Suffrage and the Museums

May 24, 201810:49 amLeave a Comment

Project Officer Holly at Watts Gallery

Hello, Holly here, Project Officer for ‘March of the Women: Surrey’s Road to the Vote’. My background is in museums and galleries so it has made sense for me to lead on one of the integral parts of the project, the suffrage collection audit of our five partner museums.

If you have been following our twitter @MarchoftheWomen, then you will have seen our multiple tweets and the occasional #museumselfie at the places we have been. We have now visited all of the museums directly involved with the project and it seems like a perfect moment to share some of the objects that we have learnt about to whet your appetites ready for the online resource.

Close up of one of the suffragette stockings, Chertsey Museum

The first museum we visited was Chertsey Museum where we saw their ‘Votes for Women’ display, which is part of the Freedom and Fashion exhibition examining the changes in female clothing from the 1840s to the 1980s. As part of the display they have a pair of black stockings that are embroidered with ‘Votes for Women’ flags and ribbons in the suffragette colours white, purple and green. The stockings are fascinating items of dress and social history. They were purchased by the Olive Matthews Collection, housed at Chertsey Museum, to add to their significant textile and fashion collection.

Watts Gallery – Artists Village was our next location, the former home of suffragist and Vice-President of The Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, Mary Watts. Mary kept diaries in which she expressed her views on women’s rights. Although she stopped writing her diary regularly in 1904 following the death of her husband, George Frederic Watts, it is possible to get an idea of her early views which led her to become a suffragist.

Godalming Museum have the largest suffrage object we have encountered on our travels by way of a red, white and green suffragist banner. The banner was created and embroidered by famous Surrey gardener, artist and suffragist, Gertrude Jekyll, and was carried during a national suffrage march through Guildford and onto London in July 1913. The  national marches started in various parts of the county and would gather more people on their way to the capital. Unfortunately the banner is now too weak to be hung up. However the museum have it displayed in a specially designed case supporting the fragile fabric.

Photograph of suffragist march, Haslemere Educational Museum

Haslemere Educational Museum have a large and varied collection. Their local history collection includes an image of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies march, walking through Haslemere High Street with several banners, in 1912. Although the banners have been lost, the image is vital evidence for the local marches and how they compared to the much larger London ones.

Finally we visited Bourne Hall Museum, Ewell. The museum is the closest to Epsom Racecourse so they have a number of items relating to Emily Wilding Davison. The museum also hold an invitation card for a garden meeting of the League for Opposing Women Suffrage, on the 21st of July, unfortunately there is no year on the card but we know from the date and the years the organization was running that the meeting was in either 1911 or 1916, and with suffrage action being called to a halt at the beginning of the First World War it is likely to be from 1911.

Invitation to an anti-suffrage garden meeting, Bourne Hall Museum.

Overall, the five project partner museums have a range of objects covering all sides of the arguments for and against women’s suffrage which are being collated, possibly for the first time, as part of our centenary project. The final online resource will include the full lists of objects and any related texts held by the museums, along with details of how they can be viewed, which will help researchers to discover locally held collections and increase their accessibility and use.

We have an exciting and busy schedule coming up, including presenting at conferences at Royal Holloway University of London, University of Surrey and University of Portsmouth, plus Woking’s Party in the Park on the 7th July 2018 where we will be promoting the project and offering family activities, and our project finale community day on 24th November 2018.

Written by Holly Parsons

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