Suffragist vs Suffragette

On today – the 100th anniversary of some of the female population gaining the right to vote I have been contemplating something which I turn over in my head from time to time. If I was to go back 100 years, wrapped in crinoline and a fancy hat would I be a suffragist or a suffragette?

For those who are unaware of the difference I once had it explained to me that the suffragettes were the ones who blew things up, chained themselves to the railings, generally made a nuisance of themselves and ended up being force-fed when they got arrested. The suffragists were the ones who did long walks to gain support for the cause, wrote a lot of letters to newspapers, their MPs (well not their’s obviously, their husbands possibly!), and lead support through women’s groups and wherever they could gain influence.

My first introduction to Suffragettes was as a child we used to go walking on the local moors – a place locally called ‘The Chinese Gardens’. This was once part of the home of Lord Leverhulme – local soap magnate and owner of Lever Bros. The house that once went along with the gardens was called The Bungalow and in its first incarnation it was burned to the ground by a suffragette called Edith Rigby. At the time I thought this was well, not quite cricket – you can’t go burning places down for a cause. Today we would call that terrorism. It is also possibly slightly ironic that Lord Leverhulme was actually a supporter of universal suffrage. I’ll probably get around to blogging about this one day!

My first introduction to Suffragists was when I was reading a piece for my degree which covered women and medicine and I came across Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. For those unaware of her work she was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon. And in my opinion if that wasn’t badass enough, she was also a suffragist. This lead me to investigate her sister – also pretty badass. Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, one of the first feminists, and a suffragist. She was a tireless campaigner for women’s rights, as well as the right to vote she pushed for greater opportunities for women in higher education. As a student this was obviously pretty inspiring.

Now I am not saying there is anything wrong really getting behind your cause, but I think the suffragettes were pretty militant. I am fairly sure if we were to go round today blowing up letterboxes for a cause it would be greatly frowned upon, as it was then. There are a number of schools of thought that discuss that this ‘militant’ action was actually damaging the cause and that the letter writing, speech giving ladies of the Suffragists were in fact the reason that the vote was granted in the end.

So where would I sit. Well although I have a big mouth, I am not one for getting into too much trouble and if anyone has seen me hungry, then they’ll know hunger strike just ain’t for me, but I do love to write a letter! So today I’ll think of all the women who have helped push for women’s rights. From those early ladies on the IOW, (read more about them here  past my suffragist sisters and the suffragettes, to those who are still campaigning for equal rights for all minorities. And please spare a thought for those often forgotten ladies, not leaping in front of the Kings horse for the cause, but writing  all those letters. After all the pen is mightier than the sword.


My experience of women as a audience – IWD2015

I spent the last 12 years working as Custodian at a Victorian Fort. I am a woman. At the time I was also a young woman – I spent most of my twenties in the role. Apparently according to many people I shouldn’t have been interested in forts because of both these things! It eventually made me laugh, after years of men asking my male colleagues a historical question, they would say “I’m not too hot on the history, the Custodian will know” I would answer, then they would either, call me a clever clogs, or ask how come I knew so much or they would completely ignore me and thank my male colleague for the information and walk off!

Each time we looked at a new interpretation plan I was constantly reminded that I needed to make sure there was something for women to get interested in, because they couldn’t be interested in Forts. I often heard women saying to their male partner “Oh I won’t pay to come in, it’s too masculine, you go on your own, I’ll sit outside”

So firstly, why can’t women find forts interesting, and secondly what are women interested in?

Ultimately the answer to the first question is that they totally can be interested in forts, and guns and all the other things. It is a niche (OK I admit it!) but really very interesting subject, an it creates an understanding of the politics, technology and history of the time just as a start.

I was encouraged to look at the more human element of the Fort to make it more appealing to women, the social history, the living conditions, the men and women who lived there, the everyday life situations. I admit I was also very interested in this side of the history, helping you imagine how the site would work but so were a lot of men.

Presenting an interesting and informative exhibition is essential, looking at your audience is essential but I am not sure there is a need to pigeon-hole, this is for men, this is for women. If it is interesting and varied enough the exhibition should appeal to all, no matter their age or sex. Good interpretation should have something for everyone.

As a final note, all those ladies who think that a Victorian Fort is not for you, well then I suggest you try one, broaden your horizons, it might just surprise you. After all I have spent the last 10 years writing exhibitions to appeal just to you, the men don’t need exhibitions, they’ll enjoy the guns!