearers at the NUWSS’s Suffrage Procession on the 13th of June 1908. The photo was taken by professional photographer, Christina Broom (Source: Museum of London).

As the first decade of the twentieth century drew to a close, the campaign for women’s suffrage had been going on for half a century. As the decades wore on, the women involved became increasingly creative with their tactics. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was founded as the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1872. They were suffragists, believing in peaceful, constitutional campaigning. The NUWSS had first experimented with mass marches the previous year; despite the wet weather, what came to be known as the Mud March was a resounding success. The women were praised for their determination and organisation skills. In the summer of 1908, the NUWSS decided to hold another march.

In 1908, women’s suffrage seemed both tantalisingly close, and as distant as ever. In February, a women’s suffrage bill was blocked by the government after passing its second reading in Parliament. Herbert Asquith became Prime Minister in April, and challenged British women to prove that they wanted to vote. The NUWSS organised their Suffrage Procession in response to this challenge, and also to prove that their organisational skills were such that they deserved the vote.

NUWSS Bugler girl tea towel

Designed by Caroline Watts, the Bugler Girl became of the most recognisable images of the suffrage campaign (Source: radicalteatowel.co.uk).

Artist and illustrator Caroline Watts designed the Bugler Girl poster to advertise the march. Despite her military appearance, the NUWSS were keen to emphasise her peaceful nature, and the image went on to be used quite often within the suffrage campaign in both the UK and the US. On the afternoon of the 13th of June 1908, 10,000 women gathered on the Embankment in central London. They then proceeded to march, in neat rows of either 4 or 6, to the Royal Albert Hall where a meeting was held. Every detail of the march was planned, including the order of the procession, which was as follows: provincial NUWSS groups, in alphabetical order; colonials and internationals; professions, including medical women, business women, writers, actors, and farmers; other societies, including the Women’s Co-operative Guild, the National Union of Women Workers, Liberals, Fabians, Conservatives and the Women’s Freedom League (who’s President was Charlotte Despard); and finally, the local branches of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. The march was led by NUWSS president, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and Lady Frances Balfour.

NUWSS Suffrage Procession Programme

The souvenir programme for the march and meeting (Source: Woman and her Sphere).

The International Conference for Women’s Suffrage began in Amsterdam on the 15th of June, which meant that a lot of important international suffragists could be in London for the march, adding another feather to the NUWSS’s cap. Representatives came from around the world, including the US, Australia, Russia, Hungary, South Africa, and France. The marchers were accompanied by 15 marching bands. The women carried 76 banners designed and made by the Artist’s Suffrage League (ASL), a group of professional artists established in 1907 to produce banners, posters, postcards, and similar materials for the suffrage campaign. Many of the banners were designed by Mary Lowndes, chair of the ASL and designer of stained-glass windows.

NUWSS huddersfield-banner

The banner designed by the ASL for the Huddersfield and District branch of the NUWSS, to carry with them during the Suffrage Procession (Source: Kirlees Museums and Galleries/Woman and her Sphere).

There were two main types of banners. The first type represented the various branches of the NUWSS. The organisers wanted to emphasise that the demonstration was representative of the whole country. The second type of banner commemorated prominent women, both past and present, including: Marie Curie, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Mary Wollstonecraft, Caroline Herschel, Florence Nightingale, and Queen Victoria (despite her vehement opposition to women’s suffrage). The banners were on display in Caxton Hall in Westminster, which was frequently used by suffrage campaigners, for a few days before the march, and they toured the country afterwards. Local suffrage groups could hire the banners to host exhibitions, and they were displayed in Manchester, Cambridge, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Brighton, amongst others. Many of the banners were also used in later marches and demonstrations.

The 1908 NUWSS Suffrage Procession was a great success. The women demonstrated their commitment to the cause, as well as illustrating their significant organisational skills, part of an attempt to persuade the public that women were capable of shouldering the responsibility of voting. The beautiful, hand-made banners also showed off the women’s feminine side, as well as capturing the attention of spectators and the media. Peaceful mass demonstrations were an ideal way for the suffragists to attract publicity and show their conviction. But the suffragettes also made use of such tactics, holding their own ‘Monster Meeting’ in London only a week after the NUWSS.

Sources and Further Reading

Crawford, Elizabeth. “Suffrage Stories: An Army of Banners- Designed for the NUWSS Suffrage Procession 13 June 1908.” Woman and her Sphere. Last modified 26 November 2014. Accessed 4 June 2018. Available at  https://womanandhersphere.com/2014/11/26/suffrage-stories-an-army-of-banners-designed-for-the-nuwss-suffrage-procession-13-june-1908/

Crawford, Elizabeth. “Suffrage Stories/Women Artists: Caroline Watts and the Bugler Girl.” Woman and her Sphere. Last modified 3 December 2014, accessed 6 June 2018. Available at https://womanandhersphere.com/2014/12/03/suffrage-storieswomen-artists-caroline-watts-and-the-bugler-girl/ 

Keyte, Suzanne. “Celebrating 100 Years of Votes for Women: Women’s Suffrage at the Royal Albert Hall.” Royal Albert Hall. Last modified 5 February 2018. Accessed 4 June 2018. Available at https://www.royalalberthall.com/about-the-hall/news/2018/february/celebrating-100-years-of-votes-for-women-womens-suffrage-and-the-royal-albert-hall/

Observer, The. “From the Observer Archive, 14 June 1908: 10000 Women March for Suffrage. Last modified 17 June 2012. Accessed 4 June 2018. Available at  https://www.theguardian.com/news/2012/jun/17/archive-1908-suffragette-march

Turbulent Londoners: Muriel Matters, 1877-1969

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. To celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, all of the Turbulent Londoners featured in 2018 will have been involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage. The third of my suffrage activists is Muriel Matters, an Australian actress, lecturer, and journalist with a flair for dramatic stunts.


Muriel Matters

Muriel Matters, 1877-1969 (Photo: Frosty Ramblings).

All of the suffrage campaigners I have featured so far as Turbulent Londoners have been British. London has always been a city of migrants, however, and many of the activists involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage were born elsewhere. Muriel Matters was an Australian lecturer, journalist, actress, and elocutionist who put her flair for the dramatic to good use fighting for a right that South Australian women had had since 1894.

Muriel Matters was born on the 12th of November 1877 to a large Methodist family in Adelaide, South Australia. As a child she was introduced to the writing of Walt Whitman and Henrik Ibsen, who strongly influenced her political consciousness. In 1894, when Muriel was still a teenager, South Australia became the first self-governing territory to give women the vote on the same standing as men.

Muriel studied music at the University of Adelaide, and by the late 1890s she was acting and conducting recitals in Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne. In 1905, at the age of 28, Muriel moved to London to try and further her acting career. Leaving a country where women had the right to vote in all federal elections, Muriel arrived in a country where women could not vote at all. Facing stiff competition for acting work, Muriel also had to take on work as a journalist. She interviewed the exiled anarchist Prince Peter Kropotkin, and later performed at his home. Kropotkin challenged Muriel to do something more useful with her talents than acting–she later identified this as a defining moment in her life. She joined the Women’s Freedom League (WFL), a group which had broken away from the WSPU in 1907 because of the lack of democracy in the organisation. The President of the WFL was Charlotte Despard, a formidable woman who is one of my favourite Turbulent Londoners.

CARAVAN TOUR/WFL 20C

The first ‘Votes for Women’ caravan tour in 1908 (Source: The Women’s Library/Mary Evans Picture Library).

Between early May and Mid-October 1908, Muriel was the ‘Organiser in Charge’ of the first ‘Votes for Women’ caravan tour around the South of England. WFL activists visited towns in Surrey, Sussex, East Anglia, and Kent, with the aim of talking about women’s suffrage and forming new branches. Despite problems with hecklers, the tour was very successful, and many of the other suffrage societies would later run caravan tours of their own.

Not one to rest on her laurels, on the 28th of October 1908 Muriel took part in a dramatic protest at the House of Parliament organised by the WFL. They were protesting against an iron grille in the Ladie’s Gallery that obscured the view of the House of Commons and was seen as a symbol of women’s oppression. Muriel and another activist called Helen Fox chained themselves to the offending grille, and loudly lectured the MPs below on the benefits of women’s enfranchisement. The grille had to be removed so that a blacksmith could remove the two women. Released without charge, Muriel rejoined the protest outside the House of Commons, and was eventually arrested for trying to rush the lobby. The next day she was sentenced to one month in Holloway Prison.

A few months later, the state opening of Parliament on the 16th of February 1909 was marked by a procession led by King Edward. In order to gain attention and promote the suffrage cause, Muriel hired a dirigible air balloon. With ‘Votes for Women’ on one side, and ‘WFL’ on the other, she planned to fly over central London, showering the King and Parliament with pro-suffrage leaflets. The weather conditions and a poor motor meant that Muriel didn’t make it to Westminster, but she did fly over London for one and a half hours, dropping 56lbs of leaflets. The stunt made headlines all over the world.

Muriel Matters dirigible

Muriel Matters on her balloon flight over London (Source: Balloonteam.net).

From May to July 1910, Muriel embarked on a lecture tour of Australia. She was an engaging speaker, making use of illustrations and even changing into a replica of the dress she wore whilst in prison. She advocated prison reform, equal pay, and the vote. At the end of the tour, she helped persuade the Australian senate to pass a resolution informing the British Prime Minister Asquith of the positive experiences of women’s suffrage. In October 1913, Muriel helped persuade the National Federation of Mineworker’s to support women’s suffrage.

On the 15th October 1914, Muriel married William Arnold Porter, a divorced dentist from Boston. She decided to double-barrel her surname. In June 1915, she laid out her opposition to war in an address called ‘The False Mysticism of War.’ She argued that it was not an effective method of solving problems, and justifications for it were based on false pretences. She particularly objected to Christianity as a justification for war, and questioned the significance of nationality. Views such as these were extremely unpopular at the time, and it took great bravery to voice them.

In 1916 Muriel went to Barcelona for a year to learn about the Montesorri method of teaching, a child-centred approach which promotes the development of the whole child, including physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Muriel believed that access to education should be universal, and she took what she learnt in Barcelona back to charity work she was doing in East London. In 1922, she toured Australia again, this time advocating the Montesorri method.

Miss-Muriel-Matters-addressing-crowd-407x457

Muriel Matters addressing a crowd in Caernarfon, Wales, in 1909 (Source: Harper Collins Australia).

In the 1924 General Election, Muriel ran as the Labour candidate for Hastings. She ran on a socialist platform, advocating a fairer distribution of wealth, work for the unemployed, and gender equality. She didn’t win- Hastings was a safe Conservative seat, and wasn’t won by Labour until 1997. The ability to stand in itself was victory enough for Muriel. After the election, Muriel and her husband settled in Hastings. William died in 1949, and Muriel died 20 years later, on the 17th of November 1969, at the age of 92. Provocative until the end, she was remembered locally as being partial to a spot of skinny dipping at the nearby Pelham Beach.

Australian-born Muriel Matters launched herself wholeheartedly into the the campaign for women’s suffrage in her adopted country. Her flair for dramatic acts of non-violent civil disobedience helped her attract valuable attention and publicity for the cause of women’s suffrage.

Sources and Further Reading

Fallon, Amy. “Muriel Matters: An Australian Suffragette’s Unsung Legacy.” Last modified 11 October 2013, accessed 8 February 2018. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/oct/11/muriels-neglecting-an-australian-suffragettes-unsung-legacy

Friends of Hastings Cemetery. “Muriel Matters Porter.” No date, accessed 8 February. Available at http://friendsofhastingscemetery.org.uk/mattersm.html

The Muriel Matters Society Inc. “About Muriel.” No date, accessed 8 February 2018. Available at https://murielmatterssociety.com.au/home-page/who-was-muriel-matters/

Wikipedia. “Muriel Matters.” Last modified 20 January 2018, accessed 8 February 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muriel_Matters

Book Review: A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

A History of Britain in 21 Women Front Cover

A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

Jenni Murray. A History of Britain in 21 Women. London: Oneworld, 2016. RRP £9.99 paperback.

A few weeks before Christmas, I was browsing a bookshop when I noticed the vibrant cover of A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray. I was sorely tempted, but, remembering my overflowing bookshelves and the growing piles of books at the bottom of my bed, I restrained myself. I put the book on my Christmas list instead, so I at least didn’t have myself to blame when my piles of books grew a little bit taller. I am very glad that I was given the book; it is a thoroughly enjoyable read that has left me more determined than ever not to allow misogyny to hold me back.

The twenty-one women in this book rose above the low expectations of their gender and defied anyone who insisted ‘a girl can’t do that.’ Slowly, slowly, over the centuries, they changed the gender landscape for those of us who came after.

Murray, 2016; p.4

As the name implies, A History of Britain in 21 Women profiles 21 women from British history. Each chapter is about 15 pages long, and details the women’s biography, their achievements, and their impact on society, politics, and culture. The selection is historically comprehensive, beginning in the first century with Boadicea, and ending in the modern day with Nicola Sturgeon. Inevitably, many women are left out, but Murray is careful to justify her choices, explaining why the 21 she chose resonate with her personally.

The book is more personal than I was expecting. It does have the subtitle A Personal Selection, but this is only mentioned in the front matter, not on the title. After initially being unsure about this, I came to enjoy Murray’s short personal reflections and anecdotes. I was particularly charmed by a conversation she describes having with one of her sons when John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher as prime minister.

Beyond being thrown at first by the tone of the book, I can find very little to criticise in A History of Britain in 21 Women. Each chapter is self-contained, so it feels almost like a collection of short stories, but I wasn’t put off if I read several chapters in one sitting, as I often am with similarly structured books. Each chapter is accompanied by a portrait by Peter Locke, the style of which suits the book’s message really well. Locke’s sketches don’t feel idealised or ‘touched up,’ the women in the sketches feel…real; they look like they’ve lived. It’s quite hard to put my finger on it, but I like them.

It is the women themselves, their lives, actions, experiences, and attitudes that are the real stars of this book. Some of them are familiar–such as Elizabeth I, Jane Austen, and Margaret Thatcher–whilst others are less well-known–like Aphra Behn, Mary Somerville, Gwen John. But they are all remarkable. Every one exelled in the field they chose, whether it be medicine, art, politics, or science, often despite massive obstacles and prejudice. They are inspirational.

I was given A History of Britain in 21 Women as a Christmas present, and I do think it makes a wonderful gift, even for those who aren’t avid readers. It’s especially good for those who need a reminder of just how much it can be possible to achieve.

On This Day: The London Women Transport Workers Strike, 16th August 1918

1915 Female bus conductor

One of the first female London bus conductors (Source: Daily Mirror, 28/10/1915)

In August 1918, female tram conductors in Willesden started a wildcat strike which quickly spread around the country and to other sectors of public transport. Initially demanding the same war bonus that had been given to men, their demands morphed into equal pay, over 40 years before the Equal Pay Act.

During the First World War, women took over many of the jobs that had previously been done by men. Public transport was one area where female employees became key. By the end of the war, the London General Omnibus Company employed 3500 women, and thousands more were employed by other bus and train operators in London as well as on the Underground. Lots of women joined unions, but the unions were more interested in protecting the long-term job security of men rather than the employment rights of women. The unions wanted to make sure that men could return to their pre-war jobs with the same working conditions when the war finished, so they didn’t want women to get too comfortable. In addition, both unions and management refused to entertain the idea of equal pay, arguing that the work that women did was not worth the same as men’s.

In mid-1918, male workers were given a 5 shilling a week wartime bonus to help cope with the increased cost of living. Women were not given this bonus, and some workers in London were not willing to accept this. On the 16th of August, a meeting of women at Willesden bus garage decided to go on strike the following day, without informing their bosses or unions.

The next morning, they were quickly joined by women at the Hackney, Holloway, Archway and Acton depots and garages, and the strike continued to spread throughout the day. At first the women demanded the same 5 shilling per week bonus as men, but their demands soon escalated to equal pay, and they adopted the slogan ‘Same Work- Same Pay.’

1918 Female strikers

Images of the strike from the Daily Mirror (20/08/1918).

By the 23rd of August, female bus and tram workers around the country had joined the strike, including in Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Brighton, and Weston-super-mare. Some women working on the London Underground also joined the strike- it mainly affected the Bakerloo Line. It is estimated 18000 out of a total 27000 women working in the public transport industry participated.

The strikers held a series of mass meetings at the Ring, on Blackfriars Road in Southwark. It was a boxing arena that had been destroyed by aerial bombing. Many women brought their children and picnics with them. The strike was settled on the 25th of August after a contentious meeting at the Ring- many women did not want to go back to work. The tube workers didn’t go back to work until the 28th. The women won the 5 shilling bonus, but not equal pay.

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 but even now, almost a hundred years after the women transport workers’ strike, women are not paid the same as men for the same jobs. London’s female public transport workers were some of the first to make a demand that is still yet to be fully realised. Without the aid of the experienced unions, the women were able to win the same bonus as men, if not the same wage. Little is known about how the women organised, which is a shame, although it might make a very nice research project!

Sources and Further Reading

Stuart. “London Buses in Wartime.” Great War London. Last modified 30th December 2014, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at  https://greatwarlondon.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/london-buses-at-war-1914-1918/

View from the Mirror. “From Prayer to Palestra: The Ring at Blackfriars.” View from the Mirror: A Cabbie’s London. Last modified 4th February 2013, accessed 20th June 2016. Available at https://blackcablondon.net/2013/02/04/from-prayer-to-palestra-the-ring-at-blackfriars/

Walker, Michael. “London Women Tram Workers – Equal Pay Strike 1918.” Hayes People’s History. Last modified 13th February 2007, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at http://ourhistory-hayes.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/women-tramworkers-equal-pay-strike-1918.html

Weller, Ken. “The London Transport Women Workers Strike 1918.” libcom.org. Last modified 19th December 2012, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at  https://libcom.org/history/london-transport-women-workers-strike-1918

Welsh, Dave. “The 90th anniversary of the Equal Pay strike on the London Underground.” Campaign Against Tube Privatisation- History. No date, accessed 15th June 2016. Available at  http://www.catp.info/CATP/History.html

Protest Stickers: Berlin

Paul de Gregorio has worked in fundraising since 1996; he is currently Head of Mobile at Open, a fundraising and communications agency. In his day job he finds ways to inspire the public to take action for some of the charities and not for profit organisations here in the UK and increasingly overseas. He blogs about it here. He’s also a fellow protest sticker-spotter, a habit he indulged on a recent trip to Berlin. In this post, Paul showcases some of the stickers he found, as well as reflecting on a museum exhibition he visited about antisemitic and racist stickers. He’s sometimes posts pictures of the stickers he finds on Instagram.


In my day job I help charities and non-profit organisations generate mass response to their campaigns and appeals.

In my spare time, down time between meetings and when I’m on holiday I spend an extraordinary amount of time taking pictures of political stickers on my mobile. I do it because I want to amplify some of the messages I see, but also because I find their designs a good source of inspiration for my day job.

Berlin is always a good place to find this stuff. On a recent trip I was lucky enough to be in town for the Sticky Messages exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. The exhibition, to give it its full name, “Sticky Messages. Antisemitic and racist stickers from 1880 to the present”, was a detailed look at the history of the political sticker in Germany over time.

The exhibition itself is great, and whilst at the exhibition I learnt all about Irmela Mensah-Schramm.  She is a 70 year old woman, well known in Germany for her personal commitment to the removal of neo-Nazi messages from public places. For the last 30 years Irmela has been scraping off and spray painting over all the neo-Nazi messages she finds. From time to time this has put her into conflict with local Nazis. But she continues to do it. Having removed over 70,000 stickers since she started, she’s now a hero of mine! You can hear more of her wonderful story in the film below.

You can also read more about her here.

And what follows are a tiny handful of the stickers I found on that trip…

2016-05-07 15.21.06

I saw this one on the day we arrived which coincided with a big anti-Nazi protest.

2016-05-07 17.36.29

This one reads “Shut you mouth, Germany!”

2016-05-08 15.21.44

I’ve seen this one all over Europe. And it’s easily found online which makes it so easily to replicate.

2016-05-09 14.13.402016-05-09 14.14.04

2016-05-09 14.20.34

The last three I found on Karl Marx Allee, usually a great place to find stickers. I love these three the most because they were plastered all over terrible advertising and I could tell by people watching that they were getting noticed.

Paul de Gregorio

—————————–

All photographs are my copyright. You can use them, I’d just like you to ask and credit me.

You can find me on Twitter, Instagram & Flickr.

Turbulent Londoners: Elisabeth Jesser Reid, 1789-1866

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. The twelth Turbulent Londoner is Elisabeth Jesser Reid. She was the founder of Bedford College, which is now part of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, my university.


ElisabethJesserReidCropped528x352

Elisabeth Jesser Reid was a formidable woman (Source: Royal Holloway, University of London).

Elisabeth Jesser Reid was a social reformer, abolitionist, and advocate of women’s education. Known as single-minded and tactless, she used her relatively privileged status as an independent widow to further the causes she believed in. This included founding Bedford College, one of the first venues of higher education for women in Britain.

The second daughter of wealthy Unitarian ironmonger William Sturch and his wife Elisabeth, Elisabeth Jesser Sturch was born to a life of relative privilege on the 25th of December 1789. In 1821 she married John Reid, a physician. Dr. Reid owned land on the River Clyde in Glasgow, which became valuable as the port expanded. When John died only 13 months after their marriage, Elisabeth was left with a large, independent income. Historically, widows with an independent income have enjoyed more freedom than other women, being beyond the control of both father and husband. Elisabeth used her freedom to fight for the causes she supported.

Elisabeth was a social reformer. She used her money to support benevolent schemes set up by women, such as Harriet Martineau’s project to enable the poor in the Lake District to buy their own homes. She also sponsored the studies of pupils who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Another of Elisabeth’s passions was abolitionism. She attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, where she met female American delegates who had not been permitted to speak, such as Lucretia Mott. She was a member of the Garrisonian London Emancipation Committee, the British branch of an anti-slavery group that held progressive views on gender and racial equality.

Bedford foundation plaqur

A plaque in Bedford Square in Bloomsbury, commemorating the foundation of Bedford College (Source: Plaques of London).

Elisabeth Jesser Reid is best known for her role in the development of female education. In 1849 she founded Bedford College, with a loan of £1500, which she converted to a gift in 1856 when the college was experiencing financial difficulties. The college was first located at 47 Bedford Square in Bloomsbury, moving to Regent’s Park in 1874. Although not the first college for the higher education of women in Britain, it was the first that believed in education for purposes other than vocational training. Bedford College aimed to enable women to improve themselves as they wanted to, not just gain the skills to become a governess.

This philosophy was radical, and Elisabeth was frustrated by the lack of support she received, particularly from prominent men. She expected hundreds of applications when the college opened, and was bitterly disappointed to receive only around a dozen. Nevertheless, she persevered, insisting that 3 Lady Visitors were included in the governing body, which was the first  time women officially shared in controlling the direction of a British institution. She used her social connections to get respected scholars to teach at the college, and eventually the college became successful. Notable early students include  novelist George Eliot, feminist and artist Barbara Bodichon, and Sarah Parker Redmond, the first black woman to do a lecture tour in the UK on the topic of slavery. Bedford College became part of the University of London in 1900, and merged with Royal Holloway in 1985, to become Royal Holloway and Bedford new College. In this form it is still going strong today, with over 8000 students (and a wonderful geography department!)

Graduation Photo of Marian Sherrett

The graduation photo of Marian Sherrett, who graduated from Bedford College with a first class German BA Honours degree in 1886. This photo is held by the archives at Royal Holloway, which holds archival sources about Elisabeth Jesser Reid and Bedford College (Source: Royal Holloway Archives).

I feel a personal connection to Elisabeth Jesser Reid because of the happy and fulfilling times I have spent at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, but even without that I would admire her as a headstrong and opinionated woman who did not let her relative freedom go to waste. She used her wealth and independence to make the world a better place, and she fought hard for what she believed in, significantly advancing women’s education.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “Black History Month: Garrisonian Abolitionists.” Oxford University Press Blog. Last modified 27 February 2007, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at  http://blog.oup.com/2007/02/black_history_m4/ 

Anon. “Elisabeth Jesser Reid: Pioneering Education for Women.” Royal Holloway, University of London. No date, accessed 27 February 2016. Available at  https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/aboutus/ourhistory/elisabethjesserreid.aspx

Anon. “Elizabeth Jesser Reid.” Wikipedia. Last modified 13 January 2016, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Jesser_Reid

Anon. “History of Elizabeth Jesser Reid.” Reflex Managed Offices. Last modified 9 September 2015, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at http://www.reflex.london/history-of-elizabeth-jesser-reid/

Colville, Deborah. “Bloomsbury People.” UCL Bloomsbury Project. Last modified 7 April 2011, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-project/articles/individuals/reid_elisabeth_jesser.htm

Oldfield, Sybil. “Reid [nee Sturch], Elisabeth Jesser.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified May 2011, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at  http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy01.rhul.ac.uk/view/article/37888 (This website is behind a paywall, I had to use my Royal Holloway login to access it).

Pakenham-Walsh, M. ‘Bedford College, 1849-1985’ in Crook J (ed.) Bedford College University of London- Memories of 150 Years. Royal Holloway and Bedford New College: Egham, Surrey (2001): 13-46

Protest Stickers: Chicago

Like most cities around the world, stickers are a common sight in Chicago.

Like most cities around the world, stickers are a common sight in Chicago (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In April 2015, I went to the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers, which this year was held in Chicago, Illinois. Seeing as I was flying almost 4000 miles, I also took some time to look around the city. There are plenty of protest stickers to be found in Chicago, just like in New York and London. As in other cities, protest stickers in Chicago give us a clue as to what social movements and subversive political campaigns are striking a chord in the city. These movements reflect multiple scales, from the local to the international. Below are some of my favourite pictures from the Windy City.

This was the first sticker I found in Chicago, on my first evening. That was when I knew I was going to like this city!

This was the first sticker I found in Chicago, on my first evening. That was when I knew I was going to like this city! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Many of the stickers were about local issues. Such as this sticker promoting mayoral candidate Emanuel Rahm, who I assuming has an Irish background because of the clovers.

Many of the stickers were about local issues, such as this sticker promoting mayoral candidate Emanuel Rahm, who I assume has an Irish background because of the clovers. I don’t know if the ‘Get Real’ sticker below is intentional or just a coincidence, but I like to think it was put there on purpose! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Or this one, supporting Rahm's opponent, Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia. It plays on the Chicago flag, which is four stars on a white background between two blue stripes.

This sticker supports Rahm’s opponent, Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia. It plays on the Chicago flag, which is four stars on a white background between two blue stripes. The election took place on the 7th of April 2015, so it’s not surprising there was still a lot of evidence of it when I was there in late April (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Rahm won the election in April, but he is clearly not universally supported. This sticker is a drawing of him.

Rahm won the election in April, but he is clearly not universally supported. This sticker is a drawing of him (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

These stickers also relate to electoral politics. I assume they were handed out at a polling station, but I don't know how they ended up on this chain link fence.

These stickers also relate to electoral politics. I assume they were handed out at a polling station, but I don’t know how they ended up on this chain link fence close to Lake Michigan (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The recent controversy surrounding the relationship between the US police and African Americans was also a common theme. This sticker was advertising a demonstration. Similar stickers were in New York, advertising a protest on the same day.

The recent controversy surrounding the relationship between the US police and African Americans was also a common theme. This sticker was advertising a demonstration. I found similar stickers in New York, advertising a protest on the same day (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker is decidedly anti-police, playing rather unsubtly on the fact that police are often called 'pigs'.

This sticker is decidedly anti-police, playing rather unsubtly on the fact that police are often called ‘pigs’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Another recurring theme were unions,. This sticker reminds people of the various workers' rights that unions have fought for in the past.

Another recurring theme were unions. This sticker reminds people of the various workers’ rights that unions have fought for in the past. It is also a good example of how the message of stickers can become harder to decipher as they age and deteriorate (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Some themes were not so familiar however. This sticker is about anti-bullying.

Some themes were not so familiar however. This sticker is about anti-bullying (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Another uncommon theme was feminism. This sticker criticises censorship of the female body.

Another uncommon theme was feminism. This sticker criticises censorship of the female body…(Photo: Hannah Awcock)

...whilst this handmade sticker encourages women to celebrate their body.

…whilst this handmade sticker encourages women to celebrate their body (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This image of Barack Obama references the Obey theme from the work of street artist Shepard Fairey. It also looks very similar to the iconic poster from Obama's 2008 election campaign, which was also designed by Shepard Fairey.

This sticker is a version of the poster designed for Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, which normally has a red and blue colour scheme. It was designed by the street artist Shepard Fairey, who’s Obey street art is world-famous (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker also references a national campaign. The Fight for 15 is part of the movement demanding a $15/hr minimum wage. Protests took place all over the country on April the 15th, or 4/15 in the American style of dating.

This sticker also references a national campaign. The Fight for 15 is part of the movement demanding a $15/hr minimum wage. Protests took place all over the country on April the 15th, or 4/15 in the American style of dating (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

These stickers are a little more intellectual than usual, and don't exactly make it easy to understand the argument being made.

These stickers are a little more intellectual than usual, and don’t exactly make it easy to understand the argument being made (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Fascism is a world-wide issue, and so too is the anti-fascism campaign.

Fascism is a world-wide issue, and so too is the anti-fascism campaign. I have seen very similar stickers in London (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This weathered sticker is for the Stop Staples campaign, which is attempting to prevent Staples from doing a deal with the U.S. Postal Service which would involve setting up postal counters in Staples stores with low-paid, untrained Staples employees.

This weathered sticker is for the Stop Staples campaign, which is attempting to prevent Staples from doing a deal with the U.S. Postal Service which would involve setting up postal counters in Staples stores with low-paid, untrained Staples employees (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker doesn't appear to be linked to any campaign in particular, and could be referencing any number of issues such as climate change or consumerism.

This sticker doesn’t appear to be linked to any campaign in particular, and could be referencing any number of issues such as climate change or consumerism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This is not a protest sticker, but I just liked it so much that I decided to put it in. It's pretty good advice too!

This is not a protest sticker, but I just liked it so much that I decided to put it in. It’s pretty good advice too! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Special thanks to Llinos Brown, who put up with my odd habit of taking close-up pictures of random bits of street furniture and also helped me find a few stickers whilst we were in Chicago.

Breaking the Peace: A Century of London Protest on Film

This Monday, I went to a talk at the Birkbeck Cinema called Breaking the Peace: A Century of London Protest on Film given by  Professor Ian Christie, part of a series of events exploring London on film in association with the Raphael Samuel History Centre. Over the course of an hour and a half, Professor Christie showed us footage of the Suffragettes (1910-13), the 1926 General Strike, a 1932 Hunger March, the Battle of Cable Street (1936), Anti-Vietnam War protests (1968), the disruption of the 1970 Miss World competition at the Royal Albert Hall, the 2003 Anti-Iraq War demonstration, and Occupy London (2011). I had a great afternoon watching the footage, looking out for all the things that have (and haven’t) changed about protest in London over the last one hundred years.

NUWSS Rally Trafalgar Square Pathe Newsreel

A National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) rally in Trafalgar Square. This is a still from newsreel footage owned by British Pathe, and is available on YouTube (Source: British Pathe).

Apart from fashion, one of the biggest changes that stood out was the development, and democratisation, of film technology. The afternoon began with grainy, silent, black-and-white newsreel footage,  and finished with colour and sound, probably filmed by amateurs with handheld cameras. As film technology has developed, it has also got cheaper, allowing wider excess. In the 1960s the new TV production company Granada started making World in Action,  a hard-hitting news programme that presented London protesters in a more balanced light than older, more established sources of news. By the 2010s, the Occupy movement were making and editing their own films, presenting themselves exactly the way they wanted. Organisers of protests want their message to reach further than the people who witnessed the protest directly, and the more control they have over the communication media that spreads that message,  the more successful they are likely to be in getting that message out.

World in Action Anti-Vietnam Demo

A still from World in Action‘s coverage of the 1968 Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in London. The distinctive shape of the fountains makes it obvious that this is also Trafalgar Square. This video is also available on YouTube (Source: World in Action).

One thing which has not changed much is the language used by outsiders to describe protest. In almost every example there was the perception that a largely peaceful protest had been subverted by a small minority of ‘criminals’, ‘anarchists’, or ‘hawks’ (I particularly liked the Cold War terminology creeping in here). Protesters were also frequently described as ‘converging on London’, giving the impression of disgruntled Britons descending on the capital from all corners of the country. London is the political and economic centre of the country,  it is no surprise that it is chosen as the site of many national demonstrations.

Miss World 1970 disruption BBC News

A still from the BBC’s Witness series about the disruption of the 1970 Miss World Competition in the Royal Albert Hall (Source: BBC News)

The tactics of the demonstrators themselves has also remained largely the same. The content and methods of production may have changed, but banners and placards are still an integral part of protest marches, as is costume. The protest march itself has also changed little since the women of the suffrage movement proved it could be done with dignity and respectability. Scholars sometimes talk about ‘repertoires of resistance’- the specific set of tactics available to demonstrators to make their point. These repertoires are often shared between and within communities, including on a national scale. This means that many protests utilise similar strategies. There is also a tendency to take inspiration from what came before; the anti-Vietnam demonstrators may have mimicked the successful strategies of the Suffragettes, for example.

Anti-Iraq War demo 2003

A still from a YouTube video about the demonstration against the Iraq war in 2003 (Source: Kino Kast).

Another constant throughout the films was London itself. Both Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square are described in the newsreels as ‘the home of free speech’, and landmarks such as Nelson’s Column act as a familiar backdrop to events. London is no stranger to protest. Due to its role as the political and economic centre of Britain, the city is full of buildings which can act as symbolic stand-ins for intangible power structures (the Houses of Parliament, the Bank of England, and foreign embassies are some examples). The fact that places like Hyde Park have become known as the home of free speech also attracts more protest groups, reinforcing the city’s reputation for protest.

Occupy London Still

A still from a film made by Occupy London about the protests outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in 2011 (Source: Conscious Collective).

The purpose of this series of events organised by the Raphael Samuel History Centre and Professor Ian Christie was to think about how film can be used for research. There is a vast amount of film of London protest available, much of it more accessible than ever thanks to resources such as YouTube. Whilst it is important to be wary of possible biases (the early newsreels are almost entirely concerned with the preservation of law and order), film is a perfectly viable source to use for investigating historical research. It’s just a shame half of my case studies occurred before the invention of film!

Turbulent Londoners: Mary Astell, 1666-1731

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. Next up is Mary Astell, a philosopher and writer who is considered by many to be England’s first feminist.


The title page of Astell's first publication.

The title page of Astell’s first publication.

Mary Astell was a philosopher and writer from Newcastle whose ability to reason and argue made her a formidable force in intellectual circles in London in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Her advocacy of women’s education and her opinions on marriage has led her to be seen by many as England’s first feminist.

Mary was born in Newcastle on the 12th of November 1666 to an upper middle class family; her father managed a local coal company. Mary’s father died when she was 12, leaving her family with very little income. She received some education from her uncle, who was affiliated with a group of radical philosophers in Cambridge, but she also taught herself by reading widely. After her mother died in 1684, Mary moved to Chelsea in London, where she became acquainted with an influential and wealthy circle of women who helped her to develop and publish her work.

Between 1694 and 1709, Mary published a number of texts on a range of subjects, but she is best known for her arguments relating to women. She used her extensive understanding of philosophical ideas to argue that women were just as rational as men, and therefore just as deserving of education. After withdrawing from public life in 1709, Mary set up a charity school for girls in Chelsea. She devised the curriculum, putting her ideas into practice. Mary Astell died of cancer on the 11th of May 1731, leaving behind a lasting legacy.

The title page of the third edition of Astell's 'Reflections Upon Marriage.'

The title page of the third edition of Astell’s ‘Reflections Upon Marriage.’

Mary’s first publication came out in 1694 and was entitled Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest. In it, she proposes a female-only college, where women learn through reading and discussion, rather than a formal, hierarchical program of study. In Some Reflections Upon Marriage (1700), Mary continues advocating for women. She argues that an education would enable women to make better matrimonial choices, and be better prepared for married life. She warns women against making hasty choices when it came to marriage, and believed marriage should be based on friendship rather than necessity or fleeting attraction.

Mary’s ideas were groundbreaking for more than just their content. The way that she used philosophical ideas to support her arguments was unique, and she addressed women directly in her writing- talking to them, not about them. Her arguments disputed the Protestant belief, dominant at the time, that reason and emotion should be separate; for Mary, knowledge was intimately connected to happiness. Linked to this, one of the most frequent criticisms levelled against Mary’s ideas was that they were ‘too Catholic’; her plan for an all-female college sounded too much like a nunnery to be accepted by mainstream society. Mary’s ideas about women’s education caused substantial debate, and she was widely respected for her ability to debate freely and confidently with both men and women, but she did not receive widespread support.

“If all Men are born free, how is it that all Women are born slaves?”

Astell, Some Reflections Upon Marriage

The above quote is probably Mary Astell’s most famous, and it is easy to see why. This was a truly radical sentiment in the early eighteenth century. Not only did she express these radical ideas, Mary could support them with reasoned, rational, philosophical arguments. And she did all this at a time when there were few historical campaigners for women’s rights from which she could take inspiration and hope. As one of England’s first feminists she deserves to be remembered and celebrated, but she can also be for contemporary campaigners something she herself didn’t have- a role model.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. ‘Astell, Mary.’ Encyclopaedia.com. Last modified 2005, accessed 28th July 2015.  http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Mary_Astell.aspx

Anon. ‘Mary Astell.’ Wikipedia. Last modified 19th May 2015, accessed 28th July 2015.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Astell

Manzanedo, Julia Cabaleiro. ‘The Love of Knowledge: Mary Astell.’ Women’s Research Centre, University of Barcelona. Last modified 2004, accessed 28th July 2015.  http://www.ub.edu/duoda/diferencia/html/en/secundario2.html

Sowaal, Alice. ‘Mary Astell.’ Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Last modified 12th August 2008, accessed 28th July 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/astell/

Turbulent Londoners: Clementina Black, 1854-1922

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. The next Turbulent Londoner is Clementina Black, a writer, feminist and trade unionist.


Clementina Black (Source: Women of Brighton).

Clementina Black (Source: Women of Brighton).

Clementina Black was a writer, feminist and early trade unionist, and another inspiring radical who has slipped through the cracks of history. She was an adopted Londoner, like many millions before and since, who was born in Brighton (my home town, so I felt an immediate affinity!) in 1854. She helped to found and run numerous campaign organisations, with a focus on trying to improve the lives of working women. Her writing included multiple reports on the social conditions of the poor and 7 novels, including The Agitator, which was based on her experience in the trade union movement. She died in December 1922, when she was 68 years old.

Clementina’s mother died when she was 21, leaving her to look after her invalid father and 7 younger siblings. During this time she wrote her first novel, A Sussex Idyll. When Clementina’s father died she moved on London to continue her writing career, and this is also where her radical career really began. In 1886 she became Honorary Secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League, a role in which she thrived, travelling the country attempting to persuade women to join Unions. In 1888 she proposed an equal pay motion at the Trades Union Congress, fighting an injustice which has still not been resolved to this day.

In 1889 Clementina helped form the Women’s Trade Union Association, later the Women’s Industrial Council (WIC), which she would eventually become president of. In 1895 she became the Editor of WIC’s journal, Women’s Industrial News. The middle class women of the WIC went to see the working conditions of working class women, and wrote reports on them in an attempt to raise awareness. By 1914 they had investigated 117 different trades.

Clementina was also involved in the Consumers League, which put pressure on employers who paid their female workers low wages through their customers- they were involved in the boycott of the Bryant and May matchmakers, who would go on to be defeated in the Matchwomen’s Strike of 1888. In 1896 Clementina began to campaign for a legal minimum wage, viewing low wages as the root of the problem for female workers. She was also a member of the executive committee of the Anti-Sweating League, and helped organise several conferences on the topic in the years before the First World War.

As the campaign for women’s suffrage took off after 1900, Clementina also threw herself into that, believing that women lacked real power to affect change as long as they lacked the ability to vote. In 1906 she was made Honorary Secretary of the Women’s Franchise Declaration Committee, where she organised a petition in favour of female suffrage with 257,000 signatures. She was an active member of both the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. The NUWSS was the non-violent equivalent of the WSPU and the suffragettes, and were arguably just as important in winning the vote for women. In 1912-3, Clementina was the acting editor of The Common Cause, the NUWSS’s paper which called itself ‘the organ of the women’s movement for reform.’

Like many female activists of her era, Clementina was a tireless force in the campaign to improve the lives of women. Unlike other prominent campaigners for women’s rights such as Emmeline Pankhurst, she focussed on working women, those who needed the most help. She was not only a member, but in several cases a key leader, of multiple campaign groups. She didn’t really participate in direct action, instead using her skills as a writer to persuade others. She is not a woman who deserves to be forgotten.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. ‘Clementina Black,’ Wikipedia. Last modified 19 January 2015, accessed 20 March 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clementina_Black

Anon. ‘Clementina Black,’ Women of Brighton. No date, accessed 20 March 2015. http://www.womenofbrighton.co.uk/clementina-black.html

Simkin, John. ‘Clementina Black,’ Spartacus Educational. Last modified January 2015, accessed 20 March 2015. http://spartacus-educational.com/Wblack.htm

Simkin, John. ‘The Common Cause,’ Spartacus Educational. Last modified August 2014, accessed 20 March 2015. http://spartacus-educational.com/Wcommoncause.htm