Inspirational Herstories

GWL logo Paisley Tear Drop (with the word Herstory embroidered) for www.renfrewshiretapestry.org.uk/
Stitched by Doreen Kelly for www.renfrewshiretapestry.org.uk/

Hello my name is Doreen, I have recently started volunteering at Glasgow Women’s Library. I am currently exploring the library through their suffrage collections. Firstly I guess I should explain why I have used the term ‘suffrage’ rather than ‘suffragette’. Suffragette is a newer term than suffragist as it was used by the newspapers mainly as a pejorative term to describe the members of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union); however the suffragettes adopted the term and made it their own. Suffragettes were prepared to damage property (whilst doing their best to protect human life) in order to be heard. Partly due to the lack of apparent progress made by the suffragists campaign of letter writing and gathering signatures for petitions. Members of the NUWSS (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) and other organisations were suffragists. However I believe that many women were often members of both. Given that the early photos we have of the suffrage campaigns are black and white or sepia people can be forgiven for not realising that the two groups had slightly different colours. It was green, white and purple/violet (Get Women Votes) for the WSPU. But it was red, white and green for the NUWSS.

 

The Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) has a wide selection of books about the suffrage movement. There are books containing biographical material (and their shelfmarks will begin with ‘B’); most of these books are located in shelves between the welcome/loan desk and the public toilet. Also there is a historical section (containing a large number of books about the suffrage movement) that face the welcome desk, the shelfmarks of these books start with ‘H’.

 

I would like to tell you about 3 books in this blog.

The first is a Reference Only text and is the most academic. It is called “From Liberal to Labour With Women’s Suffrage: The Story of Catherine Marshall” (shelfmark – B2 Mar) (The Story of Catherine Marshall) By Jo Vellacott. On the back its category is described as “History women’s studies”. Catherine Marshall was a suffragist as she was a member of the NUWSS (and went on to be a peace activist). Also on the back cover of this book it says that “By 1913 Marshall was uniquely placed as a lobbyist”.

The author is praised as follows:- “Jo Vellacott’s revealing account of Marshall’s political work also includes vivid descriptions of a liberal Victorian childhood, a strangely purposeless young adulthood, and the heady experience of women who, through the awakening of political consciousness, forged a lifestyle to fit their new aspirations.”

Although this book is highly academic it is also extremely readable. Jo Vellacott starts from Catherine Marshall’s birthday (in 1880) and tells the story of her life until 1913.

In the early chapters it is clear that it took Catherine Marshall a while to find her raison d’etre (I found this quite comforting as I am still searching for my reason for being). Jo Vellacott indicates that Marshall’s “housekeeping was not a success.”… “in January 1906” when Catherine went “to spend two months in London, she left chaos behind her.” Vellacott at this point engages in a bit of supposition, asking “Was Catherine’s inefficiency a defence against doing what she disliked?” “Against getting trapped permanently in a situation she did not suit?”

Let’s face it we all have busy lives; so if you only have limited time to read this book I would suggest you head straight to the “Conclusions” chapter where Vellacott summarises a lot of her book and makes interesting statements such as:-

* “Much of this book has concerned itself with various shades of opinion within each of the three major political parties, and with Catherine’s attempts to reach the individual holders of those opinions with appeals to principle conscience or party interest on behalf of someone or other of the many possible variants of women’s suffrage.”

* Further and however “Catherine had been at the centre of all developments, a number of which she had initiated.”

“Catherine still continues to respect politicians and to seek the best from them, but she knew their frailties.”

“By the end of 1913, however, we have found her advocating a new approach to the questions of making it plain that she believed women should be heard on all major issues.”

 

The second book I would like to tell you about is called “The Right To Vote An’ A’ That: a hundred years of Scottish Women Singing” (shelfmark – H7.1.1 Sto) is also a Reference Only book (A hundred years of Scottish Women Singing) However this isn’t particularly academic; it is a soft covered spiral bound notebook. Almost every double page has some historical information followed by the lyrics of a song and even musical notes (sorry I don’t know much about reading music). There is an extremely interesting section about the remarkable suffragist (and defender of justice and peace) Chrystal Macmillan by Eileen Penman. It includes a song Penman wrote about Macmillan, chorus of which reads:-

“And she cried – Justice for women,”

“Justice for women, Justice for women;”

“We still need the call today”

Another fascinating section and song is the “Jute Mill Song”. The first lines of this song are:-

“O dear me, the mill’s gaen fast,”

“The puir wee shifters canna get their rest;”

I have included a mention of this song as it ties in nicely with the photo above.  I stitched this Paisley tear drop after volunteering at an “Inspirational Women” event in Paisley where I heard about the The Renfrewshire Tapestry project.

 

The last book is “Caroline Phillips: Aberdeen Suffragette and Journalist” (Caroline Phillips) by Sarah Pedersen (shelfmark – H7.1.1 Ped) GWL has several copies of this book, many of which you can borrow for 2 weeks.  This book shows and describes the unique collection of correspondence that Aberdeen Art Gallery holds. This book is also full of pictures, photos, posters and emblems so it is a completely different experience opening this book compared to the other 2 books I have described here. Therefore if you struggle with any kind of print disability (I myself have dyslexia and wear visual stress coloured specs) you can absorb some of the history of the Scottish suffrage movement, without needing to read much.

 

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