Women and Power -The Struggle for Suffrage by Sophie Duncan and Rachael Lennon

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At first glance this is a slim book of photographs associated with the fight for the vote for women in Britain. Produced by the National Trust, it would be easy to dismiss it as a gift book. However, the text and selection of photographs goes far beyond merely descriptive; this book represents a scholarly overview of the events, people and situation in the late nineteenth century. The most significant achievement of this book is the way it brings the 1918 decision to allow certain women to have the vote up to date in the gender politics of today.

The book largely covers the involvement of people associated with National Trust properties on all sides of the debate. In the section “Risking a Change 1868 – 1905”, the authors identify families who campaigned for suffrage, as well as those who were divided on the whole question. Portraits of the women involved are reproduced throughout the book to a high quality, and so much work has been done in finding and using the pictures and photographs. There is a lot here about women’s situation before the suffrage campaign began, such as actress Ellen Terry as well as the confusing views of Virginia Woolf. The relationships between activists is explored in the section called “Decentring men”. The people are linked to the properties with such diverse choices as Kipling  of Batemans who accused the suffragists of not caring about the politics, just the men involved. Force feeding is discussed, as well as the memorable Emily Davison whose very public actions at the Derby affected so many lives.

There are many books available about the fight for women’s suffrage in this anniversary year, often far more comprehensive than this book. This book’s selling point is the way it links National Trust properties to the people involved, and the exhibitions and events planned for this anniversary year. Wallington is mentioned as the home of socialist activists, but the property has chosen not to run an exhibition this year as it is celebrating fifty years of National Trust ownership. The book covers issues such as whether the suffragettes could be seen as terrorists for their actions, and the nature of the limited enfranchisement in 1918.The final section is called Women and Power 2018, and begins with a quote from Attwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” “We lived in the gaps between the stories”.  Altogether this book is a super introduction to the subject, and though it lacks an index and bibliography there is much to be found in this book. I would certainly recommend it as an introduction to the topic, and for those who want a glimpse of the people behind the historical facts.

I actually bought my copy of the above at Wallington, but I have seen it on Amazon, or try  http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/guidebook/womenandpower

I am a Life Member of the National Trust, but I am not involved in the production of this book, honestly!

Looking forward to future events, the Derby Book Festival seems to have some interesting events coming up, and Northernvicar has already bought some tickets. Watch this space for further developments!