Socialist Worker

The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Edinburgh

by Liz Ely
Issue No. 2166

This exhibition is a small but important monument to one of the most significant struggles in Britain in the 20th century. It charts the history of the women’s suffrage movement from the setting up of the first groups in 1866 to their eventual victory in 1928.

The exhibition is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the “Gude Cause march” when hundreds of women marched down Princes Street in Edinburgh to demand voting rights for women.

This will be commemorated on 10 October by a march in Edinburgh.

The exhibition itself is well put together and offers a concise introduction to the struggle.

It focuses on some of the lesser-known local figures such as Nannie Brown, who wore her shoe leather out walking 400 miles to London to present a petition to the prime minister.

The displays depict the militant struggle of women for voting rights – which included cutting power lines, destroying art and setting fire to public buildings.

The issue of votes for women drew people together from a variety of class backgrounds with different ideas and tactics.

The exhibition doesn’t shy away from these differences. It points out that although militant activity was largely suspended in 1914, not all women’s suffrage groups supported the First World War.

It also shows the intense sexism the women’s suffrage movement faced. Suffragettes were portrayed as ugly, unfeminine and unmarriageable.

The suffragettes also faced physical violence as well as demeaning stereotypes.

The force-feeding of hunger strikers in jail is well known, but women were also attacked in the street while attending open-air meetings.

It was learning about the suffragettes as a child that introduced me to the ideas of injustice, struggle and resistance.

As I left the museum I listened to a parent describe the suffrage movement to their children, and felt the importance of publicly honouring the struggles of the past.

The Museum of Edinburgh, 142 Canongate, Royal Mile
Until January 2010

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Article information

Tue 25 Aug 2009, 19:23 BST
Issue No. 2166
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