The first time I heard about the suffragettes was when my dad told me what they were. I was 12 when I had to write a speech about someone important in history for school. A man said, “Why don’t you do Emily Pankhurst?” In order for women to vote, “She” put herself under the King’s horse. Looking back, I think he did a great job of pointing me in the direction of feminism. Emily Wilding Davison, who died in 1913 after protesting at the Derby, was actually the founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union (the suffragettes), not Emmeline Pankhurst, the woman who started them. He made a mistake when he mixed up the two women.
Soon after I started researching The Hourglass Factory for my book about suffragettes, I found that there were a lot of good books about them out there. People were backstabbed, brave and brilliant during this time. I knew I wanted to use it as part of a conspiracy in my story. Here are some of my favorite books about the subject.
The Suffragette Movement: An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals by E Sylvia Pankhurst (1931)
As someone who was a member of the suffrage movement, Sylvia Pankhurst wrote a book that gives an in-depth account of the movement. She tells us about her childhood, her friendship with Keir Hardie, and how she split from the main WSPU to form the East London Federation of Suffragettes. She also tells us about the history of the Independent Labour Party. In Pankhurst’s account of suffragettes’ return from a meeting at the Albert Hall, “They came in one and twos, bruised and disheveled,” she says.
Unshackled: The Story of How We Won the Vote by Christabel Pankhurst (1959)
A cruel twist of fate led to the death of Christabel Pankhurst’s mother when she joined the WSPU. A lot of political history and the details of parliament’s many “dances” to avoid talking about women’s rights are in this book. It’s also very long, so it’s not easy to read. There are also stories about how both men and women were creative when they were fighting for equality. One example is when a member of the Men’s Political Union climbed up a pillar at a Limehouse meeting to unveil a suffragette banner “over the heads of two bewildered Cabinet Ministers.”
The Militant Suffragettes by Antonia Raeburn (1974)
If you’re looking for a good way to learn about suffragettes, this book is a great place to start. Anecdotes include the story of Isabel Kelley, a daredevil who hid on the roof of Dundee’s Kinnaird Hall for 17 hours before breaking in through scaffolding and a skylight. A guard with wooden clubs was also set up to protect WSPU speakers.
Votes for Women by Elizabeth Robins (1907)
This 1907 play was written by an American actress and writer. It tells the story of Vida Levering, a New Woman who has been radicalized by her troubled past and wants to use her experience to make a better life for other women. A group called the Actresses Franchise League and a lot of suffrage plays based on it are thought to have been started because of this, too. For its sharp lines, I love it. Spits out Levering: “Mad,” “Unsexed,” etc. The words of today: Women were burned to death in the Middle Ages.
Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier (2001)
There is a lot more going on in Chevalier’s 2001 novel than just the work done by the suffragettes. It talks about how women’s roles changed at the turn of the 20th century. During the Victorian era, Kitty Coleman, the mother of Maude, is left alone and unhappy. She joins the WSPU. People here aren’t making the suffragettes look good. The book talks about the choices that women had at the time. They had to choose between giving their time to a good cause and being a good mother. In the end, it’s heartbreaking.
Votes for Women: The Virago Book of Suffragettes, edited by Joyce Marlow (2001)
This huge collection of documents, speeches, journals, excerpts from books, and letters about the women’s movement is a great help for history detectives who want to learn more about the movement. In a letter to the home secretary, a gentleman complains about the lack of sanitary towels for suffragettes in Holloway, but avoids using the word “sanitary towels.” In the Daily Express, Miss Muriel Matter took to the skies in a dirigible to drop paper bills on parliament in exchange for their “dropping” of the women’s suffrage bills. This is a good example of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage Manifesto, which shows how many women were against the suffrage cause.
Vindication! A Postcard History of the Women’s Movement by Ian McDonald (1989)
It was a lot like a “meme” back then: a picture with a quote or a caption that was both funny and important. When McDonald wrote his book, he talked about the history of 19th and 20th-century feminism, but it was the images he used that told the real story. These images show women working in traditionally male fields, and commemorative postcards show how well-known they were in the suffrage movement. Also, he shows how cartoons were the backbone of the anti-suffrage movement. They made suffragettes look like monster spinsters.
Sally Heathcote, Suffragette by Mary M Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot (2014)
This clever book turns the women’s suffrage fight into a comic book. Starts off as a maid for Mrs. Pankhurst, but soon joins the WSPU when she moves to London. The story comes to life with pictures that show the bleeding wounds in vivid color, and banners of green, white, and violet suffragettes that are triumphant over their victory over the men in their lives. Seeing things through Sally’s eyes, the everyday life of a working-class woman in the 1800s feels new and exciting. In a very important way, the authors don’t avoid criticizing different parts of the movement.
The Suffragettes in Pictures by Diane Atkinson (2010)
WSPU’s motto was “Deeds, not words.” When it comes to putting together their history, Diane Atkinson, who worked as a curator at the London Museum in the 1980s, knows the value of pictures. Atkinson has written a lot of books about suffragettes, and this one is one of the best. It shows the work that suffragettes did both inside and outside their headquarters, as well as the brutal stories of how women were beaten on what came to be known as “Black Friday.”
No Surrender by Constance Maud (1911)
Constance Maud wrote a book about women’s suffrage in 1911. It’s a picture of how people thought about women’s rights at the time. Jenny Clegg, a girl from a mill, became a leader in the WSPU thanks to the help of Mary O’Neil, a rich, forward-thinking woman. Prison guards, cabinet ministers, and both male and female “antis” are some of their enemies. The last scene is a painful reminder of the book’s publication date. Maud says, “And now, surely, the hour of dawn was nearing.” There had been a meeting of the Conciliation Committee, which meant that the women’s claims would never again be ignored. They were blissfully unaware that it would be another 17 years before women had the same rights as men did.