This weekend I'm taking a trip to London to visit the Museum of London who are marking 100 years of (partial) suffrage for Women in the UK 'Votes for Women' . There's obviously a lot of interest on this topic at the moment and recently I did an interview with Melanie Campbell from Radio Solent who is doing an article to broadcast in the near future on Suffragettes of the south coast. I'll let you know when it goes to Air.
In many ways it's a very emotive subject and recent 'outings,' #metoo campaigns and equal pay issues heighten those feelings. They underline the neccessity to never get complacent on issues of gender, equality and oppression.
But there's even more to it for me, as in 2010/11 I worked with some of my lovely friends and colleagues to create a one woman playlet exploring the life of Minnie Baldock. Minnie retired to Poole after sharing platforms with the Pankhursts and having been imprisoned for the cause. Colin and I were researching for another project at the Poole History Centre, part of what used to be the medieval Wool House on Poole Quay. He was flicking through one of the many books on Poole's history there, when suddenly he sidled up to me and said: "I've found our Suffragette!" I had for a long time wanted to look at the suffrage movement in Poole and there she was - one Minnie Baldock! There's a video of the piece here: The Right to Vote Michele O'Brien
I ended up visiting the Museum of London where Minnie's artefacts were held in her own box. Can you imagine the emotions I felt as I was able to touch and read her personal letters to John her son - "to be brave", while his mother was in prison, the most touching and loving words of appreciation to her husband Hal, and letters from upper class patrons inviting Minnie to tea, so that they could hear the voice of the working class woman!
"Together with local MP, Kier Hardie, Minnie held a public meeting in 1903, to complain about low pay for women in the Canning Town area. She was also involved in the West Ham Unemployed Fund and in 1905 became an Independent Labour Party candidate in the election for the West Ham Board of Guardians (the body that oversaw the local administration of the Poor Law and workhouse, and whose elections were open to female voters). She joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) later that year and became active in heckling prominent political figures in public meeting halls across London".
"On 26 January 1906, Minnie Baldock established a branch of the WSPU (known commonly as the Suffragettes) in Canning Town, in an attempt to recruit working class members to the cause. By September that year, open-air Suffragette public meetings were being held in Upton Park (see extract form Stratford Express, 28 Sept 1906)".
Minnie retired to Lake Road, Hamworthy where they let people camp on their land. It is now land that has the Hamworthy Labour Party Club on it.
I love this photograph of Minnie as a young woman in 1909 and contrasting the wise atmosphere of the later photographs. As part of the project I got to meet Minnie's Granddaughter who still lives in the area and still remembers making apple pies with Minnie (of course they were featured in lovely Kate O'Malley's writing!).
Written by Kate O'Malley.
Directed by Deborah Aita.
Costume by Georgie Lang-Jones.
With thanks to Calling the Shots, the Museum of London and Poole Museum.
So you can see why this year means so much to me and I will be interested to see how the Museum of London interprets material for their family day this Saturday (3 February).
"Shout! Shout! Up with your song,
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking!"
Shout, shout, up with your song!
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking;
March, march, swing you along,
Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking.
Song with its story, dreams with their glory
Lo! they call, and glad is their word!
Loud and louder it swells,
Thunder of freedom, the voice of the Lord!
Long, long we in the past
Cowered in dread from the light of heaven,
Strong, strong stand we at last,
Fearless in faith and with sight new given.
Strength with its beauty, Life with its duty,
(Hear the voice, oh hear and obey!)
These, these beckon us on!
Open your eyes to the blaze of day.
Comrades ye who have dared
First in the battle to strive and sorrow!
Scorned, spurned nought have ye cared,
Raising your eyes to a wider morrow,
Ways that are weary, days that are dreary,
Toil and pain by faith ye have borne;
Hail, hail victors ye stand,
Wearing the wreath that the brave have worn!
Life, strife those two are one,
Naught can ye win but by faith and daring.
On, on that ye have done
But for the work of today preparing.
Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance,
(Laugh in hope, for sure is the end)
March, march many as one,
Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.