Banner waving Suffragettes were in Uckfield yesterday to draw attention to an exhibition at Bridge Cottage which celebrates 100 years since some women first got the vote.
Playing the part in the costume of the day were Avril Davis and Tracy Tucker, aka The Daisy Belles, and supporting the cause were Wealden’s first female MP Nus Ghani; vice-chair of Wealden District Council Pam Doodes, and Bridge Cottage chairman Mick Harker, writes Cathy Watson.
Also joining a photo call were Bridge Cottage Heritage Centre manager Liz Penton, and education officers Nicola Stewart and Maria Kirk.
Inside Bridge Cottage there was support too from Uckfield Community Technology College students Marvella Horthy, 15, Eleanor Mumford, 15, and Jasmine Bolton, 14, who were rehearsing for a play, Miss Appleyard’s Awakening, which will be performed at the cottage on Saturday night.
Interestingly there is little, if any, mention in the exhibition of any Uckfield women at all being involved in either the peaceful Suffragist, or militant Suffragette campaigns.
Stories are told of women from nearby Crowborough, Rotherfield, and Danehill, who did take action.
There are also fascinating glimpses into views of the time about Suffragettes and Suffragists, even from children who said: ‘Confine them in lunatic asylum … shut them up in prison and if they would not eat I should let them starve and then put them in a fire and burn them up … I think it is very wrong of them to want a vote.’
Bridge Cottage education officer Nicola Stewart who has coordinated the exhibition said the view of those at the heritage centre was that this area was very much a farming and rural community and not very progressive.
She said those who became involved were the more fortunate ones, with time on their hands, and wealthy.
She added: “If you look at the prominent Suffragettes they were from more wealthy families. We think women here were just too busy and, of course, the men didn’t want women to be involved.”
Votes for Women – Never
One poster unearthed for the exhibition makes fascinating reading:
“Men of England, your interests and those of your families, and the welfare of the country are in danger. Rally to prevent it.
“A large number of women are demanding votes for Parliament. A large number of amiable but short-sighted MPs are willing to grant the demand without getting your permission.
“Remember there are 1,300,000 more women than men in the United Kingdom, and if everybody has a vote, men will be out-numbered, women will have the dominant political power – in fact, the Government of the Country and the Empire will have passed from your hands to those of women.
“Resent this attempted tyranny and let the Suffragists know that you simply will not have petticoat government for this old Country and world-wide Empire.
“They call it ‘justice’ and equality’. It is nothing of the kind. It is the subjection of man to woman, turning the order of nature upside down. It is contrary to commonsense, to experience, and to history. Men in all ages have had to do the brunt of the world’s business, and ought to govern.
“Don’t make yourselves and your country the laughing stock of the world, but keep political power where it ought to be – in the hands of men.
“Above all, let your MP know what you think, and tell him not to vote for this infamous injustice and topsy turvey proposal till he knows through the ballot box what his constituents wish about it.
“Play up and save your country. Save suffragist women from themselves, and other women from Suffragists.”
Nus Ghani, who, in addition to being Wealden’s first female MP, was, in January, the first female Muslim minister to ever speak at the dispatch box. (She is Parliamentary Under-Seretary of State at the Department for Transport)
She remembers watching Betty Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the House of Commons, and Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister, on TV and thinking what incredibly brave and confident women they were.
“So many women went before them to make that possible and we still need more women to come forward.”
Nus said the correspondence suffragists and suffragettes received was very similar to that she still received today, asking things such as who was taking care of her family.
She said: “It is amazing that 100 years on a few people still think like that. Yet so much has changed. We have our second female prime minister, 30% of MPs are women and the Duchess of Sussex declares herself a feminist on the royal website.”
Nus said there was more to be done to advance the cause of women and she hoped to play her part. “I do get a lot of young women and students writing to me asking how to get involved in politics, how to campaign about what they are passionate about, and I hope maybe I can encourage the next generation of female leaders.”
An early visitor to the exhibition, which continues until Saturday, June 2, was 64-year-old Kathleen Morris who said that she became very aware of the Suffragists and Suffragettes when at school. “That really resonated with me. Women hadn’t had the vote all that long and I delved into it more.
“When my children were growing up, a son and a daughter, I insisted that they registered to vote, especially my daughter, and I have done the same with my granddaughters. After all these women lay down their lives to get the vote.”
Alongside the exhibition a variety of events are coming up at Bridge Cottage this week. They include:
- Tuesday 22nd May 2pm – Talk: East Sussex Women and the First World War with Dr Chris Kempshall £5
- Wednesday 23rd May 2pm & 6pm – WORKSHOPS: From Suffragette and Beyond – free
- Saturday 26th May 8pm – An evening of music and drama of the period – £6
- Tuesday 29th May 2.30pm – TALK: Turbulent Spinsters with Ann Kramer – £5
- Thursday 31st May 7pm – TALK: Sussex Women with Nus Ghani MP & Nicola Stewart – £5
- Friday 1st June 7pm – TALK: Wealden Suffragists with Frances Stenlake – £5
While you are there look out for a board where visitors are encouraged to nominate an inspiring woman of Wealden to be added to a 100 wall. Those nominated will be brought together at a special event later this year.
Nicola Stewart said part of the exhibition at Bridge Cottage covers Girl Guiding in Uckfield and she had been told about one woman volunteer who had been involved with the organisation nearly all her life and ran camps. She would be an ideal candidate for nomination along with others who gave back to the community.
Nicola said that people might know stories about inspirational women in their own families and those women could be nominated too.
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