Monday, 25 July 2011

Book of the week - Votes for Catherine Susan and Me

Scarce out-of-print book; Votes for Catharine Susan and me published c1910.  A satirical account of the suffragette movement written and illustrated by Kathleen Ainslie. The story recounts the adventures and imprisonment of two Dutch dolls.

"Catherine Susan and me hadn’t much to do, so when she kept on screaming “COME AND JOIN US” we comed and joined". And she said all men was cruel and wicked and we must have votes and turn them out. So they drew lots who should go and tell them.  Catherine Susan and me drew the shortest straws.

The votes-for-women movement in the UK exploded in popularity in 1903 but the story begins before the reign of Queen Victoria.

In 1832, Lord Grey piloted the highly controversial Great Reform Act through Parliament. It was meant to extend the franchise - but used the word "male" instead of "people", excluding women from the vote. The first leaflet advocating votes for women appeared in 1847, and suffrage societies began to crop up throughout the country. Twenty years later, John Stuart Mill led an unsuccessful attempt to secure votes for women in the Second Reform Act. That defeat led to the founding of the National Society for Women's Suffrage.

The following year Richard Pankhurst, an MP and lawyer, made a fresh attempt to win votes for women. His wife and daughter, Emmeline and Christabel, went on to become the two most important figures in the movement.

On 10 October 1903, the Women's Social and Political Union held its inaugural meeting, and declared that the situation was so serious it would have to pursue extreme measures of civil disobedience. Women began chaining themselves to railings, and within five years the campaign had extended to smashing windows.

Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kennedy were jailed after disrupting a Liberal Party meeting and by 1911 the UK had witnessed the first act of suffragette arson.  Two years later Emily Davison died at the Derby as she rushed out to bring down the King’s horse. Prisons filled with women prepared to go to jail for the right to vote. The civil disobedience continued behind bars, with many women force-fed to prevent them going on hunger strike.

World War I proved to be the turning point of the campaign. In the interest of national unity the suffragettes put their campaign of civil direct action on hold. As men went to the Western Front, women proved how indispensable they were in the fields and armaments factories.

By 1918, no government could resist and the Representation of the Peoples Act allowed women over 30 the right to vote. It would take a further 10 years to abolish the age qualification and put men and women on an equal footing.

Votes for Catharine Susan and Me

By Kathleen Ainslie

A very scarce and beautifully illustrated book.

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