On Friday 14th December, the Rumble Museum at Cheney held an all day celebration of 100 years since a woman was first able to vote in a general election in Britain.This event was a culmination of our Rumble Suffrage Season, during which we have run a range of different talks, workshops and projects exploring the votes for women movement.
The day was opened by Anneliese Dodds, MP for Oxford East and Philippa Bilton, relative of Emily Wilding Davison, who spoke to an audience of around 250 mostly sixth form students. Anneliese spoke about the challenges facing women in politics today, and about ways to encourage more women to stand for parliament. She also spoke about other under-represented groups, and her own experiences of gender stereotyping. Philippa’s talk explored Emily Wilding Davison’s life, and her many forms of direct action, including hiding in a broom cupboard in the House of Commons during the 1911 census, and the famous incident at the Epsom Derby in 1913 in which she lost her life. She also spoke about the brutality of force-feeding in prison, which Emily underwent 49 times. After their talks, the audience put a number of thoughtful and challenging questions to the speakers, including whether it was essential for it to be a woman to represent women, and what role education should play in encouraging young women to take part in public life.
After these two talks, we were privileged to welcome Dr Tom Crook, lecturer in History from Oxford Brookes and Dr Debbie Challis, part of the LSE’s Suffragette 18 project, who talked to sixty students in Years Ten and Twelve. Dr Crook set the suffrage movement in its international context, by talking about leading Nigerian and Japanese suffragists, and Dr Challis introduced a range of figures from the British suffrage movement. Both talks were very compelling.
At the same time, Professor Anne Varty and Dr Deana Rankin from the English Department of Royal Holloway, University of London worked with performer Caitlin Carrick-Varty to deliver a workshop to 16 Year 8 students which they then staged as an outdoor lunch time performance. The play ‘Emily’s Dream’ remembers the extraordinary suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, a former student of Royal Holloway, who was struck by the King’s Horse at the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913. Students worked with movement, song and poetry first to recreate the race course scene, then to imagine Emily’s ghost as she watched her dream of women’s suffrage slowly unfold.
‘Emily’s Dream’ is part of a Royal Holloway TeacherHub>English project to support A-level English teachers who want to introduce women’s poetry of World War I to their students. It draws on the anthology Scars upon My Heart, and on Anne Varty’s related research into how the women’s war effort became such an effective political instrument for suffrage. (To find out more please visit the TeacherHub>English website where a film of the Cheney Suffrage Day performance will be available in the new year.
As well as this exciting outdoor performance, there were a range of stalls and activities held in the Library, including the Bodleian Library with a vintage printing press where students could print copies of suffrage posters, badge-making, banner-making, headbands in suffrage colours with Claire Frampton, facepainting, Brookes History and LSE running information stalls, Blackwells with a range of books, and finally Suzette Starmer from the City Election Services. Suzette had brought a vintage polling booth, ballot box and papers, and a mock election was held on the most influential woman in history. More than 250 votes were cast, and the winner was Rosa Parks, followed by Emmeline Pankhurst!
Local primary school children came to enjoy the outdoor performance of Emily’s Dream, and the stalls and activities, and both Year Seven and local primary children experienced an exciting and inspirational storytelling session called “Women Who Dared” by children’s author and illustrator Marcia Williams.
It was a very wide-ranging event with activities happening all day to inspire and celebrate this important date in history for women and men. We are hugely grateful to all our visitors who took part, and also to our team of costumed student helpers, to all staff and students who donned suffrage colours and costumes, and our Year Eight acting team who bravely put on Cheney’s first ever outdoor lunch time performance.