Just over 100 years ago, the suffragette movement achieved its first victory. The ongoing programme of civil disobedience, direct action and hunger strikes brought the vote for some property-owning women aged over thirty. It wasn’t until 1928 when all women aged over nineteen were given voting rights.
When people are asked to name a key player in the suffragette movement, most will recall Emmeline Pankhurst. But on Friday night, author Geraldine Beare will share stories of brave women and men from our part of the Westcountry who campaigned for equality.
“Most people know about the main suffragettes – ‘the London lot’ or ‘the Manchester lot’. I think we forget that there were a lot of local women who did just as much good work,” said Geraldine. “There was also a hugely important family who lived near Bath, in Eagle House at Batheaston – the Blathwayts. They provided a refuge for many of the suffragettes caught up in the ‘cat and mouse’ act – women who had been force-fed during their hunger strike were released from prison to recover and later arrested and incarcerated again.”
“The way that they were force-fed was appalling,” Geraldine continued. “You’d have a tube forced down your throat. You could be severely damaged. It was thought that the best thing to do was to take them out of prison so they could recover and then they would be brought back in. It was a dreadful thing to do.”
The Quakers, who remain well-established in Shaftesbury, played a role in the fight for equality. “Passive resistance. They would be the ones who would do all of the leaflet dropping,” said Geraldine. “They certainly wouldn’t be out there throwing stones but they were there sitting on the edges.”
And Geraldine says that there were many men whose support was important to the suffragette movement. “They were supported, in the main, by husbands, fathers and brothers. If they had not been brought on board then nothing would have happened. We should not really forget that these men played an important part in all this.”
If Shaftesbury area residents have any stories about the role that their relatives played in securing equal voting rights then Geraldine would be keen to chat tomorrow evening. “Most definitely,” said Geraldine. “I’d be very interested.”
Geraldine’s talk ‘Green and Purple: Suffragettes in the West Country’ takes place at St James Church in Shaftesbury at 7.30pm on Friday 1st March.