Thursday, 13 June 2013

Emily Wilding Davison: the one who threw herself under the horse

Yesterday was the Manchester performance of Emily Wilding Davison: the one who threw herself under the horse - a play written by Ros Connelly, and devised by writer Kath Burlinson and actress Elizabeth Crarer. Guest blogger Ingrid who is currently on a work placement at the People's History Museum was able to attend and review the play for the Wonder Women Blog. 
The People's History Museum seems like the ideal stage for a play about Emily Wilding Davison. It celebrates individuals and groups with causes worth fighting for and in my mind, Emily put up the ultimate fight.
Crarer's performance was incredibly fluid and at times even visceral. With little in the way of scenery and few props, it was a truly physical experience and Crarer really embodied her version of Davison. The Davison represented here is a self possessed and articulate woman; self aware yet consumed by the injust nature of womens rights at the time. Several times she declares 'this is the 20th Century!', outraged that it is now the early 1900's yet women still cannot have a political voice.
The play presented the relentless nature of campaigning, with repeated incidents, prison sentences coupled with Emily's personal struggles all making for an emotional experience.
I enjoyed the rope device, hung from one of the beams in the room it was used to create tension and movement and also represent objects in the most basic way, even a bicycle. It is a testament to Crarer that I felt completely pulled into Emily's world, immersed in every scene, looking where she looked, imagining those around her despite her being the only physical presence. The use of mostly ambient sounds really helped to create such a sense of atmosphere that there were times when I, as well as other members of the audience felt inclined to join in with her chanting of 'votes for women!'.
The chance to answer questions after the play was a great opportunity to understand the work of the team behind this play. I got the sense that they wanted to make Emily's individual story heard and differentiate her rather than just being lumped into the suffragette movement. It allowed her to be one woman, rather than an inhuman super-suffragette, almost. The point was made about Emily Wilding Davison being confused with other women until it is clarified that she was 'the one who threw herself under the horse', which is what influenced the title of the play.
It also threw up how relevant the issue of activism is even today. It was really inspiring to gain an insight into what Emily's life might have been like, her focus and commitment to the suffragette movement was one which would have been felt by so many women whose names and stories may well have been lost.
Devised theatre is about the process, what you see is the final product but leading up the the performance is a highly collaborative environment where all involved work together to create something. To hear more from the women involved in the creation of this play, click here.

For more information about future performances across the UK, click here. I would highly recommend you attend if you can.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Professor Krista Cowman talks Emily Wilding Davison and provincial militant protest

Image courtesy of the People's History Museum
Last Friday Krista Cowman came to give a talk on the role of Emily Wilding Davison and other suffragettes in the provinces at the People's History Museum. While many are aware of Davison's dramatic death, the talk addressed the work she did to campaign for women during her lifetime. Here is some insight into Davison and the work she did as a suffragette.
Emily Wilding Davison was born in 1872 to a  middle-class background. She benefitted from the educational reforms of the time, but could not complete her university education as planned due to her father's death so worked as a governess whilst completing it part-time. Davison joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906 and in total she received 8 imprisonments, 700 strikes and was forcibly fed 49 times. She initially did suffrage work whilst still teaching, but the imprisonments caused her to decide give this up and dedicate herself to women's suffrage campaigning full time.
Cowman focused on the provincial campaigning, arguing that regional campaigns were the bedrock of what the union did as so many women worked from home rather than in London. At one time 140 women were being paid to be district organisers, which was a fairly settled role, taking day to day control of branches and sending detailed weekly diaries down to London to account for weekly meetings, and sales of various publications. Financing the work was a key factor, whilst they could claim petty cash, districts were often creative and make do in many ways in order to save money on materials needed.
Davison became an Itinerant Protester; between 1906-1912 - prison was an objective of the WSPU as a way to overwhelm the country's justice system as a means of protest. Many women were not imprisoned for breaking the law in a way that would usually get a prison sentence, but instead did offences that would incur a fine - then went to prison for refusing to pay the fine.
Respectable women of all classes became itinerant protestors, when in prison they would be disruptive, taunting guards, going on hunger strike and more.
Repeat offenders would be given increased sentences but jail was seen to open up the path to becoming an organiser. The work of suffragettes became known as 'pestering', women pursued politicians across the country to the point where some politicians began to refuse to take part in public meetings if women were in the audience and as a result security was tightened. Trying to get tickets to these meetings was one of the roles of campaign organisers and sometimes women would be in venues days ahead of the meetings to ensure they would be present.
 The talk also broached the demise of the WSPU, arguably due to the outbreak of World War One, and then  lead to a lively question and answer sesssion. Huge thanks to Krista Cowman for making the journey to Manchester to deliver this intriguing talk.
Krista Cowman is Professor of History at the University of Lincoln, a founder member of the Women’s History Network, and author of numerous publications including Women of the Right Spirit: Paid Organisers of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) 1904-18 - which would be a recommended read if the subject of this talk interests you.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Emily Wilding Davison Season - Political Women Tour

On Friday afternoon, Collections Access Officer Chris Burgess gave a tour of main gallery one at the People's History Museum, highlighting the presence of women within political movements, even before they got the vote. The role of the Manchester Female Reformers Society at Peterloo was an active one, women would take part in demos and unions, which would bring together classes and genders.

Women were also involved in the Chartist Movement. Their role was usually to make banners and organise teas, but more radical members of the organisation supported women for the vote. In particular it was felt that while women with husbands were represented by their husbands vote, single women and widows should be given a vote as they did not have a man to represent their views. In the 1867 reform bill, John Stuart Mill suggested that the word 'man' should be replaced by 'person'. Whilst this idea was not passed, the ideas were there and represented by some, if not by the majority. 

Women were seen as the voice of reason within political literature, counteracting the radicalism of going on strike, as seen in the image below where the wife is telling her husband "Thank God Bill you didn't strike", as they enjoy a Christmas spread that they may not have been able to afford without his income. Women were seen as rational yet still could not vote.

Image courtesy of the People's History Museum

Beatrice Webb's Desk is in the museum. Along with her husband Sidney and numerous others, she co-founded the London School of Economics and Political Science and played a crucial role in the forming of the Fabian Society - a British socialist organisation.

 Image courtesy of the People's History Museum

The museum has a section on feminist movements, and Chris mentioned how forward thinking and effective the marketing by women's campaigns were. They represented middle class and working class women, and the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) had universal branding colours of purple white and green (purple symbolised dignity, white purity, and green hope).

Image courtesy of the People's History Museum
Womens WSPU prisoners felt they were political prisoners, and were recognised with badges and intricate certificates like the one below.

Image courtesy of the People's History Museum
The tour ended with a look at how political parties advertised to women once they were given the vote, putting them at the centre of the campaign.

Parties were not sure how to attract young women, as they thought women would only vote as mothers - the poster on the right here is typical of political campaigns, and many contemporary images have used this sort of angle to encourage women to vote.

On the left, the young woman is being encouraged to vote for as he is stylish and wearing more up to date fashions. The men wearing the top hats are being dismissed, playing up to the perceived vanity of women.

Image courtesy of the People's History Museum

You can find out more about Chris' work by reading his blog Unlocking Ideas or following him @UnlockIdeas

Friday, 7 June 2013

Remembering Emily


Remembering Emily - now on show at People's History Museum

Remembering Emily is an artwork by Lynn Setterington, and is one of the deeds in the 100 Deeds project. Here Lynn speaks about how it all came together to form this wonderful installation...

My deed, to mark the centenary of the death of suffragette Emily Davison and raise awareness of this remarkable woman, was to create a collaborative cloth comprising 100 sewn signatures - one for each year since her death. The project involved students, academic, technical and admin staff at Manchester Metropolitan University in a communal sew-in.

Everyone who took part was asked to sew their own signature and Remember Emily. Participants not only included students and staff in art and design but also science and engineering, health and social care and humanities. The shared making led to interesting conversations and discussions on the day, and I also collecting signatures from people who wanted to take part but were not able to participate at the event. A few “blanks” denote cloths given out but not returned by the deadline.

I devised an accompanying questionnaire to explore feminism today. This project is part of my on going research into sewn signatures as a means of social engagement.

Tomorrow afternoon there is a chance to meet artists behind the 100 deeds project and ask them any questions about their work.

8 June 2013
100 Deeds - Meet the Artists (clickable link)
2.00 – 3.00pm, FREE, Drop In

100 Deeds is a project which encourages members of the public to do an action which represents or promotes gender equality in the modern day, then promotes the people’s action. It is a direct response to the 100 year anniversary of Emily Wilding Davison’s fatal protest and is an opportunity for everyday people to recognise themselves as the makers of modern history. Come along and meet the artists to find out more about the project and to view all the deeds collected to date. Get involved by visiting or use the hashtag #100Deeds

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Emily Wilding Davison - the play

On Wednesday 12th June, a new play from Cambridge Devised Theatre entitled Emily Wilding Davison; The one who threw herself under the horse comes to Manchester for a matinee performance at the People's History Museum. 
In these extracts from an interview conducted by Kate Connelly, the playwright Ros Connelly, director Kath Burlinson and actor Elizabeth Crarer discuss how and why they chose to devise a play about a suffragette hero and the continuing relevance of the suffragette movement.

'Emily' in rehearsal
Why do you think it is important to produce a play about Emily Wilding Davison today?
Ros: One of the reasons I am fascinated by the suffragettes and think they are so important is because they demonstrate the heroism of ordinary people.  Emily Wilding Davison seems to be the supreme example of someone who under ordinary circumstances would have disappeared from history but, because of the particular circumstances of the time in which she lived and the strength of her beliefs, she ended up acting in a way which most of us would think is out of the ordinary.  I also think it is a very good time to be reminded about how people have used public protest in the past when the government doesn’t seem to be listening to the people.  I think there is a lot of modern relevance to what the suffragettes and Emily Davison did.  They saw people were not properly represented and they realised the government wouldn’t act unless people forced them to. 

Kath: We need to continue to keep women’s history and political struggle in the forefront of people’s consciousness because the minute we forget it, it disappears.  Having studied the women’s movement in the nineteenth century, the early twentieth century and second wave feminism, I feel that we are now living in a very interesting time.  I am meeting women in their twenties who are very interested in these debates and it feels like things are on the move.  But I am acutely conscious of the losses that can happen in between periods of obvious activism.  For example, in the early 1940s my mum was an undergraduate at Bedford College where the College colours were those of the suffragettes: purple, green and white.  But my mother, who was born in 1926, did not know the significance of those colours until 6 months ago.  Although she was born so soon after those suffragette campaigns, and was a woman studying at a college that had been at the forefront of the movement for women’s higher education, that she did not know about that colour symbolism is symptomatic of what can happen. 

I also hope this particular story of Emily Davison is going to open up a whole series of debates about activism that are very current: violent versus non-violent action; the reaction of the powers of the state to peaceful or non-peaceful protest; martyrdom; the fate of political prisoners.  All of these questions are as relevant today as they were then and all of them appear very directly in the play.
Lizzie:  For me personally Emily is a very interesting way of really thinking through my own attitudes about politics.  For years I have felt a-political and I didn’t grow up connected to a political narrative and I was ashamed and a bit afraid of that.  Meeting Emily Davison, researching and understanding the way that she did things was a way into politics through empathy and imagination. I hope that through making her story into a play, we might offer other people an opportunity to feel how these events at these beginning of the twentieth century connect with them.

'Emily' in rehearsal
Emily Davison was one of the most mysterious of the suffragettes, rarely revealing her motives for her militant actions.  How did you find out about Emily and decide what motivated her?

Ros:  We used the process of devising which entails lots of research before starting.  We tried as much as possible to find what Emily herself said and what others said about her.  The director created different scenarios for the actress to explore, sometimes using Emily’s words, sometimes starting with physicality, feeding in imagery from the time – the art of the time, the music and what was happening culturally.  There is very little of her private writings, so we tried to get through to the private person from her public writings.
Kath:  Part of the discussion between Ros, Lizzie and me has been inventing our own Emily Davison – not fancifully without evidence, but there is an interpretive necessity.  We are creating our own woman who is not Emily Davison.  As every actor will create their own Hamlet, we are creating our own Emily Davison. 
Lizzie:  I don’t think I’ve decided anything yet and I hope I don’t.  It’s not my place to do so.  I can only work with the clues and have to keep exploring and discovering.  There is always more to find out.  Of course there are a few things that I feel are important; at the moment I keep coming back to Emily Davison’s relationship with her father, the moment of transition in her introduction to radical politics and her relationship to her faith.  But through this encounter I hope that Emily teaches me to extend the range of things that I consider to be important.  Part of my job as an artist is to question my own preconceptions.  We’re not producing the definitive version.  I am thrilled that there are two other plays and an opera coming about Emily.  This is really appropriate and necessary because there needs to be a conversation.   
Why did you choose to devise this piece and what difference do you feel devising makes?
Ros:  I chose to devise this piece because I think it’s important to get the input of other people and not just to have one person’s view.  When you get the input from the writer, the director and actor at the same time in the creative process you get very different points of view and different ways into the material. This story is particularly appropriate for the devising process because there are so many important physical actions, not expressible through words - Deeds not Words!
To book your tickets, get in touch with the museum via the contacts on the flyer below.
For details of more dates across the UK, take a look at
Further reading:

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Kim Duff installation and 100 Deeds: on display now

From 4-14 June 2013, the foyer of the People’s History Museum will be the temporary home of an installation by artist and Bolton University student Kim Duff. The works are inspired by the Suffragette movement, and represent various stages of women’s oppression.

The installation accompanies a projection of 100 Deeds, the outcome of a project by Sarah Evans and Jenny Gaskell. 100 Deeds invites you to become a modern day history maker by thinking about what feminism and gender equality mean to you and then acting on those thoughts. You can read more about the project in Jenny and Sarah’s own words in their recent post.

If you'd like to come and check out the display, it's free and now on display within museum opening hours until 14 June. It kicks off a series of events to commemorate the centenary of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison’s act, which we will be reviewing here over the coming weeks.